sleeping bear dunes in winter

Winter Delights at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center in Empire

9922 Front Street, Empire, MI 49630

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, renowned for its natural beauty during the warmer months, offers a plethora of winter activities that often go unnoticed by many. Located in Northern Michigan, this enchanting destination beckons visitors with 65 miles of pristine shoreline and 100 miles of trails, spanning from Empire to Glen Arbor.

Conveniently situated just 30 minutes away from Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes is an ideal location for a romantic winter getaway, an adventurous outdoor experience with kids, or even a memorable family reunion or holiday gathering.

If you’re seeking inspiration for your winter trip, look no further than the winter trail leading to Leelanau County and the snow-covered dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes. In this guide, I’ll share an array of winter activities available, ensuring you have a delightful time experiencing the pure essence of Michigan.

sleeping bear dunes

Planning Your Winter Trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes

As Sleeping Bear Dunes is a national park, a $25.00 entrance fee applies, unless you possess a park pass for your vehicle. Prices may vary for motorcycles and individuals, so it’s advisable to check their website for detailed information on passes and any unexpected closures (although rare, it’s always worth staying informed).

Before entering the park, make sure to visit the visitor’s center located at Philip A. Hart Visitor Center. Here, you can acquire brochures, maps, and receive valuable insights from park rangers about the park’s history and other useful information. Don’t forget to grab a souvenir from the bookstore and museum, as a memento of your memorable trip.

sleeping bear dunes winter

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Winter Activities in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Dune Climb

When it comes to Sleeping Bear Dunes, the dune climb is an absolute must-do. This iconic hiking trail is renowned throughout the park and completing it is a testament to your adventurous spirit. Fortunately, hiking on snow is easier compared to sand, allowing you to relish the experience even more.

Winter Hiking

With numerous trails scattered across the park, remember to dress warmly and wear reliable boots for your winter hikes. The awe-inspiring views along the trails vary in difficulty, providing options for both leisurely strolls and more challenging, yet rewarding, treks.

PRO-TIP: Winter sports enthusiasts should explore the Platte Plains Trail, located just south of Empire. This trail offers almost 15 miles of hiking and skiing opportunities.

Empire Bluff Trail

Throughout the year, the Empire Bluff Trail offers a picturesque panorama, but its winter charm is truly captivating. This trail, stretching for a mile and a half, treats you to breathtaking vistas of snow-laden trees, open fields, and stunning cliff-side views of the water.

Cross Country Skiing

For the ultimate cross-country skiing experience in northern Michigan, head to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This well-maintained trail accommodates skiers of all skill levels, guaranteeing a delightful time regardless of your experience. The trail’s beauty is unmatched, no matter how many times you’ve traversed it.


The park’s vast dunes and open fields provide excellent opportunities for snowshoeing. You can join guided snowshoe hikes or embark on self-guided expeditions using the NPS Sleeping Bear Dunes app on your phone. Noteworthy trails include Old Indian Trail, Platte Plains, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Windy Moraine, Alligator Hill, and Bay View Trail. Make sure to obtain any necessary trail maps from the visitor center. Keep an eye out for glimpses of Glen Lake and the Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan.

glen arbor


Before conquering the dune climb, grab a tube or sled for an exhilarating ride down. When the dunes are blanketed in snow, the park designates a specific area for sledding, offering an unparalleled sledding hill in all of Michigan.

Fat Tire Biking

Designed for off-season terrains like snow and ice, fat tire bikes are perfect for exploring the winter dunes. Hop on one of these bicycles with their wide wheels and low tire pressure, allowing you to effortlessly traverse the snowy landscapes.

Ice Fishing

As one of the most popular winter activities in Michigan, ice fishing presents an excellent option for visitors to the great lakes. Within the park, you can use a power auger with a permit on Lake Michigan, Loon Lake, School Lake, Bass Lake, and Tucker Lake. Ice auger permits are available for free at the visitor center.

Wildlife Sightings

The dunes harbor a rich diversity of wildlife, with over 50 species of mammals calling it home. Keep your eyes peeled for enchanting creatures like whitetail deer, red foxes, and snowshoe hares. If you’re fortunate, you might even spot black bears, bobcats, or cougars.


For adventurous souls who relish winter camping, Platte River Campground remains open year-round. With over 40 available spots from October to April, it accommodates the hardy campers while the remaining spots reopen during the warmer months for fair-weathered campers.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Renowned for its incredible vistas of the dunes, water, and abundant wildlife sightings, the scenic 7.5-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-visit. In winter, the drive is closed to automobiles due to road conditions but remains open for skiers, snowshoers, and those seeking a leisurely stroll. You can find a guide to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at the visitor center.

More to Explore in the Sleeping Bear Area

If you’re craving more winter adventures, consider downhill skiing at The Homestead in Glen Arbor. Take the opportunity to explore the historic restored port village of Glen Haven, which boasts picturesque charm amidst snow-covered surroundings. Treat yourself to panoramic views of Sleeping Bear Bay while enjoying waterfront dining at Blu, one of the top restaurants in Glen Arbor. Furthermore, the Grand Traverse area is renowned for its local craft breweries, so indulge in a beer tour or consult our guide to discover the best breweries in Traverse City.

Glen Arbor MI

Where to Stay in Sleeping Bear Dunes National


Situated between two charming towns in Northern Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes offers a wide array of accommodations, including winter rentals near the park. If you opt for Glen Arbor, you’ll have several exceptional hotels and inns to choose from.

M22 Inn

5793 S Ray St, Glen Arbor, MI 49636

This two-story colonial-style house exudes a cozy ambiance reminiscent of home. Located in downtown Glen Arbor, the M22 Inn provides easy access to Lake Michigan, as well as nearby shops and attractions such as The Cherry Republic.

Sylvan Inn

6680 W Western Ave, Glen Arbor, MI 49636

Boasting a gorgeous exterior and comfortable rooms, the Sylvan Inn shines with its delectable breakfast offerings. Centrally located in downtown Glen Arbor, it serves as a convenient base for your winter adventures.

Empire Lakeshore Inn

11730 S Lacore Rd, Empire, MI 49630

Nestled near one of Michigan’s finest sandwich shops, the Shipwreck Café, the Empire Lakeshore Inn offers a fantastic stay experience. This clean and comfortable spot includes a lovely garden terrace, providing a tranquil retreat.

Cottonwood Inn Bed & Breakfast

9583 W Front St, Empire, MI 49630

The Cottonwood Inn Bed & Breakfast captivates guests with its charming rooms, cozy beds, and picturesque views throughout the winter season. Each room at the inn features a private bathroom, while roomy suites are available to accommodate families.