Toes in the sand, ice cream in hand, 9:30 p.m. sunsets, and warm starry nights. Even in the midst of winter, we can dream about those carefree days of summer.
How do you plan to make the most of your 2024 vacation days? Why not use some to relax and unwind in the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes? National Plan For a Vacation Day on Jan. 30 encourages you to start now. Make it your resolution to use them all. You don’t want to be among the estimated 46% of U.S. workers who don’t use all of their paid time off.
If the Sleeping Bear Dunes region is on your travel list for this year, it never hurts to start planning early. CNN Travel named Northwest Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes one of the best places to visit in 2024, alongside places like Turkey’s Black Sea coast, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Greece.
The article notes: “Refreshing, unsalty Lake Michigan lures boatloads of tourists in summer, but the shoreline, quaint towns, and rolling countryside of Northwest Michigan have plenty to offer year-round.”
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore includes 70,000+ acres of land, including trails, beaches, and historic sites. You can find areas with little to no crowds, particularly in the shoulder seasons.
Inside the National Lakeshore
Whether you have a day or week to spend, make sure to hit the must-see attractions along the 35 miles of protected coastline. Beyond the most obvious – the towering sand dunes – the park offers beaches, hiking, biking, kayaking, and historical sites.
A good first stop is the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center on M-72 in Empire to pick up your park pass and plan your visit. Other popular attractions include the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Dune Climb, and Port Oneida Rural Historic District. The park’s hiking trails cater to all skill levels and some include scenic vistas overlooking Lake Michigan and the dunes.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail runs for 20 miles between Empire and Bohemian Road. This multi-use trail is open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists with various trailheads throughout the park. In the winter, the trail is groomed for both classic track and skate skiing.
Stay in the heart of Sleeping Bear
The Homestead offers four-season activities nestled along the Lake Michigan coast. The resort’s location makes for an easy drive to area attractions. Golf, swimming, tennis, hiking, dining, fitness center, and spa services are some of the amenities.
The Homestead’s four hotels are nestled in nature and range from classically elegant to cottage-like. The rooms and suites reflect stylish yet charming furnishings and northern Michigan decor. Fiddler’s Pond and Little Belle include fresh updates.
- The Inn, overlooking the Crystal River, includes hotel rooms and one- or two-bedroom suites with fireplaces and kitchens good for couples and families.
- Stony Brook Lodge has a Northwoods lodge-like feel with panoramic views of the Crystal River Valley, plus suites with small balconies, a kitchenette and living area, and one- or two-bedrooms.
- Little Belle offers romantic suites with sitting areas, fireplaces, and jetted tubs for adults only.
- Fiddler’s Pond features couples and family-friendly rooms with washed pine and cottage-like colors that overlook creeks, ponds, and pools.
Looking for home-away-from-home options? The Homestead has condominiums, villas, and vacation home rentals that can accommodate families.
Planning a vacation on National Vacation Day doesn’t have to be a summer vacation.
Even in the off-season, the Sleeping Bear region reveals its beauty and offers endless outdoor adventure. Rock hunting, art classes, or a movie in a historic theater are options on a rainy or snowy day.
Hit the slopes or try cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking, and other winter recreation at The Homestead. The National Park and Leelanau natural areas are also open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Leelanau County caters to the most refined foodies, as well as people looking to grab a quick bite after a day exploring the dunes. Come as you are. You won’t go hungry with the plethora of eateries – from fine dining to food trucks.
The Homestead’s dining options include Café Manitou and Italian-inspired Nonna’s Ristorante. Whiskers provide a more relaxed atmosphere with an outdoor bar, firepits, and games.
In Glen Arbor and surrounding communities, you can enjoy an eclectic mix of coffee shops, family-friendly restaurants, outdoor patios, and upscale restaurants.
Beer, Spirits, Tasting Rooms
Along with stunning scenery, the Leelanau Peninsula’s wineries continually win national and international wine competitions.
If you enjoy wine and craft beer, you will want to reserve a day to explore the region’s wine and beer scene. Set out in any direction and discover the wineries of Leelanau County.
Breweries, farm markets, and local food trucks and spirits round out a countryside tour. Jacob’s Farm near Traverse City, St. Ambrose Cellars in Benzie County, and 9 Bean Rows off 204 are a few worth visiting.
Some wineries and breweries remain open year-round – many of them with outdoor fires and heated igloos during the winter.
Nearby Coastal Towns
A trip to the region isn’t complete without exploring Leelanau’s unique communities. Leland, Northport, and Suttons Bay feature quaint shops and restaurants, public beaches, and rock-hunting hot spots.
Leland’s Fishtown is on the National Register of Historic Places and includes fishing shanties, smokehouses, and fish tugs on the Leland River. This is also where you catch the Manitou Island Transit ferry for day or overnight trips to the Manitou Islands.
You can pack the beach gear and enjoy sandy beaches in Frankfort, tour Point Betsie and Grand Traverse lighthouses, or camp under the stars at Leelanau State Park.
The region truly offers something for everyone, and those views of crystal clear waters are…breathtaking.
Plan Your Visit
To help plan your visit, check out some of these websites:
Marla R. Miller is a freelance writer and journalist. Visit her website at marlarmiller.com.