Sleeping Bear Dunes
Updated: May 7, 2022
Great reasons to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes
Beautiful sand beaches and warm water
Many hiking and bicycling trails..
Platte River Campground has forested, spacious, sites
The Platte River and Platte River Point offer canoeing, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and swimming with great wildlife viewing
Historic towns with special character, shops, and restaurants.
There are a lot of treasures in Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of them. So much so that the Michigan Highway, M-22 is the subject of many M-22 sign thefts due to the scenic drive and many Summer tourist activities and destinations in the region. Going to Sleeping Bear Dunes is like winning the lottery. We've had the good fortune of getting a campsite at Platte River campground, during busy season, twice. Both times we've used multiple computers, on the day the sites open for reservations, and been successful. We can't count the many times we haven't been able to reserve a site.
Platte River campground provides electric and water hookups at most sites and RVs are limited to under 40 feet. The Michigan State Parks and Platte River are one of the main reasons we limited ourselves to a 35 foot class A. As you can see from the picture there is barely enough room for our RV and truck in the spot. This is an example of one of Platte River's "large" sites. You won't see any tag axles here. Most of the sites are spacious off the asphalt and have separate picnic table/campfire areas in the woods away from the road. They also have many spots to hang hammocks. We really enjoy the sites here because they are all wooded and Platte River is the furthest thing from a parking lot.
The campground is miles away from any of the things to do off site. So, you will want to bring a vehicle to take advantage of the beaches, dunes, water fun, hikes, and various biking trailheads. The paved bicycle paths are extensive and one of the main reasons to spend time in the area.
The Platte River provides for great entertainment for tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and its outlet into Lake Michigan is one of the best locations in Michigan to swim. We go to Riverside Canoe Trips to rent canoes and launch onto the river. It is the right distance for us and they provide shuttle service from their location to Platte River point where you can park your car at the end of the river. This year we took inflatables to tow behind the canoes that were fun for the little ones with our brood. Gary (the alligator) and Sparkles (the unicorn) were a big hit! The river is quiet and clear and great for fishing. We've caught bass both trips and they are a entertaining fight. Fishing for me balances out the monotony of paddling. The river is so calm you can paddle and fish without running aground or capsizing. Also, be on the lookout for wildlife. We've seen otter, bald eagle, ducks, geese, turtles, and fish. Early in the morning is best for canoeing and fishing. Tubers get on the river late morning, are more active, louder, and cause the wildlife to disappear. Everyone shares the river well and this tip will provide you with a relaxing tour. If you want to be a part of the action go in the afternoon when more people are on the river. Platte River flows through Loon Lake. The lake is beautiful and some of my favorite pictures are from here. There is a sand bar as the river enters the lake which is a great place to get into the water and take a break. We always swim here for 15-30 minutes before the strong paddle generally required to get through the lake and back onto the river. Expert tip: if you are canoeing by yourself, sit in of the canoe. Everyone got a good laugh when my copilot bailed into another canoe and I lost my ability to steer while sitting in the back. After loon lake there is a dam where you may need to portage around. It's just 30-40ft of portage to get around the dam and back on the river. Following the dam is another quiet section of the river until the canoe\float launch. This is the point where the tubers put in and float to Platte River Point and the beach.
Platte River Point is a popular beach and parking is limited. Fortunately, you can park along Lake Michigan Road. Most summer days parking on the road can stretch a 1/2 mile long or longer. The beach is worth the walk. Swim shoes or sandals are recommended, not required, to play in the river outlet as there are stones. Also bring masks, snorkels, fins and floats. The river provides a constant current of clear, warm water to play in. Kids can spend all day floating and swimming up and down the river outlet. Of all of Sleeping Bear Dunes this beach is the one our brood goes back to almost daily while we are camping at Platte River.
We also have to tell you the story of uncle Bob (the driftwood). Uncle Bob is a 5 foot pice of driftwood that we found near the Platte River. My then 9 year old son enjoyed playing with it in the river. Some older kids stole it from him and he and my nephew stole it back. We came up with this plan because the older boys were persistent. So we came up with the idea to dress up as if Uncle Bob was taking a nap. We covered Uncle Bob in towels and rested him in a nice place next to me. When the boys came up they asked for their driftwood back. However, for us Uncle Bob was more than just driftwood. He had become a part of the family. My son raised his finger to his mouth and said, "shhhhh, Uncle Bob is sleeping" I've never seen a more confused, stunned, group of boys in my life. The look on their faces was priceless. They stammered something like, "we found it first". so I responded with, "yeah Uncle Bob can't talk right now." The bullies finally walked away and my brood got a good lessen in how to deescalate a situation with a little smarts and humor. At the end of the day we hid Uncle Bob in the woods and played with him again the next day. Uncle Bob will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Sleeping Bear Dunes and the surrounding areas have miles of paved bike paths. Many parking areas are easily used along the route so if you can't bike many miles you can drive to the different parking lots and see more of the trails and experience new miles every time you bike. There are many wooded area, prairies, dune areas and lakeshore views. We found the ride from the dune climb to Glen Haven to be the best section for us. We also enjoyed Glen Haven to Glen Arbor. the trails south of the dune climb have many more hills and not recommended for anyone out pleasure riding or in need of an easy ride. Glen Haven is a nice stop because it is a historic village with a nice beach area to swim or just put your toes in the water for a rest.
When you travel out into Sleeping Bear Dunes and the surrounding area you will notice Architecture that is picture worthy. We really like this white farmhouse and Glen Haven. the buildings have history and you quickly think back to try to imagine what life was like when these structures were built. D.H. Day Campground is part of one of the early state parks. According to the Michigan Historic Site sign D.H. Day State Park was the first State Park created in 1919. This first step was an amazing location for Michigan's first and is just the start of one of the best State Park systems in the country. We've been to a number of state parks in the country and Michigan's campgrounds, lakeshores, and internal campgrounds have left us spoiled. Hopefully, through our journaling and your other research, out of state readers will be able to get a feel for the treasures we have in Michigan.
The Dune Climb is a series of dunes of varying elevations. Don't get your hopes up of reaching Lake Michigan with little ones. We gave up after the third peak, turned around, and made it a great time by running down the dunes, rolling down the dunes, and any other method our balance would offer as we let gravity have its way with us. If you do plan on making it to Lake Michigan plan on a 3-4 hour, 3.5 mile trip and take plenty of water, sunscreen, and food to get through the hike. Dunes always change and are different every Summer. We found if you are reasonable with your expectations this can be a rewarding experience.
Some of the best sunsets in the world are seen from Sleeping Bear Dunes. If you have a young brood you will want to visit in late August so the sunsets are earlier in the night. June and July can have sunsets closer to 10pm and require late nights for young ones. The water tends to be warmer in August, too. We like to go to Peterson Beach for sunsets. The beach is just North of the Platte River Campground and you can take the road to the beach from the campground walking or biking. The access to the road is blocked so you can't get cars from the campground to the road. However, if you go to M-22 and go North to road 708 take a left to the beach instead of a right onto 708 and you will find a rough dirt road that will take you to Peterson Beach. The beach is long and not very deep. However, it has plenty of room for those that visit. There is limited parking so we come before sunset to make sure we get a spot. The main reason we come here is because pets are allowed and our dogs like to swim. We've also seen other families have campfires on the beach. For these reasons, Peterson beach is one of our favorites.
In summary Sleeping Bear Dunes has something for every outdoors and camping family. We will always look to go back every few years to enjoy the water, the dunes, the sunsets and Platte River Campground. We hope this post gives you some understanding the this National Lakeshore and excites you to visit. Please let us know if you have any questions.