Michigan’s M-22 and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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.

Glen Lake

Glen Lake

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.

Where to Stay

Find family-friendly accommodations in Michigan from traditional hotels to private vacation rentals through Stay22.com:

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.

Dune Overlook

Dune Overlook

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.

Kids Hiking Dunes

Hiking the Cottonwood Trail

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:

Sleeping Bear Dunes Warning Sign

Climb at Your Own Risk

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.


View from the Top

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.

Lake Michigan Overlook

Lake Michigan Overlook

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.

Running Down Dunes

Kids Love the Dune Climb

For more ideas and information on what do to in the Leelenau Peninsula and Traverse City, visit TraverseCity.com.

Happy trails! 

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About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.

2 Comments on "Michigan’s M-22 and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore"

  1. Where do you recommend staying? Single mom w/4 kids ages 15-8. First timers. Coming in August.

  2. Hi Michele, We really liked Sugar Beach Resort Hotel in Traverse City. This is a winter-themed post, but the details are the same: https://www.roadtripsforfamilies.com/winter-family-vacation-in-traverse-city-michigan/

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