Travels with Charley

The cool camping blog. Trying to find gear, supplies, adventure and activities for the 21st century camper.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Destination - Sleeping Bear Dunes

Just finished a month of camping - three trips in four weeks. I took two with the camper and one in tents. I stayed at a National Park, a State Forest, and a private campground. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore occupied a large portion of these trips. If you are considering a trip to Michigan, you should seriously consider spending at least a few days in the park. There are museums, hiking trails, scenic drives, beaches and campgrounds all within the boundaries of the park, which surround several small towns, all catering to tourists. As far as the Midwest goes, there are very few scenic destinations better than Sleeping Bear and Pictured Rocks. We could have spent weeks there. Here's a rundown of some of the best things we saw and did:

DH Day Campground. This is a "rustic" campground, again, no hookups at the sites. However, as rustics go, this one is great. The camp hosts do a great job of cleaning up the sites, the sites are big and actually have a bit of interest to them with multiple levels and there is a beach in the campground right on Lake Michigan. The vault toilets are very clean and the water spigots are well maintained. Unfortunately, such a great park is hard to get in to. Get to the camp early, by 8 am during the busy season, to secure a spot.

Pierce Stocking Drive. For a leisurely drive up a dune and stunning vistas, take this route. You'll get to go thru Maple/Beech forests, Oak/Pine forests, stand on a 430 foot dune bluff, look across a wind swept glacier moraine and see amazing views of Lake Michigan, Glen Arbor lake and North Bar lake. For a hike into the dune interior stop and take the Cottonwood trail. The 7 mile road used to be a private scenic drive, that people could drive for a toll. It is now part of the National park. Make sure and pick up an interpretive guide pamphlet on your way up the drive.

Dune Loop Hike. This is a fantastic hike through the sand dunes, and a ghost forest! In the middle of this hike is a small dead forest with the trunks sticking up out of the sand. Pretty cool. While the Dune Climb is longer, this hike is a little easier and the views are more scenic. The payoff is better and you hike the last half downhill, instead of up.

Kayaking and Canoeing. You can kayak along the miles of shoreline of Lake Michigan or paddle down a river. Crystal River in Glen Arbor and the Platte river contained within the park are both fine rivers for beginners and anyone wanting a fun paddle, with really nice scenery. There are multiple outfitters, including the aforementioned Crystal River Outfitters for any gear you may need. For paddling on the lake, you can put in at Empire Beach, the Cannery Museum, Esch road beach, or just about any other place that has a road and a parking lot. More advanced paddlers will consider the 8 mile crossing to South Manitou Island.

Empire Bluffs. Another National Park Hiking trail. Only about 1.5 miles round trip, this has a nice stroll through the forest, with some interesting comments in the interpretive guide book. The payoff is the end when you pop out on the 380 foot high bluff right above Lake Michigan, with the few in the picture above.

There are dozens of other sites and activities within the park. I recommend you stop in. And all this costs just $10 for a week's visit.