If you’ve started reading about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, then chances are that you have read something about the Dune Climb.
The Dune Climb is among the most popular spots in Sleeping Bear Dunes.
If you want to see the BEST of Michigan’s national lakeshores and you want to see the BEST of Michigan’s sand dunes, then the Dune Climb and the Dune Trail you take beyond the Dune Climb is something you’ll want to consider!
Note that the official Dune Climb is different from the Lake Michigan Overlook sand dunes that’s located along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. While the Lake Michigan Overlook is another (very) worthy spot, the “dune climb” at the Lake Michigan overlook is officially discouraged. There is a spot that is officially called the Dune Climb by the National Park Service (map), and that’s what below is about!
What is there to do at the famous Dune Climb in Sleeping Bear Dunes?!
Well, it really is all about sand dunes!
As such, how much time you want to spend at the Dune Climb and the Dune Trail beyond the first major dune hill will depend on just how much of those views you want to take in and what you want to do here!
You can spend as little as 15-20 minutes taking in the views from the bottom of the sand dunes and just watching everyone to the hard work. 😜
Or it also wouldn’t be difficult to spend 1-2 hours here if you take the time to walk around more of the sand dunes.
Here’s a bit of what you can do at the famous Dune Climb of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
1. Watch the dune climbers from the bottom of the sand dunes!
There are some picnic tables at the bottom of the dunes if you’d rather just watch others make the effort.
2. Climb to the top of the first sand dune hill!
Get the experience of at least a little bit of walking up the sand dunes! Of course some people will be faster than others, but going at a leisurely pace hiking up this hill of sand might take around 10 minutes. You can tell yourself it’ll feel easier going down!
And, in the winter, this dune climb hill becomes a sledding hill.
3. Continue your walk across the sand dunes!
4. See Glen Lake behind you!
You can actually start to see Glen Lake as you’re hiking up the first hill if you look behind you. As you’re going further on the sand dunes, you can look behind you for views of Glen Lake with the sand dunes!
5. Hang out on the sand dunes!
6. Hang out at the dune climb bench.
You’ll climb up a sand dune hill to get to this shaded resting spot. This will get you to a dune scenic overlook where you can get a top down look of the sand dunes and where you came from! This is the same dune scenic overlook that you can get to by hiking the Cottonwood Trail off of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
7. Continue hiking further across sand dunes on the Dune Trail to Lake Michigan!
8. Watch the sunset at Lake Michigan at the end of the Dune Trail!
If you plan to be at Lake Michigan for sunset, consider that it may be dark when you walk back. It can be a good idea to have a flashlight or headlamp with you just in case! Don’t just rely on the light on your phone!
Bring WATER and SNACKS for the Dune Climb and beyond!
This is quite literally a hike across sand dunes which means you’ll be walking through sand the whole way. It’s much more effort than a casual walk on pavement! And, in summer the sand can get hot. And on top of that, there’s minimal shade.
If you plan to hike the Dune Trail all the way to Lake Michigan, the National Park Service officially recommends that you give yourself 3-4 hours to complete the hike. It’s listed as around 3.5 miles round trip. And to emphasize (again) walking through sand takes more effort than a regular hike! And your timing will also depend on how much time you spend at the Lake Michigan beach and shoreline!
So be sure that you are prepared with things that will make yourself feel better as you hiking… water and snacks!
And on the topic of water, in general it’s good to always have a 1-2 gallon jugs of water in your car so you will always be able to have access to water! Whether you are planning for any “real hikes” or not! It can get hot out on those sand dunes no matter where you are in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!
Can you hike the Dune Trail barefoot?
On a hot summer day, you probably won’t want to hike the Dune Climb or the Dune Trail barefoot. The sand may feel too hot for your feet.
In the evening when the sun is not directly overhead and after the sand has cooled off, it can be possible to hike all the way barefoot. It is quite literally a sand trail the whole way to Lake Michigan. There is one small section as you’re approaching Lake Michigan in which the trail becomes less sandy and you may feel a rougher ground. I hiked the Dune Trail without shoes to Lake Michigan and back.
Even if you want to hike barefoot, carry shoes or sandals with you too just in case you change your mind!
If you happen to have hiking boots, I’d wear those shoes over regular shoes, so that less sand will end up in your shoes. The water resistant nature of hiking shoes can not only keep water out, but it can keep sand out too! But that is more or less avoiding an annoyance, and it’s not a necessity.
The Dune Trail is generally easy to follow.
Just keep going towards the lake! At some point, you’ll start to see numbered sign posts. (I did not initially notice them.) The last number I saw was 27 before getting to Lake Michigan.
Take care not to step on dune grass!
The trail itself is a sand trail. But along the edges of the trail you’ll see dune grass as you’re hiking around sand dunes. Dune grass is said to be fragile and an important part of the coastal ecosystem, so try not to step on it!
Cost to do the Dune Climb
The Dune Climb is a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and it’s a “fee area.”
If you go to the Dune Climb during the day, you can expect the little ranger station at the Dune Climb to be staffed and you can make payment at that time.
In 2020, a one week pass was $25. See current fees here, where you can also buy your pass online. If you have an America the Beautiful annual national park pass, that will work for Sleeping Bear Dunes!
You can also get a park pass at the Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor center in Empire MI, which is about a 10-15 minute drive from the Dune Climb. You may pass Empire MI if you’re driving up from the south. You’ll also drive through Empire if you are driving from Traverse City to the Dune Climb, so you can stop by the visitor center for more information about Sleeping Bear Dunes! (Bring some dollar bills to make donations for the little information brochures.)
Top Michigan vacation spots:
- Best of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Best of Tahquamenon Falls State Park
- Best of Porcupine Mountains State Park
- Lake Superior road trip
- Michigan waterfalls road trip
- Lake Superior lighthouse road trip
- Best of Lake Superior camping in Michigan
- Best of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Save the Upper Peninsula Michigan video playlist to watch on youtube later!
A few more PHOTOS of the Dune Climb, Dune Trail, Lake Michigan, and the surrounding sand dunes!
Your destination for google maps can be the Dune Climb and it will get you there. Traverse City to the Dune Climb is around a 40 minute drive. Leland to the Dune Climb is around a 30-35 minute drive.
Directly from the parking lot you’ll be able to see the dune climb!
And off you go to hike the Dune Climb… and maybe the Dune Trail to Lake Michigan beyond the Dune Climb!
And finally, erosion is a thing across the shorelines of the Great Lakes. You can also see some of this erosion at Lake Michigan at the end of the Dune Trail.
After you’ve taken in the views of Lake Michigan, back you go on the Dune Trail to where you started!
And that’s a bit about what you’ll see at the Dune Climb and beyond when hiking across the sand dunes!
More of the best places to see sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes:
Also see more of the great hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes!
Plus the best of Michigan’s national lakeshores!
HAPPY HIKING THE DUNE CLIMB TRAIL!
Watch the videos to see Michigan in action!
Find more amazing things to do in the UP: Watch my Upper Peninsula videos on youtubeIf you see an activity you like, look in the description below the youtube video for the individual blog post about that specific activity!
Turn your Michigan road trip into a national park road trip out west?! Take a look to get ideas for your road trip across America!
- Road trip to North Dakota national park
- Road trip to South Dakota (with 2 SD national parks)
- Road trip to Wyoming (with 2 WY national parks)
- Road trip to Idaho (with 1 ID national monument to see lava fields and caves!)
- See more: Chicago to Yellowstone road trip
There are affiliate links on this page. Among other partners, as an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from this.