The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has long been renowned for its beauty. Spectacular views of the dunes, rolling hills, inland lakes, and of course Lake Michigan are everywhere.
Until recently, soaking in this gorgeous landscape was most easily accomplished by car. A short drive to one of the scenic overlooks or along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive would have you face to face with the majesty of northern Michigan. Sure, you could bike or hike along the roads, but few people with young kids want to do that.
The newly opened extension to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail solves that problem.
Since opening in 2012, the portion of the Heritage Trail connecting Glen Arbor to the Dune Climb has proved extremely popular. Weaving its way through pristine forest and gently undulating hills, it passes beneath Alligator Hill and through Glen Haven before turning south towards the Dune Climb. It is as picturesque on a bike in summertime as it is on cross-country skis in the winter. But it’s a quick trip from Glen Arbor to the Dune Climb.
On Friday, June 6 the extension to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail connecting the Dune Climb to Empire to the south officially opened. Having kept an eye on the construction of the trail for the past few months, naturally I couldn’t wait to get out there and ride it with some coworkers and friends.
The trailhead is easy to access on Forest Haven Drive. A short ride from downtown Glen Arbor, the trailhead also offers room for parking if you’re driving in from further afield. This first part of the trail is a delight to ride. We breezed along the gently undulating, shaded trail to Glen Haven.
After reaching Glen Haven, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail turns sharply south towards the Dune Climb. This portion of the trail remains fairly flat, but isn’t as heavily wooded as it is between Glen Haven and Glen Arbor.
It’s amazing how quickly you reach the Dune Climb on a bike. It felt like no sooner had we passed Glen Haven than we were rolling into the parking lot. Without the trail extension, this would have been the end of the road; the end of a very enjoyable, very scenic, but very short bike ride from Glen Arbor.
With the extension open, we had another five and a half miles of trail ahead of us. We circled around the parking lot and onto the new trail.
This new section of the trail is even more beautiful than the original. It winds its way through hillier terrain and denser forest. Steep climbs are almost immediately rewarded by swift descents through shady glades.
While most of the terrain is fairly easy, there are a couple of steeper segments. One hill in particular will have all but the fittest walking their bikes to its summit. But once that summit is reached, the trail is downhill for almost the entirety of the remainder of the journey to Empire.
The trail’s steeper sections are a little tiring, but a lot of work went into planning the route to be as accessible as possible. The trail is very family-friendly.
There is so much beauty to soak in on this ride. The majority of the gently undulating trail winds through the shady glades of the Lakeshore. You cannot tire of its idyllic tranquility. There is wildlife too. We saw several deer during our ride.
About an hour after we left Glen Arbor, we reached the end of the trail and rolled into Empire. Our legs were a little tired and there were some sweaty brows, but everyone enjoyed the nine and half miles of glorious Sleeping Bear Lakeshore.
Next time you’re up north, you simply must take a ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. There is no better way to experience the Lakeshore.