South Manitou Island Lighthouse

Stellar Views Near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore

If you’ve been to Leelanau County in Northern Michigan and haven’t taken in one of its majestic views, you’re doing it wrong. Do yourself a favor and get to the nearest bluff, overlook, dune, or beach along the crystal blue Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. Before you look west, though, prepare to pinch yourself.

1. Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Sleeping Bear Dune Climb. Photo courtesy of Katie von Jena.

Named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC’s Good Morning America, a visit to the Sleeping Bear Dunes is a true staple of any visit to Northern Michigan. The main attraction of visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a must if you are in the area. The dune climb is popular with families, but be aware that the hike across the dunes is strenuous and takes several hours. The view of the lake is worth it, but just make sure to bring lots of water!

2. Pyramid Point

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Pyramid Point. Photo courtesy of Katie von Jena.

Taking a little over a half-mile hike through the woods leads to one of the best panoramic views of Lake Michigan in Leelanau County. Don’t be afraid to do some exploring and follow the trails – the whole area is worth a wander! Just be careful if you decide to run down the dune, as there are warnings of erosion and a tough climb back up.

3. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive No. 9 Overlook. Photo courtesy of

If hiking isn’t your thing, but spectacular vistas are, take this 7.4-mile drive with 12 numbered stops to enjoy spectacular overlooks of the Glen Lakes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Lake Michigan.

4. Alligator Hill

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Alligator Hill. Photo by Flickr user hilliamb.

The relatively easy hike from the Stocking Road Trailhead to the Islands Lookout on top of Alligator Hill is 1.5 miles through beautiful Maple-Beech forest. Pack a picnic to go with the incredible view of the Manitou Islands and you’ll have yourself a picture-perfect afternoon on the lakeshore.

5. Empire Bluff Trail

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Empire Bluff. Photo courtesy of John Kalmar.

A comfortable 1.5-mile loop, the Empire Bluff Trail is a leisurely trek through the woods rewarding hikers with a spectacular view at the overlook. The panoramic view of the bluff and Lake Michigan from the boardwalk is a true Leelanau delight!

6. Whaleback

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Whaleback. Photo courtesy of Katie von Jena.

Probably one of the quicker and more family-friendly hikes in the area, the trail climbs through the beautiful woods of Whaleback Natural Area to a lovely observation deck. Whaleback itself can be seen looking south from Van’s Beach in nearby Leland.

7. Clay Cliffs

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Photo by Katie von Jena

If Whaleback wasn’t enough for you, follow M-22 north through Leland to the Clay Cliffs, a newer trail about 1.5 miles long. The Clay Cliffs Natural Area is diverse; visitors will experience flat and hilly terrain, enjoy a view of Lake Leelanau from the meadow midway along the trail, and hike through the forest to the observation deck overlooking Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.

8. Bonus View: South Manitou Island Lighthouse

Sleeping Bear - The Awesome Mitten
Photo by Katie von Jena

If, somehow, you’ve had enough of Lake Michigan and views of the Manitou Islands, take the ferry from Leland to the Manitous themselves. The historic South Manitou Island Lighthouse has an incredible 360-degreee view of the mainland, both islands, and the surrounding lake. Walk less than a half mile from the dock and climb the 117 steps of the lighthouse tower to see the crystal lakeshore in all its glory. Are you pinching yourself yet?

Where are your favorite places to catch views of Lake Michigan near the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore? In Leelanau County? Let us know in the comments!

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