The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Hill Climb: A First Time Visitor's Guide on What To Expect

Warm sand, a cool Lake Michigan breeze, and intensive cardio are waiting for you at one of the premier destinations in northwest Michigan. I have visited the hill climb portion of the Sleeping Bear Dunes several times and the view is worth the climb. As I was standing at the bottom of the hill on my most recent visit, a young family was starting up. The husband and wife both asked me several times if this was THE place to climb the dunes. We had a pleasant chat about the landscape at the top and I realized that other people like them needed a small guide for this landmark. This post goes out to the first-timers who have yet to realize the magnetic draw of this Michigan treasure.

Situated between Lake Michigan and Glen Lake, the dune climb is in Glen Arbor. If you are looking to experience the dunes, this is THE place. I visited this national park on a Monday afternoon thinking nobody would be around. I was lucky to find a parking space and it was even more congested when I left around noon. I can only imagine the traffic jam on a Saturday. Earlier is better as the sand is pleasantly warm and the sun is not too hot. It is a strenuous climb but it can be handled in short increments. The view at the top is spectacular as you can see the lake and the rolling landscape that looks like a crocodile. It doesn't really flatten at the top; it is a more gentle slope. There are several options at this point. You can climb a second hill on the left side which has a few trees and will give you a higher view. The center hill seems to have slightly more packed sand and will let you see some of Lake Michigan. The third option is a wide path of sand going off to the right. This will take you 2 miles one way to Lake Michigan. Aerial maps on Google Earth will help you see the path to the water if you are looking to hike to a remote beach. On the way back down, the tradition is to run. There is even a clip on the show “Home Improvement” where the Taylors are running down the dune.

If you are trying to see as many places as possible in one day, plan on at least one hour at the dune climb. That basically covers taking a few pics at the top or sitting around enjoying the view. Most people plan on picnicking for lunch. If you go in the middle of the day, I would suggest taking a couple bottles of water to stay hydrated and a have a cooler in the car. There are bathrooms and a gift shop available. There are also many bike paths around if you are camping and want to access the park easily. Across the street from the climb is a picnic area on Glen Lake if you want to fish or swim. There was a ranger giving a lecture at the bottom of the hill about the environment if you want to make this a “field trip.” Another great place to experience the dunes is in Empire. There is a little park where you can walk an easy, short path and look over Lake Michigan. You are not allowed to climb down the dune as it is a sharp angle going right down to the water.

This is a great destination if you are day-tripping or looking for something to do while in Traverse City. It's well worth the time and exhaustion.


  1. Beautiful Michigan! I just love God's creation! You're so blessed to live there....


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