If you’ve seen pictures of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, then chances are that you have seen some sort of pictures of 2 iconic spots at the Lake Michigan overlook.
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 Lake Michigan overlook is a spot you need to see!
You will find this as a stop along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
What is there to do at the Lake Michigan overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive?!
Well, it really is all about taking in the views!
As such, how much time you want to spend at the Lake Michigan overlook 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 top of the sand dunes and walking out on the boardwalk.
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, or to just sit on the sand and take in the views that way!
Here’s a bit of what you can do at the Lake Michigan overlook that’s located off of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
1. Hike the short sand trail from the parking lot.
This is a requirement. It’s how you get to the overlook! It will start off as a paved path, and then turn into a sand trail. It will be a walk of a couple of minutes.
2. Arrive at sand dunes that tower over Lake Michigan!
The trail will take you out into the open, where you will be standing on the top of the tall sand dunes to see grand views of Lake Michigan! This will be your first Lake Michigan lookout point.
3. Walk out onto the Lake Michigan overlook boardwalk.
This will be the official stop on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive overlook. Stop #9! Grand views of Lake Michigan all around you, and views of the grand sand dunes!
4. Continue your walk across the sand dunes.
5. Hang out on the sand dunes!
You have probably also seen the pictures of people climbing up these steep sand dunes of Lake Michigan.
The pictures of people climbing up steep and tall sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are probably pictures from this Lake Michigan overlook. (There is also an official “Dune Climb” that’s in another part of the park, and those sand dunes aren’t as tall, and they don’t overlook Lake Michigan… although you can hike to Lake Michigan by taking the Dunes Trail.)
Well, officially, the National Park Service does not recommend going down the sand dunes to the shoreline. In fact they highly discourage it.
If you go DOWN, that means that you have to go back UP. And, walking UP a sand hill is going to feel much more difficult than walking DOWN a sand hill!
And, there are concerns that you may not be able to make the journey back up to where you started.
And… what happens if you decide you’re too tired to climb back up?!
Message from the National Park Service Search & Rescue and Glen Lake Fire Department:
The National Park Service recommends that you do not attempt to climb down the dune to Lake Michigan.
Climbing this dune causes erosion and impacts the dune ecosystem.
Every year, people have to be rescued, some of them are seriously ill or injured.
Rescue could take hours, cost you several thousand dollars, and put rescuers at risk of injury.
It is best to enjoy the view from the top.
Message from the National Park Service Search & Rescue and Glen Lake Fire Department:
Please do not climb down the bluffs.
Lake Michigan is exceptionally high and is causing significant drop-offs and hazardous beach conditions.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to constrain response capability and adds additional concerns of exposure for both rescuers and victims.
If you DO decide to go down, treat this as a solid day hike! Bring along a hiking daypack, and make sure you have plenty of WATER and SNACKS with you! This will be a hike with no shade.
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” in Sleeping Bears Dunes or not! It can get hot out on those sand dunes no matter where you are in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!
Take care not to step on dune grass!
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!
About this Sleeping Bear Dunes overlook and Lake Michigan
According to the National Park Service:
This overlook, 450 feet above Lake Michigan, provides a magnificent view of the shoreline.
Lake Michigan is the largest lake completely within the United States and is the fourth largest fresh-water lake in the world. It has had a profound influence on the region, including the formation of the sand dunes.
Cost to visit Lake Michigan overlook
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and the Lake Michigan overlook are a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There is an entry fee for the national lakeshore park.
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a slow-going one-way loop road, and there is a little park ranger station at the start of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive that you can expect to be staffed. So if you haven’t received a national park pass elsewhere in the park, then you can get one when you start driving on this road.
You can also get a park pass at the Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor center in Empire MI, which is about a 10 minute drive from the start of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
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, then that will work for Sleeping Bear Dunes!
Here's some info on Michigan vacation prep!
- Get a waterproof phone case if you'll be heading out on the water!
- Get water shoes if you'll be heading to any beaches with a rocky shoreline in search of colorful rocks! (aka agate stones or yooperlites)
- Personal swim buoy float is perfect for swimming in the Great Lakes
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Michigan
Save the Upper Peninsula Michigan video playlist to watch on youtube later!
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
A few more PHOTOS of Lake Michigan overlook and the surrounding sand dunes!
So being stop #9 out of 12 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic drive auto tour, you will find the Lake Michigan overlook towards the end of the drive. You’ll see a sign for it, and it will be obvious. You can’t miss it.
As the most popular stop on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, this is the biggest parking lot you’ll find along the loop road.
There’s also a bathroom here, along with “bear-proof” or “wildlife-proof” trash cans.
And then you can look for the trail to the sand dunes!
And then take in the Lake Michigan views from the top of the sand dunes! (Technically, geologically speaking, it seems this may be a “glacier hill.”)
And then once you’ve taken in these views, head over to the official stop #9!
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive stop #9: Lake Michigan overlook
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive stop #10: Sleeping Bear overlook
And if you keep walking across the sand dunes, there is also the official stop #10 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. I didn’t find it to be well-marked. But I think this is it. 👇
Finish taking in the views of the sand dunes and Lake Michigan before you head back onto Pierce Scenic Stocking Drive!
And that’s a bit about what you’ll see at the Lake Michigan overlook stop on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive!
Have a look at more overlooks to stop at along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
More of the best places to see sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes:
- Empire Bluff Trail
- Dune Climb Trail to Lake Michigan
- Sleeping Bear Point Dune Loop Trail
- Cottonwood Trail (Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive)
- Pyramid Point
Also see some of the great hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes, including hikes to a Lake Michigan beach!
See the best of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Plus the best of Michigan’s national lakeshores!
HAPPY DRIVING PIERCE STOCKING SCENIC DRIVE TO LAKE MICHIGAN OVERLOOK!
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.