I am very excited to share the first ever guest post here at The Working Mom’s Travels! The honor of being the first guest blogger belongs to Traveling Ted, adventure travel blogger extraordinaire. Thanks to Ted’s post, I’ve been inspired to plan my own family trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!
Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes was recently dubbed by Good Morning America as the most beautiful place in the United States. One of the park’s trails was also recently named one of the best hike-to-view trails by National Geographic.
With accolades like this from heavy hitters, it is a given that the park is one of top destinations in the Midwest for adventure travel. With beaches, sand dunes, nice campgrounds, and beautiful Lake Michigan, the park is also an ideal destination for family travel. Kids love sand, beaches, dunes, and water, and when kids are happy, so are mom and dad.
The park also has a variety of great day hikes. Depending on the ages of the kids and the fitness level of the family, multiple day hikes can be done each day, or just one a day. Many of these hikes combine a trip to the water, and there is nothing better to top off a hike than a dip in a beautiful lake.
Empire Bluff Trail – 1.5 miles – Moderate hike
The Empire Bluff Trail is .75 miles one way through a hardwood forest to a gorgeous lookout on one of the highest bluff in the park. The Empire Dunes is halfway up the coast in the park, so hikers get great views north, south, and straight out over the water. The hiking trail is paved gravel and wide, so this is a hike even younger adventurers can manage. There are a couple of small hills, but nothing crazy.
Cottonwood Trail – 1.5 miles – Moderate hike
The Cottonwood Trail is found along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This trail is a loop that traverses over the open dunes, so there is not a lot of climbing. Hikers here get views of the golden sand dunes, the blue skies, the gorgeous deep blue of Lake Michigan and the distant Manitou Islands.
Sleeping Bear Point Trail – 2.8 miles- Moderate to strenuous
This trail leads hikers out onto the dunes through a ghost forest. A ghost forest is formed when a group of trees on the dunes become covered with sand and eventually die. Then the sand recedes to show a dead forest. Kids love ghost stories, so you know they will be enthralled with a ghost forest.
Even though the hike is more strenuous than the first two options, it is doable for fit families or ones with older kids. A spur trail can shorten the trip back to the Maritime Museum or you could always just do an out and back and return when you feel the family has gone far enough.
Dunes Trail – 3.5 miles – Strenuous
The Dunes Trail goes straight up a huge dune right away. Most families might just consider stopping there and letting the kids play on the huge dune. They can play for hours on this formation tumbling down the hill over and over again.
Many get sucked in and want to hike to the lake. This trail is up and down up and down and up and down. Many people make it to the lake and then have to be rescued because they are too tired to return. Walking on sand going up and down is not easy. I am an experienced hiker and this trail really wore me out and created some sore muscles.
Platte Plains Trail – Length and difficulty vary
The shortest loop of the Platte Plains trail system is 3.5 miles. If you’re thinking of hiking every trail in the system, be prepared to go 14.7 miles. The trails are in a hardwood forest and the difficulty level is easy to moderate depending on how far you hike. There is a map at the trailhead and I highly advise making it out to the lake if possible.
Tips for Sleeping Bear Dunes
1. Make sure you are hydrated and are carrying a lot of water and sunscreen. Ghost forests may be cool, but they don’t offer much shade. Definitely wear a hat.
2. Know your and your family’s limitations. A few of these trails may be beyond the scope of some families. Know when to turn back and don’t push your family beyond their comfort zone.
Traveling Ted started hiking when he was 9 years old, over 30 years ago. Although his adventure may take him where families fear to tread, he does remember being a 9 year old hiker. In fact, his maturity level in some cases has stayed at 9 years old: adventure travel keeps you young.
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