On the northwestern shore of Michigan's Lower Peninsula lies Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a hilly region fringed with massive shoreline sand dunes and dotted with clear lakes. It is a diverse landscape, embracing quiet, birch-lined streams, dense beech-maple forests, sandy beaches, and rugged, glacially formed bluffs towering as high as 460 feet (140 meters) above Lake Michigan. Offshore, surrounded by the unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan, sit North and South Manitou islands, tranquil and secluded.
For thousands of visitors each year, Sleeping Bear Dunes offers a wealth of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Many come to play at the Dune Climb or to savor sweeping views of land and water from the park's roadways. Others come to hike the trails, where they find a rich variety of wildflowers, mammals, and birds. Beachcombers can enjoy a walk along Lake Michigan's shore, pausing occasionally to examine an interesting pebble or shell. Canoeing down a slow-flowing stream offers a quiet, intimate look at the countryside. Fishing fervor peaks in the fall, when coho and king salmon, fish introduced from the Pacific, return to the Platte River to spawn. In winter, cross-country skiers tour snowy woodlands. The possibilities for relaxation and challenge are almost unbounded.
There were many people whose lives were tied to this land long before it became a parklandIndians, lumbermen, merchant sailors, farmers. Glen Haven and the Manitou islands were once busy communities supplying lumber for the construction of towns as far away as Chicago, III. They also supplied fuel to wood-burning ships that sailed the Great Lakes during the latter half of the 1800s and early 1900s. Ruins of sawmills and fueling docks can still be seen. Crop farming followed the cutting of the forests, but it, like lumbering, soon faded. Many farmers abandoned their fields, leaving them to return to their natural state. Orchard growers had more lasting success growing cherries and apples. Many fruit trees still grow in the park and nearby.
The South Manitou Island Lighthouse was built in 1871 to guide ships through the Manitou Passage and into the island's harbor when fierce lake storms broke. Despite such safeguards, many ships still ran aground. The ruins of the wrecked freighter Francisco Morazan can be spotted off South Manitou's south shore. The lifesaving stations at Glen Haven and South Manitou Island are reminders of earlier times, when rescue crews launched small oar-powered wooden boats into giant waves to save shipwreck survivors. Today the Sleeping Bear Dunes area thrives as a popular summer resort area.
A Masterpiece of Ice, Wind, and Water
Indians were the first to tell tales of how sand dunes and other features of the land were created. In more recent years scientists have sought to explain the complex geologic history of the area. An abundance of clues has helped.
Fossils tell of some of the earliest history, when shallow warm seas covered this area. More recent history is revealed in the landscape. The shoreline, the hills and valleys, the many small lakes, and the sand dunes you see today are evidence that the powerful earth-moving forces of ice, wind, and water have been at work here. Often, geological changes occur slowly over millions of years, but here you can witness dramatic changes within your lifetime. Twice in the last century landslides at Sleeping Bear Point sent large land masses plunging into Lake Michigan. In a matter of years, trees disappear as shifting dunes bury them under a blanket of sand. Such changes make Sleeping Bear Dunes an exciting place to visit and revisit.
During the Ice Age continental glaciers spread southward from Canada, repeatedly burying this area under sheets of ice. These massive glaciers enlarged river valleys, carving out the wide, deep basins of the Great Lakes. They deposited huge piles of sand and rock debris when they melted, leaving behind the hilly terrain you see today. Finally, 11,800 years ago, the last glacier retreated.
With the glacial landscape formed, Lake Michigan and many smaller lakes began to take shape. The level of water filling Lake Michigan's ice-carved basin rose and fell many times before reaching its present level. The lake's shorelineat first irregular with jutting headlands and recessed bayswas gradually smoothed out. Waves wore back the headlands. Shoreline currents carrying sediments built sandbars and spits across bay mouths. Sometimes sediments dammed bays, creating small inland lakes such as Glen Lake near the Lake Michigan shoreline. Receding Lake Michigan water levels have left a series of old beach lines that remain as alternating and contrasting low ridges and swales.
The glaciers left behind an ideal setting for building sand dunes: a sandy coast on the windward side of Lake Michigan. Prevailing westerly winds blowing across the lake build two kinds of dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes. Beach dunes develop on low-lying shores of Lake Michigan. Their main ingredient is beach sand. The Aral Dunes, along Platte Bay's north shore, are good examples of beach dunes. Perched dunes, on the other hand, sit high above the shore on plateaus. Glacial sands atop these surfaces supplied material for these dunes. The Sleeping Bear Dune of Indian legend is a perched dune.
Some dunes migrate, pushed by the wind. Sometimes shifting sands bury trees. Then, as the dunes move on, "ghost forests" of dead trees are exposed, stark reminders of the dunes' passing. Not even humans have escaped the influence of windblown sand. U.S. Coast Guard buildings now located in Glen Haven had to be moved from Sleeping Bear Point in 1931 because migrating dunes threatened to cover them.
Beachgrass and sand cherry are among the first plants to grow on newly built dunes. They play an important role in dune development. They help build dunes by acting as obstacles that slow sand-laden wind and force it to drop its load. Their roots hold sand in place and stabilize dunes. But if a strong wind succeeds in stripping plants from a dune, a bowl-shaped blowout can be excavated in the exposed area. Vehicles are prohibited on the dunes because they destroy dune vegetation. Tire-track scars last many years.
An Ever-Changing Scene
Visiting the Lakeshore
The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center offers exhibits, a slide program, and book sales. Park headquarters, in the same building, is open weekdays. Exhibits are also at the Maritime Museum, outdoor mainland locations, and on South Manitou Island.
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Exploring the Dunes
Enjoying the Water
South Manitou Island
North Manitou Island
For a Safe Visit
Practice Safe Boating
Getting to the Park
Source: NPS Brochure (2004)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Garden Apart: An Agricultural and Settlement History of Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Region (Susan Olsen Haswell and Arnold R. Alanen, 1994)
A Multi-scale Assessment and Evaluation of Historic Openlands at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/GLKN/NRTR-2009/150 (R. Gregory Corace, III, P. Charles Goebel and Thomas C. Wyse, January 2009)
A Nationalized Lakeshore: The Creation and Administration of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Theodore J. Karamanski, 2000)
A Report of Feasibility of Two Areas in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Paul H. Risk, undated)
A Special History Study of Port Oneida and the Pyramid Point Agricultural District, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (Ron Cockrell, April 1983 rev. June 1984)
Acoustic Monitoring for Bats at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Data Summary Report for 2015–2019 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/GLKN/NRDS—2021/1323 (Katy R. Goodwin and Alan A. Kirschbaum, April 2021)
An Amphibian and Reptile Inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/GLKN/NRTR-2008/147 (Gary S. Casper and Thomas G. Anton, December 2008)
Annual Performance Report: FY2003, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Dusty Shultz, October 28, 2003)
Annual Performance Report: FY2004, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Dusty Shultz, October 31, 2004)
Aquatic Studies in National Parks of the Upper Great Lakes States: Past Efforts and Future Directions NPS Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2005/334 (Brenda Moraska Lafrancois and Jay Glase, July 2005)
Assessment of Natural Resource Conditions, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/WRD/NRR-2009/097 (Christine Mechenich, David J. Mechenich, Stanley W. Szczytko, James E. Cook and George J. Kraft, March 2009)
Baseline Water Quality Data Inventory and Analysis, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore NPS Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-97/106 (March 1997)
Bat Monitoring Protocol for the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network Version 1.0 (NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/GLKN/NRR-2020/2126 (Katy G. Goodwin, May 2020)
Bioaccumulative Contaminants in Aquatic Food Webs in Six National Park Units of the Western Great Lakes Region: 2008-2012 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/GLKN/NRR-2016/1302 (James G. Wiener, Roger J. Haro, Kristofer R. Rolfhus, Mark B. Sandheinrich, Sean W. Bailey and Ried M. Northwick, September 2016)
Biogeographic Patterns of Inland Lake Fish Communities at Isle Royale, Voyageurs, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park Units NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/GLKN/NRTR—2014/893 (Owen Gorman, Larry Kallemey, and Ryan Maki, July 2014)
Climate Change Impacts on Odawa Contemporary Use Plants and Cultture at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Richard Stoffle, Katherine Brooks, Evelyn Pickering, Christopher Sittler and Kathleen Van Vlack, October 5, 2015)
Climate Change Scenario Planning Workshop Summary, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, April 23-24, 2015 (Jonathan Star, Nicholas Fisichelli, Gregor Schuurman, Leigh Welling, Richard Rood and Laura Briley, 2015)
Coming Through With Rye: An Historic Agricultural Landscape Study of South Manitou Island at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (Brenda Wheeler Williams, Arnold R. Alanen and William H. Tishler, 1996)
Farming at the Water's Edge: An Assessment of Agricultural and Cultural Landscape Resources in the Proposed Port Oneida Rural Historic District at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Marla J. McEnaney, William H. Tishler and Arnold R. Alanen, 1995)
Geologic Report on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Christopher Drexler, 1975)
Great Lakes Junior Ranger Activity Book (Date Unknown)
Historic Resource Study, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Jim Muhn, 1984)
Historic Structure and Cultural Landscape Report: South Manitou Island Light Station (Historic Structures 51-120 A-I), Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Final Report, Quinn Evans Architects, January 29, 1999)
Historic Structure Report: Glen Haven Coast Guard Station, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore: Architectural and Historical Data (Cornelia Wyma and John Albright, April 1980)
Impacts of Visitor Spending on the Local Economy: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 2009 NPS Natural Resource Report (Philip S. Cook, May 2011)
Implementation of a Long-Term Vegetation Monitoring Program at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/GLKN/NRTR-2010/407 (Suzanne Sanders and Jessica Grochowski, November 2010)
Inventory and Evaluation of Inland Fisheries at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Great Lakes Network Report GLKN/2007/03 (Brett Fessell, November 2007)
Junior Ranger Book, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Date Unknown)
Landsat-based Monitoring of Landscape Dynamics at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: 2006–2011 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/GLKN/NRR—2014/895 (Alan A. Kirschbaum and Ulf B. Gafvert, December 2014)
Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route Trailway Plan and Environmental Assessment, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Leelanau County, MI (Gosling Czubak Engineering Sciences, Inc., National Park Service and Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, March 2009)
Long-Range Interpretive Plan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (September 2011)
Monitoring Visitor Reactions to the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 1999: A Summary of Output (Jerrilyn L. Thompson, David W. Lime, Joanna M. Rosendahl and Cynthia A. Warzecha, April 7, 2000)
Monitoring Water Quality of Inland Lakes
Monitoring Water Quality of Inland Lakes, 2008: Annual Summary Report Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network Report GLKN/2008/01 (Joan Elias, February 2009)
Monitoring Water Quality of Inland Lakes, Great Lakes Network, 2009 and 2010: Data Summary Report NPS Natural Resources Data Series NPS/GLKN/NRDS-2011/163 (Joan E. Elias and Richard A. Damstra, May 2011)
Monitoring Water Quality of Inland Lakes, Great Lakes Network, 2011: Data Summary Report NPS Natural Resources Data Series NPS/GLKN/NRDS-2012/363 (Joan E. Elias and Richard A. Damstra, September 2012)
Monitoring Water Quality of Inland Lakes, Great Lakes Network, 2012: Data Summary Report NPS Natural Resources Data Series NPS/GLKN/NRDS-2014/629 (Richard A. Damstra, David Vander Meulen and Joan Elias, March 2014)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms
George Conrad Hutzler Farm (Jill York O'Bright, October 22, 1986)
Glen Haven Village Historic District (Ron Cockrell, Thomas Hensley, Marie Scott and Pat McCauley, November 22, 1982, April 14, 1989, November 6, 1989)
Hutler's Barn (David Koenig, October 21, 1976)
North Manitou Island Lifesaving Station (William Herd and Kimberly Mann, January 26, 1994)
Port Oneida Rural Historic District (Marla J. McEnaney, December 31, 1996)
Sleeping Bear Inn (HS-23) (David Koenig, October 21, 1976)
Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station (David Koenig and F.A. Ketterson, Jr., October 21, 1976, revised September 1978)
South Manitou Island Lighthouse Complex / Life-Saving Station Historic District (Jill M. York, June 9, 1983)
Natural History Values of Selected Areas, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park Region (Warren H. Wagner, undated)
Reconnaissance Report on Several Locations Adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Richard W. Pippen, undated)
Report of Visit to Sleeping Bear Dune and Adjacent Areas (William R. Farrand, October 22, 1979)
Scope of Collections Statement, August 15, 2011 (Laura Quackenbush, 2011)
Songbird Monitoring in the Great Lakes Network Parks: 2014-2018 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/GLKN/NRR-2021/2217 (Samuel G. Roberts, Zachary S. Ladin, Elizabeth L. Tymkiw, W. Gregory Shriver and Ted Gostomski, January 2021)
Tending a "Comfortable Wilderness": A History of Agricultural Landscapes on North Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Eric MacDonald and Arnold R. Alanen, 2000)
Unusual Features of the Upland Sector of Sleeping Bear Dunes (Paul W. Thompson, undated)
Visitor Study, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Summer 2009 Park Studies Unit Visitor Services Project Report 216 (Nancy C. Holmes, Eleonora Papadogiannaki, Douglas Eury and Steven J. Hollenhorst, April 2010)
Water Resources Management Plan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (David L. Vana-Miller, November 2002)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 20-Apr-2022