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Michigan dnr > wildlife viewing guide > northern lower peninsula > sleeping bear

44 Sleeping Bear Dunes Northern Lower Peninsula
National Lakeshore  

wildlife viewing  |  directions and facility information

fall colors on Pierce Stocking DrivelighthouseEmpire Bluff Overlook birch treescanoeing on the Platte River
Photos: National Park Service

Large, diverse, and unique, this National Lakeshore is one of the crown jewels of Michigan's natural resources. Here you will find 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, including dunes, bluffs, rocky points, and protected bays. North and South Manitou Islands add another 30 miles of shoreline. These remote islands offer pristine backpacking experiences from May through October. Driving the 7.5-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive provides spectacular views of Lake Michigan, shoreline sand dunes, and the surrounding countryside. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire provides a great introduction to the park and its cultural and natural history. The 71,000 acres in the park have many different habitat types and thus many different plants and animals to look for and enjoy while you are exploring by car or on foot. Don't forget to pick up maps and other materials that will make your visit more informative and enjoyable.

boardwalk in snowy dunes snowy dunes on coast dunes and lake view
Winter is an excellent time to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes. The dunes and lakeshore are no less beautiful in winter, and you donít have to share them with crowds of people! Click for larger image. Photos: © Phil Seng




Wildlife Viewing

view of plover view of plover
Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the few places in Michigan where
the highly endangered piping plover still nests. Biologists monitor
these birds very closely, and volunteer beach patrols protect the areas
ALONG THE BEACH! Photo: David Kenyon, MI DNR

From the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive you can see panoramic vistas as well as wildlife. White-tailed deer and wild turkeys are commonly seen along the roadway. Watch for groups (called kettles) of hawks soaring along the dunes during spring and fall migration. Bald eagles may also be spotted from time to time soaring in the thermal winds.

endangered Pitcher's Thistle Ghost forest

Occasionally, a violent storm from Lake Michigan will bury an entire stand of trees with sand. Over time, the sand is moved again, revealing a "ghost forest." These shifting sands are also home of the endangered pitcherís thistle, which relies on dune habitats for survival. Photo: National Park Service

Enjoy the colorful blooms of spring wildflowers in April and May. Float the Platte River for a good chance of seeing herons, geese, mergansers, and other duck species. View salmon running in the clear waters of the Platte River during the fall. Watch for the endangered Great Lakes piping plover along the beaches at Platte Point, located at the end of Lake Michigan Road. Piping plovers also have nested in the Manitou islands. Do not disturb nesting piping plovers! True to their names, Otter Creek and Otter Lake are home to river otters as well as mink, beavers, and muskrats. Watch for these playful and energetic mammals when the ice breaks up in early April. The vastness of the park with its many and diverse habitats offers an equally diverse opportunity to watch and listen for the many songbird species that live here.


Motor vehicle access from Michigan's Upper Peninsula: cross the Mackinac Bridge, southbound on I- 75; exit I-75 on US-31 (Petoskey/Charlevoix) to the west side of Traverse City; turn left on M-72 to Empire (25 miles/43km). Alternatively, you could stay on I-75 South to M-72 at Grayling. Travel M-72 westward through Kalkaska to Traverse City and on westward to Empire. Access from Southern Michigan: by way of US 31, US 131, US 27, or I- 75, through Traverse City and west on M-72 for 25 miles to Empire. Access from the south is also available by way of M-22 from Ludington/Manistee/Frankfort.

Ownership: National Park Service (231) 326-5134

Closest Towns: Empire, Glen Arbor

Weather and Driving Directions for Empire

Plan Your Trip with travel.michigan.org!

More information can be found by visiting the DNR's site (link leads to web app allowing users to search for campgrounds, harbors, trails and more), or by conducting a Google search:


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