Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore scenic drive is a must for first time visitors
When checking in at the Platte River Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the ranger asked if it was my first time in the park. I mentioned that it was, and she gave me the national park map and mentioned the scenic drive was a must for first time visitors.
After a morning hike to Empire Dunes overlook, it was on to the scenic drive. A ranger kiosk was set up as you enter. For those coming to Sleeping Bear Dunes, it is $10.00 to enter the park, and the fee is good for 7 days. They do not have places to collect money at the park entrance. Instead, they collect either when you are camping or when you enter popular entrance points like the scenic drive and the dunes climb.
I had already paid my $10.00 at the campground, so the ranger checked my receipt and asked if I needed a brochure to accompany the tour. I took the guide and proceeded through the loop.
Scenic drive traverses through multiple ecosystems
The first part of the drive is through an incredibly lush forest. I am sure this part of the Dunes always surprises first time visitors because there is much more scenic beauty to this park than the dunes and Lake Michigan. The dunes and Lake Michigan are spectacular, but the forest and inland lakes are superb as well.
Speaking of inland lakes, the first overlook featured beautiful Glen Lake and the surrounding forest. This lake is barely inland as only a narrow spit of land divides it between Lake Michigan.
The first stop was at a covered bridge. I snapped a photo and then the loop proceeded out of the forest into the dunes area. There was an amazing lookout onto the dunes, Lake Michigan, and the Manitou Islands. I was itching to do some walking, but the signs said not to invade the dunes here. The sign also promised the next stop would have a trail for those ready to hike.
Explore by car, but get out and hike
I bolted to the next stop and as promised, there was the Cottonwood Trail. This 1.5 mile trail is an awesome loop which skirts the dunes with views galore of Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful clear blue day with wisps of clouds – perfect for dune viewing and taking photographs.
I was amazed at how many people did not get out of their cars and enjoy the hike. There were several cars that stopped, took a picture, and kept going. I think any trail over a mile scares off a lot of people off. I had the trail virtually to myself only passing a couple with a dog and at the end a field trip of young students.
The Cottonwood Trail is the only hiking trail on the scenic drive. The rest of the stops are scenic overlooks. The most sensational was the Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dune overlook.
Sleeping Bear Dune legend
The park got its name from a Chippewa legend. In the story, a bear and two cubs escaped a forest fire by swimming into Lake Michigan. The mother bear out swam her cubs and made it to shore and waited for her cubs. The cubs drowned, and the sad momma bear waited. The Manitou Islands represent where the two cubs drowned.
Sleeping Bear Dune is a dune topped with vegetation and it used to look like a sleeping bear, and this dune is where the mother bear waited for her cubs. The dunes constantly evolve and the sleeping bear dune is in the process of blowing out, meaning the wind is hollowing out the dune. It no longer looks like a sleeping bear.
Since the namesake of the park is disappearing, I propose a new name for the park inspired by this scenic drive. The new name of the park should be “One ridiculously beautiful scenic overlook after another National Park.”
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