Photo Credit: Allie KF

If I told you beautiful islands, lighthouses, museums, wineries, and incredible sand dunes existed all in one place; most likely the Midwest would not come to mind. But think again because that’s precisely what Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes are known for. Named the most beautiful place in America by Good Morning America, this unique protected lakeshore on the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula covers a 35-mile stretch of Michigan’s eastern coastline along with a few islands thrown in for good measure.

Photo Credit: Jim Sorbie

Must-see attractions

Frequently mentioned favorites include the Dune Climb, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Glen Haven Maritime Museum and Life Saving Station, canoe trips on the Crystal and Platte Rivers, and the biking and hiking trails - especially those with scenic overlooks as at Pyramid Point. If you’re active, one of the best ways to see everything is the 27-mile paved heritage road designed for walkers, bikers, hikers, skiers, and even strollers.

Photo Credit: Rachel Kramer

So…are there bears?

Sleeping Bear is actually named after an old Chippewa legend about an enormous forest fire along the western shores of Lake Michigan that drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter. Determined to reach the safety of the opposite shore, they swam and swam, but the cubs never made it, despite the mama bear standing watching high atop a bluff.

Never giving up the hope that they would appear, the "bear" still exists in the shape of a small tree-covered knoll that’s been buried under the dunes. From the water, it has the appearance of a sleeping bear, but has been greatly reduced in size over the years as a result of wind and erosion. The cubs are said to be commemorated by the formation of the area’s two islands, North and South Manitou islands. That being said, though, it is a protected forest area so there have been some (infrequent) black bear and cougar sightings at the park.