Best One-Day Sleeping Bear Dunes Itinerary for 2024 – An Epic Michigan Day Trip!

Sleeping Bear Dunes Itinerary

Sleeping Bear Dunes Itinerary: Make the Most of Your Visit

We’re sorry that you can only spend one day at the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!

But, if you can only spend one day at this epic Michigan destination, we’re going to help you make the most of it.

Sand Dunes Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes
Stop #9 on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Pack a cooler with dinner and bonfire treats for your day out and then follow this Sleeping Bear Dunes itinerary.

We promise it will take you to the must-do, can’t-miss sand dune attractions.

The Best Things to See at Sleeping Bear Dunes in 24 Hours

Start before dawn and end after dark to make this Sleeping Bear Dunes itinerary a reality.

And be sure to secure a park pass if you’d like to avoid a ticket.

The Dune Climb

Time needed: 1 hour (8 AM)

Open: 24 hours, 365 days a year

Start the day with a visit to the Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes. It’s open 24 hours a day, so get here early if you want to pack in the full itinerary.

If you’re wondering why people like the dune climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are a few:

First, scaling the giant dune is a challenge in itself. When you think the top can’t be much further, another crest comes into view.

sand dune climb sleeping bear dunes

When you do reach the pinnacle, the view is spectacular.

And, it’s basically a gigantic sandbox. Don’t skip this Sleeping Bear Dunes Itinerary stop.

Bonus: Visit after dark for stargazing – this is a dark sky park and is open all night long!

Visitor’s Center

Time Needed: 30 minutes

The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is where you will find brochures, maps, books, park passes, and rangers ready to answer your questions.

Restrooms, hands-on exhibits, and souvenirs are also available here.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center

The visitor center is open all year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Pierce Stocking Drive

Time needed: 2 hours (10 AM)

Scenic Drive Hours: sunrise to sunset

See stunning views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Stop at the Lake Michigan Overlook (stop #9) for a panoramic view of the area.

Lake Michigan Overlook

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is open to Vehicle Traffic early May through October. Foot traffic is allowed on the scenic drive most of the rest of year. Park Calendar.

Map of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Get Lunch, Ice Cream & Stop at the Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor

Time Needed: 2 hours (noon)

Lunch time in Glen Arbor is a treat. Dine at Boone Docks or one of the other cheerful food outlets.

Boone Docks Glen Arbor MI
Grab lunch at Boone Docks in Glen Arbor MI

For a treat, several ice cream places, including the delightful Cherry Republic, serve up scoops in this charming little town.

glen arbor cherry republic
Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, MI

While you’re here, peruse the shops, sample all of the cherry things, and buy a souvenir before you head out.

Hike the Empire Bluff Trail

Time needed: 1 hour (2:30 PM)

You’ll be treated to panoramic views from a windswept boardwalk towering over Lake Michigan if you choose to do this hike.

Empire Bluff Trail at Sunset in the Fall
Empire Bluff Trail – Sleeping Bear Dunes

The out-and-back 1.5-mile hike starts with a climb and then takes you over a rolling, wooded pathway.

Once you reach the Lake Michigan overlook, there’s a boardwalk with great photo ops all around.

Glen Haven Historic District

Time needed: 1 hour (3:30 PM)

Step back in time and explore the Glen Haven Historic District – comprised of the General Store, the Boat Museum and the Blacksmith Shop.

Glen Haven Blacksmith Shop Sleeping Bear Dunes
Glen Haven Blacksmith Shop at Sleeping Bear Dunes

The General Store appears today as it did back in 1920’s. The Boat Museum is actually the old Glen Haven Canning Company repurposed to show off old-time boats that were important to the area.

General Store – open Memorial Day through early October

Go Swimming at Glen Haven Beach

Time needed: 1 hour

The beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore are varied in features and amenities but they are all epic.

Glen Haven Beach Sleeping Bear Dunes
Glen Haven Beach

In the interest of time, swimming at Glen Haven Beach makes the most sense if you have just one day at the dunes.

This beach is a short walk from the parking lot and restroom facilities are near the General Store.

Sunset, Stars & a Beach Bonfire

Time needed: 2 hours

Wrapping up your itinerary with this activity trio is the cherry on top of a day well spent.

Dry off, spread a blanket and build a bonfire on the beach as you watch the sunset and end the day stargazing.


Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the only places in Michigan that allows you to have a bonfire on the beach.

Just pick up some firewood on your way to the beach, grab some kindling and matches, and you’re on your way. (Follow regulations posted at all beach locations – they can vary with the season.)

stargazing sleeping bear dunes

The stars out here are something else. They look like they’re so close, you could reach out and pick one with your fingers. Absent city light pollution, you feel like you’re in another world.

Savor this pristine ending to the perfect day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Map of Sleeping Bear Dunes Itinerary Stops

How would you spend 24 hours at Sleeping Bear Dunes?

It’s hard to peel yourself away from this tranquil corner of Michigan.

If you visit, we know you’ll sleep well and be planning a return trip as soon as you can.

Let us know if you’ve made a day trip to the Michigan “Sleepy Bear Dunes” and what you loved about your visit!

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