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When completed, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail will wind for 27 miles through the stunning Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—a national park on the shores of Lake Michigan in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. In 2011, Good Morning America proclaimed this area “The Most Beautiful Place in America.”
The trail is built partially on what once was a narrow-gauge railroad (constructed in 1907) that transported lumber from a sawmill on Glen Lake to the port town of Glen Haven on Sleeping Bear Bay. Most of the trail, however, was not constructed on a former rail bed, and visitors will find steep grades of as much as 12 percent in some parts of the currently 21-mile route.
The northeastern endpoint for the trail is currently located at South Bohemian Road and MI 22/West Harbor Highway in Maple City, between Little Traverse Lake to the east and Bass Lake and School Lake to the west; the southwestern endpoint is located at South Lacore Street and South Leelanau Highway in Empire. When the trail is finished, its northeastern terminus will extend to County Road 651/Good Harbor Trail in Good Harbor Bay Beach, and its southwestern terminus will extend to Manning Road in Honor.
Beginning at South Bohemian Road, you’ll head northwest to the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, which showcases Midwestern turn-of-the-century farm life. The area preserves a rare collection of more than a hundred buildings and farming sites dating back more than a century. Note that most of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is paved except for the section of hard-packed crushed stone running through this historic district.
After leaving the historic farm area, you’ll head south toward Glen Lake and then west into the town of Glen Arbor, where the trail continues on low-traffic roads. Here, you’ll find a grocery store, several restaurants, a bike-rental shop, and numerous other stores catering to the tourist trade.
After exiting Glen Arbor, the trail continues west through a wooded area that in 2015 was struck by a storm with winds of up to 100 miles per hour that felled hundreds of trees. The devastation is still visible for a couple of miles, with large trees scattered like matchsticks along the corridor. Continuing west, the trail winds through D. H. Day Campground and the historic town of Glen Haven before arriving at the Dune Climb—the primary point of public access to the Sleeping Bear Dunes and one of Michigan’s most famous natural features.
Rising to 260 feet, Dune Climb is a popular climbing point that provides a breathtaking view of Glen Lake below. The climb can be strenuous, however, with a 20 percent grade on loose white sand, but you can choose to walk, run, or roll back to the bottom. Or you might continue the dune hike for another 1.5 miles to reach Lake Michigan. Those who do so should be prepared with sturdy shoes, a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, particularly during the summer, when the sun and sand can be extremely hot.
The trail turns south after the Dune Climb and enters a deeply forested part of the park. This section includes one majo
major hill that is challenging but results in a long descent into the town of Empire. You’ll pass a small trailhead on your right at West Voice Road and North Bar Lake Road with a pit toilet and parking, after which the off-road trail ends about 200 feet past where West Voice Road turns south and becomes South Lacore Road. From there, a signed on-road section continues for just under a mile to S. Leelanau Highway where South Lacore Road has become South Lacore Street.
In Empire, you can enjoy a local restaurant or take a quick dip at the town’s sandy Lake Michigan beach. You can also access the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, which provides information and interpretive displays for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The best place to park near the northeastern endpoint is at the Bay View Trailhead in Maple City. To reach it from the intersection of MI 72 and Maple City Road, head north on Maple City Road for 8.8 miles. Turn left on MI 22/W. Harbor Hwy., and go 5.3 miles. Turn right (north) onto S. Thoreson Road, go 0.3 mile, and turn left into the trailhead parking lot. The endpoint is approximately 4.3 miles east.
To reach the southern trailhead from the intersection of S. Lacore St. and MI 22 in Empire, head north on S. Lacore St. where MI 22 heads northeast. After 1.1 miles—S. Lacore St. becomes Lacore Road—bear right onto W. Voice Road and, in 0.2 mile, turn left onto N. Bar Lake Road. Look for the parking lot on your right in less than 300 feet. The trail’s official endpoint is about 1.3 mile farther down the trail in Empire.
Let me preface this by stating that our 19-mile ride included NONE of the hills. We started at the Dune Climb parking lot, on the 100th birthday of the nat'l park system which was cool, and rode north toward Glen Haven. The small town is really cute and very biker friendly. The trail is very well marked until you get past the town then you must look for the right hand turn onto Pine Haven Dr. You'll bike along the road for a short distance but it was very safe and not heavily traveled at all. One of the highlights was the Crystal River kayak launch. Stop and check out the clear water. Looks like fun! The entire path we rode was very smooth and plenty wide for riders. We stopped and turned around when we came to the gravel section because of our tires. So here's my commercial, if you aren't a member of RTC, please join today so that some of these awesome trails can come to fruition. Loved the Sleeping Bear Dunes area so much!
One of the trails we have found yet. It clearly has it hill challenges but doable, and a nice route. My only complaint is that about 2/3 the way from Empire to the end it became a gravel (not asphalt) and we had no idea how long the gravel lasted before it went back to (if it did) asphalt. Out bikes are not gravel friendly so we turned around. Other than that it was a great trail, never boring, always beautiful.
First of all, this is NOT a typical rail-trail. The best flat section for a nice family ride is from the Duneside parking lot to Forest Haven Rd. near Glen Arbor, four miles one way. This is a nice area going through several habitats from forest to field.
The other sections of this trail would be great for road bikers who are used to steep hills and rides on country roads. From Forest Haven Rd. you have to ride through the town of Glen Arbor on regular roads, some with no shoulders at all, to the trailhead at Crystal River. From here there is a really nice wetland area you cross on a wonderful bridge. After that, I used all 21 of my gears on my hybrid bike to tackle some hills (I'm an old lady!). Then I hit the gravel dirt area and even my 700 x 45 wheels slid a bit. The gravel was loose and there were ruts in the trail, not like the many nicely compacted limestone rail-trails I have been on.
In general, this is a beautiful trail that will be enjoyed by many over the years. Signage has been improved and hopefully, the Port Oneida section will either be compacted more or paved.
This is an incredibley amazing trail, not for the faint of heart as there are some really steep hills that awesome in one direction and a real pain in the other. One of the best I've been on so far. Double bonus when the colors are on.
Northern Michigan has a number of very scenic bike trails such as the Huron Sunrise Trail and the North Central State Trail. However based on my experiences of having ridden on well over 100 trails from coast to coast I believe that the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail will become the gem of the Michigan trail system and one of the most popular “one day rides” in the country once it is completed and the bugs of the trail system are worked out.
What helps set this trail apart from most other trails is that it is almost entirely within the boundaries of a national lakeshore set aside for its natural beauty. This trail is never boring because the landscape is continually changing but yet provides great scenery throughout its entire length. Starting at the current eastern end of the trail at the Port Oneida trailhead you are riding through the fields of a historic district dotted with preserved farms surrounded by wooded hills. Following this section the trail travels along a forested hillside above highway 22. The hillside trail has its share of ups and downs which should be manageable for most but easily walkable for the rest. Eventually you cross hwy. 22 and enter the 10 mile long flat central portion of the trail. This section first takes you on a boardwalk through some wetlands. After the wetlands the trail seems to end and you are currently on your own to Glen Arbor. The unmarked route along county roads that the locals recommended turned out to be really nice as you crossed the Crystal River at a canoe landing and traveled on a tree shaded road passing beautiful lake-front homes. Next is Glen Arbor which is a quaint little resort town with a number of places to stop for lunch. After Glen Arbor you travel down another county road for a short distance to an access point for the resumption of the trail. This section of the trail is especially beautiful as it weaves its way through towering hardwood trees to the D.H. Day campground and Glen Haven. There you have a sandy beach and a great view of Lake Michigan along with several historic structures preserved as museums. After resuming the trail you travel through dune scrub vegetation for a short distance before reentering the forest. Eventually you come to an actively moving dune on the right of the trail which is slowing burying the trees as it creeps towards the trail. A little further down the trail the trees are completely gone and you are at the imposing face of the dune climb. The trail skirts around the dune climb before returning to the woods and hills adjacent to M-109. Immediately after you cross Pierce-Stocking drive there is a long steep hill which will cause most to throw in the towel and walk the bike. After you catch your breath on the thoughtfully provided park benches it is back on the bike and you are traveling mostly downhill to the end of the trail just north of Empire. We did not go into Empire on this trip because the road was being repaved during our visit.
Perhaps the best part of this trail is that in addition to the trail itself there are lots of adjacent sightseeing opportunities. Most of which are easily accessed from the trail. They can be used as a break from the trail or you can use the diversions to easily make a 2 day round trip of the entire trail. At Glen Haven there is a maritime museum just a ½ mile west on a dirt road. The museum tells the history of Great Lakes shipping and rescue operations in a beautiful and peaceful setting on Lake Michigan. Just beyond the museum there is a little used short trail into the dunes providing stunning views of the surrounding dunes and Lake Michigan. Short side trips in the Glen Haven area take you to Glen Lake or Lake Michigan. Pierce-Stocking drive is a must-see but probably best attempted by car because of the extremely hilly terrain. But the view looking down from the 450 foot tall dune directly into Lake Michigan far below is well worth the drive. And of course you can park your bike and attempt the very popular “dunes climb” which provides great views of scenic Glenn Lake.
There are currently only 2 drawbacks that I see on this trail. First the lack of signage while biking around Glen Arbor. This goes under the category of “getting the bugs out of the system” and should be resolved fairly quickly since the trail was only recently completed east of Glen Arbor. The second drawback is the popularity of this beautiful area. Part of the trail is directly on and crosses the main street of Glen Arbor. We were on the trail in early June. But when all schools are out and summer vacations are in full swing it may be a bit of a challenge to bike through Glen Arbor, especially on weekends.
Regardless, the Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail is not a trail to add lots of miles to your odometer in a short period of time. Rather it is a trail to ride at a slow pace so that you can savor the scenery of one of the most uniquely beautiful rail-trails in the country.
We rode the trail on Friday, June 19. Weather was sunny and only a bit cool when we got close to Lake Michigan. Lots of variety in the stretch from Empire to Glen Haven with hills and curves as we biked a gradual climb until we reached the Dunes. The only complaint we had was the trail was not well-marked once we reached Glen Arbor. We had to bike along M 22 until we discovered the trail again N of the town. The newest section of the trail to Port Oneida was nice with the last mile on gravel. Not a problem as it was well-packed. On the return trip, we were able to find the trail as it ran E of Glen Arbor and we rode the boardwalk over the wetlands. The trail disappeared again and we guessed that we had to turn right onto a paved road to get back to Glen Arbor to rejoin the trail. One pretty steep climb on the trail heading S and then a nice long downhill return to our parking place. A beautiful trip!
I really hope that Tom and Dusty pave a lot more of the park. They've done a great job with blacktop and fencing in Glen Haven and I can only hope they continue their fine work throughout the rest of the park.
I know that I prefer blacktop over a natural trial any day and I know that many of you do too. I can't wait to see the woods removed for more asphalt so that I too can enjoy the ride and smooth glide for me and my bike
Just think.... a 27 mile long heat sink being brought to you by the same folks who sell you Climate Change.
We rode this trail in early September. The weather was perfect for riding. 68degrees and breezy. The trail had every level of rider out enjoying the beauty, from very experienced to kids with training wheels. There are definitely some challenging spots. Heading South from the Dine climb, there are 2 pretty large hills to climb. We are just moderate riders, and ended up walking our bike to the top of the largest one,. They sure were fun going down them though! Th The ride was absolutely gorgeous! The dune climb is situated at a perfect spot for taking a break and having some lunch. Grand Haven, which is toward the northern end of the trail was also gorgeousness. You just don't see beauty like that very often. The last 1/2 mile of the trail is on a regular road that takes you into Glen Arbor. Very cute, friendly shopping with lots to do and see. We had a ball! What a perfect day!!
I rode this trail August 13, 2014. I started in Empire and rode to Glen Arbor. I struggled a bit finding the trailhead in Empire. I first stopped at the Philip Hart Visitor Center to buy a pass for the national Park. When I asked where the trail started, I was told I had to find Voice Rd. - no further directions. I happened on this dirt road just by chance. I traveled north out of town on M-22 for a couple miles and saw the sign. I turned left and the trail was about a mile down the road. I wish the bike trails were better marked.
The trail from Empire to the Dune Climb is new. From Empire the trail seems like a gradual incline until you get to the Dune Climb with some pretty challenging hills. The trail winds through beautiful forest. The rest of the trip to Glen Arbor has much more gradual hills and is an easier ride. It takes you through Glen Haven and gives you views of Lake Michigan. The trail seemed to end abruptly at a highway. Another biker told me if I turned left on that highway, it would take me into Glen Arbor. There were numerous restaurants there for lunch. The town is really cute and worth walking around and exploring.
The return trip was easier...especially from the Dune Climb to Empire. I think I pretty much coasted the last couple miles. It was a great day of biking.
Road this Trail 7/22/14. Of the 4 trails I road, during my time there, this was the prettiest. The dense woods are gorgeous! Don't rush. Take your time to enjoy the scenery. At present, the trail runs 10 miles from Glen Arbor MI to just outside Empire MI. From Glen Arbor you pass through beautiful wooded areas on your way to Glen Haven. You share a "road" with a campground for a very short segment, 1/16th of a mile. Just keep going straight through to campground area and you will see the next yellow post trail marker. From there you continue on to Glen Haven. There you have a beach and wonderful views of Lake Michigan. The trail crosses into sandy meadows of wild flowers and wooded areas. At the "Dune Climb" the trail goes around the parking lot and crosses the street at the main entrance. There is a stop sign but watch for traffic. Most cars will give you the right of way. From there the trail runs through wooded areas and next to M-109. There are a few short steep hills 9% and 12% grade but not bad. (There is no hill that you can't walk up!)The Trail passes Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which is highly recommended. Then makes its way south down close to Empire. Construction continues on the north and south ends of the trail which will open in 2015 and 2016. The current plan when completed will run 27 miles. I personally think it would be VERY COOL to eventually connect this trail to the Leelanau Trail at Sutton's Bay completing the famous M-22 loop. I highly recommend this trail!
While the path is short, only 4 miles..its beautiful, flat, at times busy..but interesting, with curves, State Park,National Park,,shade and sun....just fun to do. Deer can be spotted from time to time as well. Perhaps best of all is its location...Glen Arbor...lots to do, see, and shop.
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