Trail Trekker Challenge - Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

15 March 2017

Having hiked more than half the 13 mainland trails on their way to completing the Lakeshore’s Trail Trekker Challenge, writer Bob Butz and his family decided to change things up and break out the bikes for the short journey from the Dune Climb to Glen Arbor. Read on.


[source: sleepingbeartrail.org]

I could tell you that the highlight of our Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail experience last summer was capping the trip off with a ceremonial trek up the Dune Climb. I could tell you that the kids most enjoyed the change of pace—biking rather than hiking—in our quest to finish the Trail Trekker Challenge. But as far as our children were concerned, it was all about where we were stopping in Glen Arbor for lunch. Oh, yes, and the ice cream and candy shop—Sleeping Bear Sweets

The Trail Began Here

Opened in 2012 and just over four miles, the Dune-Climb-to-Glen-Arbor stretch is the original portion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The Trail Trekker Challenge logbook/brochure notes that you have to complete at least 4.25 miles to check it off your list, even though the trail is three times that long now—running north for over 13 miles from Empire to Port Oneida Road.

(Click here for a copy of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Trail Trekker Challenge logbook, or pick one up at the Philip A. Hart Visitors Center in Empire.)

The Dune Climb parking lot was crowded on that sunny Sunday in August. The entrance to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail was well marked and—for bikers and hikers headed to Glen Arbor—located at the north end of the lot.

The first half of the trail was basically flat. The overhead tree canopy near the parking lot provided a lot of shade. But the woods soon gave way to open, sandy dunes the closer we got to Glen Haven.

It seemed like we had only just started when we passed the Glen Haven General Store and, from there, through the D.H. Campground. The kids were leading the way at an unexpectedly fast clip, which made me start thinking the trip we planned was too short. But entering the woods outside Glen Arbor, the pace slowed so we could take in the scenery and even stop to take a few pictures.

The year prior, Glen Arbor got the worst of the now infamous August 2nd windstorm that slammed into the Sleeping Bear coast, leveling thousands trees in giant patches and long, gnarly swaths. I was looking forward to seeing what the trail looked like a year later after seeing pictures like this in the news:


Back in 2015, it took over 100 volunteers working over 700 hours to clear the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail of brush and trees downed during the August 2nd storm.  [photo by sleepingbeartrail.org]

I had biked this section of the Heritage Trail prior to the storm. I remembered the stretch as very shady, the woods very dense—exactly the opposite of what it looks like today. In places it appeared as if volunteers simply cut a tunnel through the brush and fallen trees that lined both sides of the trail. The trail was sunny—to the point that you were glad you remembered your sunscreen—almost the entire way to Glen Arbor.

The trip took well under an hour. We timed the outing around lunch and gave the kids a choice between burgers on the patio at Boonedocks or Art’s Tavern. The kids picked Art’s, but you truly can’t go wrong at either. A lot of other Heritage Trail riders seemed to have the same idea, so there was a bit of a wait for outside seating. This gave me a chance to run up the street to the ATM, as Art’s is one of the few businesses left in the entire continental United States that doesn’t accept credit cards.


Tater Tots and a burger—Art’s version of trail food.

After lunch, there was one more stop at Sleeping Bear Sweets for ice cream or candy (their choice). My wife and I discovered the shop’s chocolate and sea salt covered popcorn some time ago and can never seem to leave the place without a small bag of the stuff. Then it was back to biking.


The best part of biking the Heritage Trail, if you’re a kid: a stop at Sleeping Bear Sweets in Glen Arbor.

A little activity in the sunshine. A little lunch, noon-hour refreshment for mom and dad and some candy for the kids. The phrase “perfect family afternoon” comes to mind. I lost track of exactly how much time we spent biking, but upon returning to the Dune Climb parking it seemed to me the entire 8.5 mile round trip took around an hour. Another hour or so for lunch in Glen Arbor and a quick run to the top of the Dune Climb and the Heritage Trail was checked off our Trail Trekker list with high marks from the kids as the best trail we “hiked” so far.