Michigan Lake Escape: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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Our Michigan trip was thrown together in about 5 hours. The days before our trip, I was pretty emotional. Comments on social media had me going to some dark places concerning school this fall.

My mom stopped by my house in the afternoon and mentioned a trip she was taking with my dad, brother, and sister in law. Right in that moment I made the decision to escape. With generosity and kindness they made space for us to come along. We threw together our bags, vitamins, cooler and hit the road searching for an escape from the impending pressures.

Traverse City

The trip from our home was super easy. Living just 30 minutes east of Columbus, Ohio the drive took us just under 7 hours. Driving up to the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, I was ready to start my trip. My family picked this place because they like to golf and the amenities are spectacular. While Jonathan and I are more remote cabin kind of people, this place was luxurious, my favorite being the top floor restaurant overlooking the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay.

We checked in, and quickly took off for a lakeside picnic. Traverse, and really all of Michigan is special for their public coast access. Driving along the lakes there are plenty of public spaces to enjoy. Looking out at the water I could feel all the anxiety I was holding begin to release. Ohio was blazing hot, but here at Traverse Bay the breeze cooled down temperatures to the mid 80s making the sun welcome on my skin. As we stretched our legs the magic in these cool waters had us speaking about the life we wanted to build together and the people we wanted to be. This first dip was just a taste of what was in store.

Quickly I discovered on that I like access to Traverse City, but wouldn’t want to stay there again. Traverse is more commercialized than I would choose. While the downtown Traverse area is filled with local restaurants and adorable shops, the rest is a lot of chain restaurants. It’s the kind of place where you can always find a morning cup of coffee or Culvers ice cream late at night. While some people like this, it’s not really us. Honestly, we left realizing we needed to bring our own produce next time. Locals explained how hard it is to grow or even bring in fresh veggies. We declared it the land of meat, hops, and cherries.

As we began to explore more, Jonathan and I quickly fell in love with the north west side. Staying in a charming Inn or a cabin in towns like Leland or Glen Arbor is much more our style. These spots are about an hour drive to get into Traverse for a nice dinner or some shopping, but the majesty of the landscape makes it worth the extra time.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a giant state park that follows the north west coast line giving visitors miles of access to Lake Michigan. On our last day, we arrived at the Dune Climb north of the town of Empire.

Since it was a cloudy morning in the 70s we took to the dunes barefoot and ready for an adventure. With shoes and water in a backpack just incase, the incline was enough to get my calves burning and my heart rate up.

Reaching the top of the first dune, I stared down two more peaks in front of me. Jonathan motioned for me to turn around, and I found the view that made the climb worth while. Atop giant mountains of sand, I looked to find a ring of forest with Glen Lake sparkling right in the middle. While my brain tried to process what seemed like three different habitats in one space, I took in the satisfaction of a beautiful view well earned.

Climbing the next two dunes took us higher, though they were easier than our first ascent. Once over that third hill, we enjoyed our lookout over lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands. This was the moment Jonathan had been hoping for, to see the vast expanse Lake Michigan waters that seem to travel all the way to the horizon.

With the sand under my feet, Glen Lake at my back and the expanse of lake Michigan ahead, I found myself taking a moment of gratitude. Demands from home and building pressure for reopening schools were not going to steal my peace. This treasured place was for restoration and I was soaking in every bit of it.

If Jonathan and I had more time, we would have followed every path Sleeping Bear Dunes had to offer. The twisty trails wrap their way along through the dunes providing fun challenges and breathtaking views. Instead, we ran back down the dunes, giggling the whole way, and dreaming of a restful afternoon on the beach.

Back at the bottom, a delightful park ranger directed us to her favorite spot, Sleeping Bear Point. Just 4 minutes down the road, we found the charming Coast Guard Museum. While I was captivated by stories of shipwrecks in The Manitou Passage, the museum also offered the perfect parking space to wonder onto Glen Haven Beach.

Stepping onto the sand with the Coast Guard buildings at my back felt like leaving the wardrobe and entering a land far better than Narnia. Sleeping Bear Bay is tucked in between Pyramid Point and Sleeping Bear Point. The shape of the cove looking out at the Manitou islands invited us to this secret place not many had found. While climbing toward the point, we passed maybe five people until we set down our chairs and took in the spectacular setting. At my back was a pine forest refuge for nesting birds, and to the front was crystal clear water sparkling over green, blue, and grey rocks.

I’ve been blessed to have visited some extraordinary beaches in my lifetime. Among them would be Captiva Island off the coast of Florida, Nassau Island in the Bahamas, and The Dominican Republic in the Caribbean seas. For me, this quiet spot in Michigan far outweighed them all. It wasn’t more beautiful, it was just untouched. The glory of Sleeping Bear Bay came from an unmarred corner of the world that very few humans had ventured.

Surrounded by trees and water, my husband joyfully played in the bay, calling me to put my book down and join him. With few people around, under God’s expansive sky, we let go. Jonathan released the intensity it takes to run a financial company. I breathed out the the public criticism thrust upon teachers and school leaders in this time of crisis. And so in the quiet perfection that is Lake Michigan we held each other knowing this would always be a safe place where we could find wholehearted living again. A paddle boarder glided by in the distance, so peaceful compared to our previous adventure the day before on Torch Lake. Through the treetops to my right I saw bits of the town of Glen Arbor giving me a vision of the future, welcoming me back one day.

And so we returned home, not just restored, but having redefined our priorities. For achievers like us, work will always be calling, but we are learning to mute those demanding voices and tune into the sounds of the lake, for those are the moments that speak true life.

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5 Replies to “Michigan Lake Escape: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore”

  1. Love your getaway! Years ago we explored Sleeping Bear Dunes and spent most of the time in the water. It was very magical!
    Glad you had a great time.

  2. You have such a way with words. Thank you for sharing and thank you for wearing an Ohio shirt in Michigan😉. That’s awesome!

    1. Thank you! It’s funny, I thought about wearing a different shirt, but I don’t view us as enemies. Michigan is my neighbor to the North that I can’t wait to visit again.

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