Our family went on a day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park that was filled with beauty and adventure.
It was voted GMA’s most beautiful place in America this year.
We live 3 hours away from it and decided that we needed to explore it again with our boys. My husband and I had both been there when we were younger. We had talked about camping up there for the night but scratched that idea due to cold weather. Even in the summer, tent camping in Michigan can chill you to the bones and make for a long miserable night. So we opted for sleeping in our warm beds and getting up at a reasonable time to take a day trip there. The weather forecast was in the 50’s with sunshine and way less windy than the day before. The day before had up to 40 mph gusts. Sand and wind are not a good combo.
We first stopped at the visitor center to find out how to maximize our hours we had there. We briefly walked around the small museum that told about the dunes and also had many animals like owls, cougars, and porcupines; that were stuffed in cases. The park worker gave us a map and told us to take the scenic route and to see the Dune Climb.
The park is $10 to get in but well worth it for the views alone. We were given a paper that described all of the numbered checkpoints along our route.
We drove thru the covered bridge and stopped to take a picture but there were too many cars driving thru and other people with the same idea.
We then went to the next checkpoint with a beautiful view of a smaller lake. We took a group photo for some strangers and then they returned the favor for us. That was the strategic photography plan of the day to get all four of us in the pictures.
We stopped again for another amazing view with dunes and an even better view of the smaller lake.
After driving the loop a little while we came to the Dune Climb checkpoint. This is what I was excited about. It is about 400 ft straight down.
People run down it and climb back up. The first part is way more fun. As we approached the dune from the trail the sand was intense. We are talking middle of a desert sandstorm intense. All of the tourist were running and covering there heads. The sand was blowing so hard it would sting as it hit you. The wind wasn’t that bad at the other checkpoints so we had no idea what we were walking into. I saw a woman who had just climbed the steep dune approaching the top and had to ask her if it was worth it. She said that the wind behind you helps push you up.
My boys at this point had retreated back to the trail and the youngest seemed slightly traumatized. But we had just driven 3 hours to see THIS VIEW! We were not turning back yet! There was an observation deck out from the sand that overlooked the dune. I knew if we could just get there, we would not be pelted by the sand. We shielded the kids and made a run for it. The deck had a lot of other people who braved the elements for the view too.
While we were on the deck I could only think of one thing; climbing the dune.
I had done it years ago with my dad as a teenager but when else would we be there. I tried to talk my boys into taking plunge with me. I had offered A LOT of candy as the prize. No takers.
So solo I went. I had my sunglasses on and a scarf to shield my face. The worst part was getting over the lip of the dune where the most sand was flying.
The sand was not a problem going down the dune after that. The view was incredible and it was sooo steep.
I walked down for a bit and then gave it some running hops. I didn’t want to turn into a human sandball with so many people still on the observation deck.
My husband said that people were in disbelief that someone would try to go down. My son proudly claimed his crazy mom to a crowd of strangers. I decided to go about 3/4 the way down because the climb was really steep and I didn’t want my family to be waiting a super long time for me. I took a few pictures from my perspective and then made the hike back up.
The wind did NOT push me back up the dune with ease. As I got closer to the top I could see my husband shielding our youngest son in his jacket.
As I got to the top I had a feeling of accomplishment and the taste of a sand bath.
We dumped the sand out of our shoes by the car and made our way to the next checkpoint and we saw another gorgeous view.
We made our way toward the end of the loop and decided to go back to where there was a dune hiking trail.
Little did we know the adventure waiting for us.
The boys kept up a good pace, racing each other and we got amazing views from the top of the first big dune.
We could see another big dune that lots of people were running down.
That meant it wasn’t too sandy and it would be doable for the kids. We hiked over to the top of dune and my youngest made the plunge.
My other son and I followed and then we convinced my husband. He knew the walk up would not be as exciting. The dune was in two sections; an almost bowl like shape with a flatter plateau at the end, followed by a really steep grade to the parking lot at the bottom.
We look a few pictures before making the second plunge to the bottom. After a quick stop to the bathrooms, we made our way back up and that’s where the trouble started.
My youngest wanted to climb another dune and run down it. I saw another dune in the distance that was sure to have an amazing view of Lake Michigan.
I convinced him to try that one and my husband and other son were content to wait on the other side of the dune area. After trekking up the dune we had to climb a little higher to still get a good view. I let my son run down the dune with the condition of him promising to climb back up it.
I had the brilliant idea of walking across the top of the sand dune and then cutting across to meet up with the rest of my family somewhere along the trail.
It seemed better than backtracking all the way around to meet them and then still having to hike back to the car. In theory this was a good idea. I had called my husband when we first saw the view of the original dune and told him we would just meet him at the car. We climbed the ridge for a while and then bushwhacked a bit. I saw the hint of a trail below but the ridge and valley were too steep and dangerous to meet it. So we continued on in an attempt to find another spot to join it. We climbed across the sides of dunes as my son stepped in my footprints.
We continued to climb up and down dunes and found a trail to walk on. The problem was that it led to another huge sand dune that ended up near Lake Michigan.
That could have been a good problem because I had just been to the checkpoint area so there should be a road and people in site. No such luck. There were just tree stumps and extremely high winds. This made my little trooper start to panic a bit and cry for daddy and honestly, I was starting to get really concerned. Kind of like the feeling if you have ever “temporarily misplaced” your child in a public setting. You know you have to remain calm but you just want to freak out and panic. Well I had that feeling.
My mind was racing with all sorts of scenarios…… Would we have to be rescued by a ranger and be the subject of some local news story about a stupid mom who didn’t stay on the trail?…….Thank God Michigan doesn’t have rattlesnakes or scorpions or other killer desert like creatures…….. What was I thinking?!!!!……..What are those animal tracks?…….How will I fight off an animal?…….Why did I not get water from the backpack……..Where are we?????……….Why does all of the scenery look the same?……….Don’t show Jonas you are freaking out in your head!!!……..were just a few thoughts going thru my mind at the time.
I’ve never had the complete feeling of being lost before. Anytime I was “temporarily misplaced” I always seemed to eventually get my bearings and find my way back. This was such a different feeling. I had a serious prayer meeting on that sand dune.
We prayed for guidance and just kept on trying to go up and down the dunes to try to see anything familiar. The problem was when we got in the middle of a sand dune, all of the surroundings looked the same. We kept on not seeing anything that was a point of reference after we climbed to another peak.
My son did amazing hiking for so long and only needed a piggyback ride a few times. After several more climbs up and down the valleys, I finally saw our parking lot in the far distance. We had to up and down several dunes to make our way closer, which temporarily made us lose site of the parking lot. Finally at the peak of a dune I saw the road. I was sooooo relieved and grateful! My husband and son had started to walk the trail back to look for us but he got my call before he go any further. They picked us up on the side of the road and I was praising God for our protection.
Lesson learned! DO NOT GO OFF THE TRAILS and DO NOT SEPARATE. I was so proud of my youngest for being so brave that day.
We called it a day at the park and headed for dinner at a local restaurant called the Cherry Hut.
Themed with all things cherry. My husband got a cherry burger and I got the cherry chicken salad. We started to leave without trying the cherry pie. None of us are big fans of it but I saw a lot of news articles on the walls outside the bathrooms about how it’s the #1 place in the US for cherry pie. It was stupid to be there and not try. We ordered a slice to go and passed it around in the car.
It was well worth it and I’m grateful we didn’t miss out on that opportunity. Overall a great family day trip with unforgettable adventure. The crazy stuff that happens is what you always remember from your childhood trips.
Check out sleeping bear dunes and cherry hut store if you want to add this adventure to your list.
Just stay on the trail!