One of the must do adventure travel activities in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the Dunes Climb. A lot of the trails have markers where they request visitors not to over step the trail in order to protect the fragile environment from erosion. This is not the case at the Dunes Climb where hikers are allowed to pretty much go anywhere from the parking lot to Lake Michigan.
Hiking the Dunes Climb Trail to Lake Michigan
The trail from the parking lot to Lake Michigan is 1.3 miles, but it feels like about five miles. The park rangers warn visitors about the length of the trail. When you climb to the top of the dunes you can see Lake Michigan and it seems like it is just over the next dune, but it is more than a mile from the top.
It is not just any mile either. This mile goes up and down steep dunes in a merciless fashion. Hiking on sand is twice as hard as hiking on pavement or regular ground. After hiking ten miles on the dunes on this day, my legs were more sore the next day than they were when I hiked 20 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains with a full backpack on.
It happens all too frequently in the park where people over extend themselves to Lake Michigan and then they don’t have the energy to return back. Clint Eastwood once said: “A man has to know his limitations,” and this seemingly easy day hike has done a lot of people in.
It is easy to see how it can be done. You walk to the top of the dunes, and you see the amazing blue of Lake Michigan, so you keep walking thinking it is not too far away. Then you keep walking, and walking, and walking.
For those who are in good shape and prepared, the hike is very manageable. Be sure to bring a hat and suntan as there is no protection from the sun over the dunes, which exasperates the problem for inexperienced hikers.
The trail starts and goes straight up a huge dune. For the kids, this is where it is at. There was a vivacious group of kids rolling down the dunes as I started out. For those who might be put off by hiking around noisy kids, just hang in there and keep walking. Once I cleared a couple of dune hills, I saw only a few other hikers.
There are many hills where you get to the top and think the lake will be right over the top to only find another dune valley going down and then back up. When you hit Lake Michigan it is actually anti-climactic as there is no steep hill to climb and there is the lake. The lake at this point is level with the dunes, so you come around the corner and all of a sudden the vast lake is staring at you.
For those not interested in the hike to the lake, you will at least want to climb the initial sand dune as it affords a marvelous view of Lake Michigan, the surrounding dunes, and Glen Lake. You will see why Good Morning America penned Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as the most beautiful place in America.
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