Northern Michigan has an abundance of natural beauty to boast about, but the crown jewel is definitely the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which is comprised of over 50,000 acres of protected lands in Leelanau and Benzie Counties, and lies on the Northwest lower peninsula of the mitten. The North and South Manitou Islands are also part of the Lakeshore.
The area that is know to locals as simply "the Park" has a rich history, comprised of Native American, logging, maritime/ shipping, and agricultural elements.
In fact the Lakeshore was named after a Chippewa legend. The condensed version of the story is that a mother bear and her two cubs fled a massive forest fire in Wisconsin by swimming across the lake. They swam for many hours, but the cubs fell behind as the mother bear pressed on. When she reached the shore she climbed to a high bluff. Exhausted, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The legend states that the Great Spirit Manitou created the islands to represent the cubs and one solitary dune to represent the Mother.
The Manitou Passage is the channel between the Manitou Islands and the Mainland. This area was essential to the settling of the region as the islands were ideally situated to resupply ships with much needed lumber to refuel their boilers. Docks were built and logging commenced. Heavy with ship traffic, unmarked shoals and unpredictable weather, many Great Lakes ships were lost, prompting an act of congress following the exceptionally fatal (214 mariner deaths) winter of 1870-1871. Life Saving Service was established to conduct shore rescues and lighthouses were built, some of which can be toured today.
There are many ways to explore the beauty of the park. A great way to start is a day at the beach. Esch Road, Port Oneida, Glen Haven, and Good Harbor all have beautiful white sand beaches. There are also trails that criss-cross all over the park. Check out a trail map- you will find Pyramid Point and Glen Haven on the top of the list of local's favorites. There is also the dune climb, Empire Bluffs, and North Bar Lake to keep you busy. The Cannery and the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven are also worth a visit.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a treasure - and a vast resource as far as recreation goes. Of course, no matter where you like to play in the park, a trip to Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor is always a must.
This is Part 1 of a 3 part series.
Here is Part 2
Here is Part 3
Photos courtesy of pubs.usgs.com, traverse city.com
References: nps.gov, leelanau.com