Lake Michigan Bike And Hike, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13192A, Bicycle


  • Bike the scenic roads along Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Take short hikes to sunset views of Lake Michigan and its islands
  • Spend a day hiking a beautiful island with a lighthouse, virgin forests, and old farmsteads


  • Lodging in modern hotels with nice settings
  • A ferry ride to South Manitou Island
  • All breakfasts and lunches
  • Van support for rides to the hikes and carrying luggage to the hotels


DatesJun 8–14, 2013
StaffKevin Breen

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline reaches its most dramatic point on the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. This area is so special that a nearly continuous stretch of 35 miles of shoreline was protected as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 1970. Still relatively unknown, the area was declared “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America last year.  

Natural highlights of the area include a wilderness of wind-sculpted sand dunes, miles and miles of undeveloped shoreline, several small rivers of transparent clarity, nearly virgin forests, an array of unspoiled inland lakes, and a patchwork of meadows and grasslands. Wildlife of the area include deer, eagles, osprey, turkeys, loons, fox, and the endangered piping plover. Two beautiful islands with interesting histories, North and South Manitou, are protected by the national lakeshore. We will spend one day off our bikes, exploring South Manitou.

The culture and history of the area are nearly as impressive as the natural features. Several small towns—Empire, Glen Arbor, Leland, and Northport—fit nicely into the natural landscape and offer a variety of restaurants, hotels, and shops. Historic sites dot the peninsula.  Glen Haven is a renovated small town on Lake Michigan, with shops and buildings from the 1800s.  A Coast Guard Museum records the rescue of ships plying the dangerous Manitou Passage. Port Oneida preserves a 19th-century farming community. The region also contains many vestiges of the logging era.

We will see most of this area while on bicycles, traveling from 30 to 50 miles a day on winding, hilly country roads. Each day, we will stop at a number of natural places and historic sites to help us get to know the area better, and we will enjoy picnic lunches surrounded by the area’s natural beauty. On most evenings we will take short hikes, usually 2 to 3 miles, to some of the most scenic sights in the region. Mid-June is a nice time to visit for several reasons: road traffic is light before the busy tourist season, wildflowers are abundant, birdlife is more active, and the days are long with nearly 16 hours of daylight. If we hit a warm stretch, there will be opportunities for swimming in the many lakes of the area.

At night we will stay at pleasant hotels in nice settings. On a couple of evenings, we will have visits from area writers, park rangers or environmental activists, who will speak about the natural and cultural history of the area.  One day, weather permitting, will be spent taking the ferry to South Manitou Island and exploring this fascinating island.


Day 1: Our trip will begin in Traverse City, where we will bike for about six miles on a bike path along the blue water of Grand Traverse Bay, and then into the country. From there, on lightly traveled back roads, we pedal another 25 miles to our first hotel. After settling into our rooms and relaxing, we will head out for dinner, then go for a short hike.

Days 2-3: We will bike through the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, anywhere from 30 to 50 miles each day. One of the highlights will include biking the scenic, hilly, and exhilarating Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a seven-mile route that takes us through the heart of the dunes and offers stunning views of Lake Michigan and the countryside. We will also make use of a new bike path built just last year in the area.  We will have picnic lunches in scenic spots along the way, and again go out for dinner and then a short hike.

Days 4-5: We will pedal 30 miles or so to the town of Leland and switch hotels. Our route will take us along M-22, a much-loved scenic road that passes through beautiful grasslands and meadows and historic homesteads, going to a new hotel. The next day we will pedal to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, a there-and-back distance of about 45 miles. Highlights of this day include a county park or two, the lighthouse at Leelanau State Park, the small town of Northport, and a Czechoslovakian stone church.

Day 6: On this day we will leave our bikes behind and take the ferry to South Manitou Island, an hour-and-a-half boat ride on Lake Michigan. The island was once the home to several settlers in the 19th century, and their homes, schools, farms, and cemeteries make for fascinating exploring. There is also a tall lighthouse people can climb to get dizzying views of Lake Michigan, as well as a grove of virgin cedar trees.

Day 7: We will leave our hotel and pedal back into Traverse City, again picking up the bike path that leads us back to our starting point. We will have a final lunch on the way and be back into town no later than 4 p.m.



Getting There

The trip will begin and end in Traverse City, Michigan. Anyone flying in should arrive no later than Friday. Traverse City has many excellent hotels and the leader will be happy to suggest possible hotels, as well as help coordinate carpooling for those driving in, if requested. We will meet at a place to be determined on Saturday morning before the trip begins.

Accommodations and Food

For the six nights of the trip we will staying at two or three hotels with full facilities. The trip price includes six breakfasts and seven lunches. Vegetarians can easily be accommodated. Suppers will be together, but are not included in the trip price. Locations for suppers will mostly be bar-type restaurants that serve nice meals in the $15 to 20 range for most entrees.

Trip price is based on double occupancy. Anyone staying in a room alone, single occupancy, must pay the single- room supplement fee in advance of the trip. This fee will be in the neighborhood of $350, to be finalized when the trip leader gets the final price from the hotels. The leader will do his best to pair people up in rooms, but this depends on the make-up, both in gender and numbers, of the other participants, and cannot be guaranteed.  

Trip Difficulty

The trip is of moderate difficulty.  Distances on the bike will range from 30 to 50 miles a day, with a variety of hills. Unless the weather is too bad, we will still ride, though the route might be modified depending upon the weather.  A couple of days there might be options for a shorter or longer route.  Participants should be in good shape and be experienced road bikers. We will be visiting just before the main tourist season, so traffic levels should be lower and we will choose routes that seek to avoid car traffic and that have shoulders. Occasionally we will have to drive in some heavy traffic.

Equipment and Clothing

Participants will have to supply their road bikes, either their own or through a bike agency. There are several good bike shops in Traverse City and the leader can provide anyone with contact information. Mountain bikes are strongly discouraged. Everyone should also have bike locks, extra inner tubes, and the tools and ability to make routines fixes, such as a flat tire, on his bike. For more serious issues we will do our best to get participants to a bike mechanic if necessary, probably in Traverse City. Participants should be able to carry the above mentioned gear, their own water, snacks, medicine, and an extra layer of clothing. The support van will be available via cell phone and will meet with us several times on each ride. On a couple of days the support person might ride with us so help, if needed, might take longer to reach us.

We will provide everyone with his or her own bike map of the region.


Because of the natural beauty of the area, and the opportunity for solitude and inspiration, the Leelanau Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes have attracted their share of writers and artists. All of these books and others are available at the Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor:   

Some of the leader's favorites include:

  • Denis, Jerry, The Living Great Lakes.
  • Daniel, Glenda and Jerry Sullivan, A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide: The North Woods.
  • Stocking, Kathleen, Lake Country and Letters from the Leelanau. 
  • Mills, Stephanie, Tough Little Beauties. 


While 70,000 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is federally protected land, there are still important issues facing the region. The area is attracting more and more development, which has the ability to degrade the natural beauty of the area.  There are several issues relating to the Lake Michigan fisheries and water quality, and there are a number of endangered species in the area. A host of pernicious diseases are attacking the trees of the area, affecting the health and make-up of the forests. We will talk about these issues on the trip.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.



Kevin Breen has led trips for the Sierra Club for nearly 20 years. He has led backpack trips to the Grand Tetons, the Wind River Range, and Yellowstone in Wyoming, to Alaska and the Yukon, and to the deserts of the Southwest. His favorite area to ride bicycles is in the Sleeping Bear Dunes, something he has done since he was 10 years old.

Assistant Leader:

Theresa Breen has assisted on this bike trip for three trips, and enjoys the area. Her interests include photography, animals (especially Corgis), and travel.

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