It is that time of year; a time when crisp air excites people to get out and explore. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful place to explore year round. However, the fall season just might be one of the best times to travel here. Why? The dense forests and stunning Lake Michigan blues are exceptionally breathtaking this time of year. A recent MLive article states that Leelanau County’s fall colors will peak October 7th-14th. Read on to discover some beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes color tours and plan your trip today.
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is most famous for its main attraction: The Pierce Stocking Scenic Overlook. While this expansive view of Lake Michigan is undeniable, the journey up to the overlook is half the fun. Drivers, cyclists, and hikers wind their way up a 7.4 mile loop of a narrow, winding road. This road is completely immersed in thick forestry. Beech-maple trees can be seen for miles in every direction. Be sure to stop at each scenic marker along the way, as they all offer a unique view of our National Park.
The Empire Bluff hike is free of motorized vehicles. Hikers ascend a hill for quite some time prior to reaching the scenic overlook. This hill, however, takes visitors through a thick forest full of changing leaves. Close to the top, a bench awaits tired hikers. Be sure to stop here and enjoy the view. Bluffs, forest, and Lake Michigan are visible as far as the eye can see. On a clear day, this view expands for dozens of miles. Continue on past this point to reach the famous overlook. Here visitors can sit and enjoy Lake Michigan’s beautiful hues of blue. This hike is merely 1.5 miles roundtrip, however, the hills add a bit of challenge.
Alligator Hill is a trail system located in the depths of Glen Arbor. This hike can be up to nine miles should you choose, but the various loops available allow for shorter hikes as well. Fair warning: it is called Alligator Hill for a reason. The rolling hills throughout these loops provide a solid workout. This is another area that is full of thick forestry as far as the eye can see. If you start at the trailhead and follow the mile markers on the map (available online and at the trailhead), you will come across an area called, “Island Lookouts.” This area offers a stunning view of North and South Manitou Islands, along with miles of bluffs and Lake Michigan. Continue on past this point to the “Big Glen Lookout” and you will be looking out over miles of vibrant trees to Big Glen Lake. Trust me, this hike is worth your energy.
Pyramid Point is one of the most famous hikes within The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Most visitors head directly up the hill to the Lake Michigan overlook. However, there is a tremendous, less-visited trail that is a must-see. This trail splits off a little more than halfway up the main path. Hikers will wind through woods full of beech-maple trees. After about 1/2 mile, a steep, sandy dune comes into view. Climb this dune. At the top, a view of Lake Michigan, rolling dunes, and Hidden Lake await. Turn around from where you just climbed and prepare to be breathless. Miles of trees ripe with fall foliage provides hours of gazing pleasure for hikers. Sit atop the dune and soak it all in.
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is miles of paved awesomeness. Take a peak at the interactive map and choose your starting and end points. You really can’t go wrong with any portion of this path. At various points, this trail winds through wetlands, past lakes, through forests, by bluffs, and to beaches. All throughout this pathway, there are dozens of other trails that wind off into even more exploratory areas. My advice? Start at the Point Oneida Trailhead and make your way towards Glen Arbor. You’ll get miles of fall foliage and head right past the beautiful Big Glen Lake and past the famous Sleeping Bear Dune Climb.
I touched on five “must see” trails for peak fall color viewing. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is full of dozens of other trails, pathways, and hidden gems that provide great opportunities for a fall color tour.
Where do you like to go to see the changing colors? Share your favorite part of this area to catch fall foliage.