The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a seven-mile route that offers breathtaking views of the sand dunes, Lake Michigan, and Glen Lake. This Sleeping Bear Dunes scenic route in Northern Michigan is one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the U.S, and visitors can hike the Cottonwood Trail and stop at the twelve scenic overlooks along the route.
About Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
While you may know about the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, many people don’t know about the Pierce Stocking scenic drive located just a short distance away. One of the most scenic drives in the country, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has one amazing stop after another.
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-do activity when visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, especially during the fall months. Enjoy breathtaking views of Glen Lake and rolling sand dunes with Lake Michigan glistening in the background.
How to Get to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive:
Where is Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive? The entrance to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is on M-109 between Glen Haven and Empire in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
- Directions to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive from Empire: take M-22 north and turn left on M-109.
- Directions to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive from Glen Haven: take M-109 south to the entrance.
12 Can’t-Miss Breathtaking Stops Along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Michigan
There are 12 stops on the 7.4-mile scenic road as it meanders through the Beech-Maple forest and sand dunes. Enjoy this photographic tour of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive before you experience it for yourself!
Scenic Drive Stop #1: Covered Bridge
This 13-foot-six-inch covered bridge in Michigan is the scenic drive’s first awe-inspiring stop and a popular photo location (especially in fall).
The original wood covering was constructed to protect the wooden bridge from the weather because it was less expensive to install the roof than to rebuild the bridge.
Scenic Drive Stop #2: Glen Lake Overlook
From the viewing point here, visitors may observe Glen Lake’s blue waters, which appear to be two separate lakes split by M-22. Little Glen Lake is only 12 feet deep, however, Big Glen Lake can go as deep as 130 feet.
Located not far from the Glen Lake overlook, Picnic Mountain is a nice area to stop and refuel before heading to the dunes.
Scenic Drive Stop #3: Dune Overlook
The first breathtaking vistas on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive tour can be found at the third stop. Atop a 200-foot-high sand dune, visitors may see Lake Michigan, the Manitou Islands, Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Bay, and other sights from the viewing platform.
You’ll also get to see a variety of dune ecosystem features, such as sand ridges, stabilizing plants, blowouts, and more. There are plenty of other overlooks in Michigan with just as stunning views.
The park requests that you refrain from walking on the dunes and instead, wait until you reach the next area where there is a trail.
Scenic Drive Stop #4: Cottonwood Trail
At this stop, visitors find themselves surrounded by towering cottonwoods. The trees were planted around 1900 when they were used to stabilize the dunes.
This 1.5-mile, somewhat strenuous trail includes some difficult terrain and provides a close look at the beauty and diversity of the dunes. A short walk leads to the beach, where visitors may spot some rare birds including piping plovers, snowy egrets, great crested flycatchers, and American bitterns.
If you’re lucky enough to catch one of these species while visiting the dunes, make sure to snap a picture! There are also plenty of other hikes in the area if you want to stretch your legs even more.
Scenic Drive Stop #5: Dune Ecology
Visitors are encouraged to think about the dune environment and the extreme conditions dune plants must face, such as wind, limited water storage, high sunlight and heat, and sand accumulation. Cottonwood trees, like those located near this sign, have thrived in the sand dunes and can be found here.
Scenic Drive Stop #6: Leaving the Sand Dunes
As you continue on the scenic drive, the dunes transition into a beech-maple forest. During the fall months, this is one of the best fall scenic drives in Michigan due to the brilliant fall colors on display.
Because the dunes rely on strong winds off Lake Michigan to survive, they only cover a small area. The active dune zone is only about a mile away from the lake. Further inland, the wind loses energy and is no longer capable of forming dunes.
Scenic Drive Stop #7: Beech-Maple Forest
After a period in the sun, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive spends some time in the shade as it enters the wooded forest. Aside from the more common kinds of trees like beech and sugar maple, you’ll also find black cherry, hemlock, and basswood trees here. In this location, vegetation grows because of the trees’ shade, and you may see wildlife including squirrels, deer, and chipmunks.
Scenic Drive Stop #8: Changes Over Time
Upon arriving at this stop along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, visitors are prompted to speculate about the landscape’s potential after the glacial melting that led to its formation.
A thin layer of topsoil has gently built up over these barren hillsides as plants have lived and died on them. This formerly infertile land has been turned into the lush forest that visitors now find themselves in.
Scenic Drive Stop #9: Lake Michigan Overlook
As one of the state’s most well-known tourist attractions, chances are you’ve seen the view from this scenic overlook in a photograph before. Atop Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s dune system, at 450 feet above sea level, this viewpoint offers some of the best views of Lake Michigan in the whole dune system.
The temptation may be strong to enjoy a dune climb from this location. While it is not prohibited, visitors are advised to consider the warnings regarding the difficulty of climbing back up the steep dune and the repercussions of having to execute a rescue mission if something goes wrong.
Remember that during the busiest seasons, this location may become congested, so allow extra time to find parking at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Lake Michigan Overlook.
Scenic Drive Stop #10. Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook
The tallest dune that gives the park its name can be seen from a vantage point near the Lake Michigan Overlook.
According to legend, a mother and her two cubs were swimming across Lake Michigan from Wisconsin to avoid a fire. The mother bear survived, but the cubs did not – the Manitou Islands represent the cubs, and this 100-foot-tall dune (once more than 230 feet tall) represents the mother bear.
This perched dune is thought to be two thousand years old, and it is one of the best examples of what wind erosion can do overtime in the park.
Scenic Drive Stop #11: North Bar Lake Overlook
The spot where North Bar Lake meets Lake Michigan can be seen from this lovely picnic area and overlook. Depending on water levels, a sandbar may divide the two or a channel may exist. Since the water here is warmer and smoother than on Lake Michigan, this is a popular swimming spot.
Scenic Drive Stop #12: Pine Plantation
At this scenic drive stop, visitors will notice an abundance of pine trees growing throughout the park. The pine trees along the roadside are of the same height and age, indicating that they were all planted together before this property became part of the National Lakeshore.
Pine trees perform a variety of functions, including erosion prevention, windbreak, lumber production, and wildlife habitat. These pines grow naturally within the park due to their ability to withstand harsh conditions such as cold winters and hot summers. They thrive in areas with sandy soil and rocky outcroppings.
Photos of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
We asked our community of Michigan-enthusiasts to share their favorite photos of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Here are just a few of the photos that they shared with us…
Photos of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Winter
Photos of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Spring
Photos of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Summer
Photos of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Fall
FAQs About Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Is Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Open?
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is open to car traffic during the months of May through November. It is open between the hours of 9 am and 30 minutes after sunset each day.
Drivers should take it slow, adhere to the 20 mph speed limit, and be on the lookout. When drivers are not paying attention, things like wandering children, stopped cars, and distracted drivers and pedestrians can quickly turn a pleasant drive into a series of dangerous issues.
Can I Bike Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive?
Yes, bikers are welcome on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. However, the scenic drive is a difficult bike ride with some steep uphill and downhill grades. Before you begin, consider your ability.
Ride in single file, stay to the right, obey the posted speed limit, maintain control of your bicycle on downhill sections, and keep an eye out for vehicles entering and exiting scenic overlooks. Keep in mind that motorists frequently have difficulty seeing cyclists. Ride on the defensive.
How Much Does It Cost to Tour Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive?
Due to its status as a National Park, all vehicles must purchase an entrance pass: $25 per vehicle for seven days or $45 for an annual pass.
Where Do I Park for Hiking, Biking, or Skiing?
Hikers, bicyclists, and skiers can use the parking area within Scenic Drive’s entrance as the Pierce Stocking Trailhead for the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail and as the trailhead for the Sauger Hill Trail.
How Long Does it Take to Drive?
It will take roughly two hours to visit all twelve of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive’s stops along its 7.4-mile length. Everyone of any age or physical ability may enjoy the scenic journey and take in the splendor of the sand dunes and Lake Michigan.
Lodging Near Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive: Hotels, Vacation Rentals, and More
Many people enjoy spending multiple days exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, so we’ve made a list of a few places to stay nearby:
Located in Glen Arbor, this vacation home is on the waterfront. Empire Bluff Trail and Manitou Passage Golf Club are worth checking out if an activity is on the agenda, while those wishing to experience the area’s natural beauty can explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Glen Lake. Spend some time exploring the area’s activities, including golfing and winery tours.
Located only 200 ft from The Sleeping Bear Dunes Headquarters, the Deluxe King and 2 Queen Beds will provide you with all the comfort you need after a long day of playing in the great outdoors. You’ll love the premium beds, spacious rooms, and friendly staff.
This beautiful historic 14-room inn is in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park. Guests can walk to charming downtown Glen Arbor for boutique shopping, art galleries, restaurants, and more.