June 2003: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


eastern shore of Lake Michigan

Long ago, according to Ojibway Indian legend, a forest fire ravaged the Wisconsin shoreline driving a mother bear and her two cubs into the waters of Lake Michigan. The three bears swam for safety across the entire lake but the two cubs tired in the crossing. The mother bear continued to the shore and climbed a high bluff to wait for her cubs who couldn't make it and drowned within sight of shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear. The national lakeshore, established in 1970, protects 35 miles of dunes - the highest 480 feet above the lake - that are the product of several glacial advances and retreats that ended 11,000 years ago.

Your dog isn't allowed to make the Dune Climb up a mountain of sand but she may thank you for that. Otherwise dogs are welcome on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trails. The best canine hike is the Cottonwood Trail off the popular Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The loop leads out into dunes speckled with the bleached remains of overwhelmed trees and the hardy survivors adapting to their sandy world. The rollicking trail, open May to October, is completely on thick sand that, while soft to the paw, can tire an unfit dog. 
In the north section of the park the Good Harbor Bay Trail is a flat, wooded walk. Most of the starch has been taken out of the Lake Michigan waves here for gentle canine swimming. More adventurous dog paddlers will want to test the frisky waves in the southernmost Platte Plains section. You have your choice of trails here to choose how much you want to hike before reaching the surf. The 13 mid-length trails throughout the park are all hiker-only. Dogs are not allowed on North or South Manitou Island, both floating just offshore.

The Dunes Trail at Sleeping Bear Point leads past the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station, one of some 60 life-saving stations that once served Great Lakes mariners. Shipwrecks in the United States were once considered a concern mostly for Atlantic sea captains but after 214 people perished in shipwrecks on the Great Lakes in 1870-1871, Congress authorized money to train professional life-saving crews. Now restored to its early 1900s appearance, the life-saving station now operates a museum.

Located on the western coast of Michigan's Lower Peninusla, Route 22 runs through the national lakeshore from south to north, connected by US 31 from the east.