Fantastic Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb Explained: What You Need to Know for 2024

Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb

The Famous Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb

This is a must do!

A trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan is not complete without a stop at the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb.

Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan

It’s a giant sandbox that you can climb up and run down and dig, dig, dig.

Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes
6748 S Dune Hwy, Glen Arbor, MI 49636
(231) 326-4700

Here’s what you need to know about visiting:

Climbing Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb is the best place to go if you want to climb sand dunes.

Pull into the parking lot to be greeted by a 284-foot tall sand dune challenge.

Sleeping Bear Dune Climb

Shoes on or shoes off, adults and kids power up the dune, breathless, only to turn and run down as fast as they possibly can.

You’ll be tempted to do the same!

Pro Tip

Need some motivation? Treat yourself to one of the many glorious beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes after the dune climb.

Climbing to Lake Views

It takes about 10 solid minutes to climb up the first dune to the expansive first plateau.

Dune Climb Lookout bench Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan
View of Glen Lake from Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb

A popular goal: climb up the dune climb to the lookout bench (left side of the dune) to be rewarded with Glen Lake views.

If want to see Lake Michigan, though, you’ll have to go on a long hike.

Pro Tip

On summer days, visit the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb in the morning to beat the heat. It easily feels ten degrees warmer on the dunes than elsewhere in the park.

Dune Climb Visitor Center & Picnic Area

There is a visitor center at the base of the dune where you can learn about the history and ecology of this place.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb Picnic Area

A picnic area, a bookstore, and modern restrooms are also located here.

The store carries T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, nature games, postcards, books, videos, and convenience items. It’s open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day from noon to 5:00 PM. During June, the bookstore is only open on Friday, Saturday & Sunday.

People like to tailgate in the parking lot, too.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb looking down at the parking lot

Dune Hike to Lake Michigan

Once at the top of the first dune, it’s decision time: return to the parking lot or continue the long Dunes Trail hike out to Lake Michigan.

If you opt for the hike, know you’re in for a strenuous – yet rewarding – trek.

Dune Hiking Trails NPS Map 2006

Be prepared to walk on soft, slippery sand for an extended period in the open sun.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb Hike
Hiking to Lake Michigan via the Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb

To reach the panoramic views and refreshing waters of Lake Michigan, you’ll climb seven dunes, walk 3.5 miles, and spend about 3-4 hours on the trail.

What to Bring on the Dune Climb Hike

This is a great hike if you are prepared. You’ll definitely want:

  • plenty of water
  • footwear (the sand can be extremely hot)
  • hat & sun protection
  • snacks
  • towels and swimsuits
View of Glen Lake from Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan
View of Glen Lake from Dune Climb

Sleeping Bear Dune Climb Location

Dune Climb Hours & Admission


The Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb is always open. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, this part of the park is accessible.

Dark Sky Park

After dark, the dune climb serves as a Dark Sky Park – perfect for stargazing.

stargazing sleeping bear dunes
Stargazing from the Dune Climb

Dune Climb Admission

A valid park pass is required for entry. Several pass levels are available.

Many visitors opt for the 7-day private vehicle pass ($25).

You can buy a park pass at the Dune Climb Entrance Station (6748 S Dune Hwy, Glen Arbor, MI 49636) from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day.

As of 2023, Sleeping Bear Dunes, including the Dune Climb, is cashless. Nine different self-pay locations are available throughout the park for visitors who don’t have a debit/credit card. (Most credit cards and digital forms of payment are accepted.)

Dune Climb History

People have been enjoying the Dune Climb for years.

The area became part of the National Park when Congress established the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Oct. 21, 1970.

Before that, the foot of the dune climb area was home to a lunch counter that served tourists headed out on Dunesmobile rides.

Dunesmobile on top of the Dune Climb, overlooking Glen Lake, NPS

Equipped with customized tires, Dunesmobiles sped up and over the sandy dunes, thrilling riders. Many visitors enjoyed these dune rides during their 40+ years in operation. The tours ended in 1978, an act of dune preservation.

Today, you can catch a glimpse of a Dunesmobile in one of the Traverse City Cherry Festival parades.

Dunesmobile at the Cherry Festival
Dunesmobile at the 2022 Traverse City Cherry Festival
Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb Polaroid

And, you’ll find many snapshots of the dune climb, like this polaroid, in old-timey family photo albums.

Family excursions to the dunes grew with popularity as automobiles and roads grew in number and continue to be a main attraction today.

Catch the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

This mostly-paved 27-mile-long bike trail starts on the north end of the Dune Climb parking lot.

It’s an easy 2 miles by trail to Glen Haven, if you’d like to see the historic village.

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail at the Dune Climb

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is popular with bikers, walkers and rollerbladers. While much of the trail is relatively flat, several trail sections are steep. Study the map before heading out.

More Places to Climb Dunes

While Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb is the only place in the park that encourages visitors to climb, there are several other places in the national park where you can climb a dune.

Another popular place you can scramble down – and up – a Sleeping Bear Sand dune is at Stop 9 on the Pierce Stocking Drive.

Warning: If you climb down and can’t get back up, you’ll be fined THOUSANDS of dollars to be rescued.

It takes only minutes to get down to the water, but can take an hour to climb back up. It’s physically strenuous and many people are not fit enough to make the climb back up.

Test Your Sand Dune Climb Knowledge

Just for fun – see how well you know the Dune Climb by taking this short TRUE/FALSE quiz.

Don’t Miss the Dune Climb

If you’re one of the thousands of people that visit the dunes this year, don’t miss the Dune Climb.

It’s one of the most popular attractions in the park.

Climb the dune or picnic at its base – either way, it’s a Sleeping Bear Dunes bucket list item.

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