Nearly 117 miles in entirety, M-22 is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the state of Michigan. Hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline along the Leelenau Peninsula, M-22 also falls within the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.
A picturesque journey over gentle rolling hills and past sandy beaches, the route passes through small towns, wine country, sandy beaches, and a blend of deciduous and coniferous forest. M-22 offers countless stopping off points, with one of the most popular and notable being the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Spanning 35-miles along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan as well as North Manitou and South Manitou Islands, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore received bragging rights as the Most Beautiful Place in American by Good Morning America in 2011.
We visited mainland Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore journeyed out to South Manitou Island (look for more on this experience in an upcoming story) earlier this summer.
If you go, consider starting your trip on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This 7.4 mile paved touring route loops through a good portion of the park and gives visitors a sense of place, as they take in the unique terrain and topography. Comprised of 12-designated stopping points–which are also points of interest–plan a few hours completing the entire drive.
Highlights we recommend are the Dune Overlook and Cottonwood Trail, stops 3 and 4, respectively. A tip: If you hike the Cottonwood Trail and the trail map box is empty, take a photo of the map with your cell phone to use as a reference. We found the trail markers a bit confusing, but made it back to the parking lot without too much trouble.
Perhaps the most popular stops are 9 and 10, Lake Michigan Overlook and Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook. Park in the main lot and make the short walk back to the bluff overlooking the main, massive, dune. You’ll be greeted by this sign:
Do you see the minuscule dots floating in the water in this photo? Those are people and it’s a long trip back up. I believe the message above to be an accurate (and fair) warning. At a minimum, if you do decide to make this 450-foot/41.5-story down-and-back climb, bring fresh drinking water and plan to have epic calf pain for a few days.
Here’s what the Lake Michigan Overlook viewing platform looks like. I found great irony in discovering the supporting beams are being reinforced by piles of sandbags.
In my opinion, a much better dune scrambling experience is the designated Dune Climb location a short drive just north of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive on South Dune Highway/109. This popular family spot has a bookstore and concession stand along with water and modern restroom facilities.
For more ideas and information on what do to in the Leelenau Peninsula and Traverse City, visit TraverseCity.com.
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