Welcome to America’s most amazing and beautiful lake shorelines!
A “national lakeshore” is a type of national park, but not quite the full on official “national park.” National lakeshores are a part of the U.S. national park system, managed by the National Park Service (NPS).
All of the national lakeshores are located on the shores of the Great Lakes in the midwest of the US.
Up until a couple of years ago, there were 4 national lakeshores in the United States, as designated by the National Park Service:
- 2 national lakeshores in Michigan
- 1 national lakeshore in Wisconsin
- 1 national lakeshore in Indiana
The national lakeshore in Indiana was previously the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. A trip to the Indiana Dunes means a trip to Lake Michigan. But now, the national lakeshore in Indiana has become an official “national park.” The official name went from being Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park.
So currently, there are 2 states with national lakeshores: Michigan and Wisconsin.
The national lakeshore in Wisconsin is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. A trip to the Apostle Islands means a trip to Lake Superior. There are 21 islands that are a part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The national lakeshore parks in Michigan
In Michigan, there are 2 national lakeshores:
There is the Sleeping Bears Dunes National Lakeshore in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. A trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes means a trip to Lake Michigan.
The highlights of each of the Michigan national lakeshore parks is below!
Lake Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
If you do just one thing in Sleeping Bear Dunes, then make it a hike along the Empire Bluff Trail. 👇
If you do just 2 things in Sleeping Bear Dunes, then make your second thing a drive along Pierce Scenic Stocking Drive, and more specifically make a stop at the Lake Michigan overlook. 👇
And then another thing you may put at the top of your list of things to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the “Dune Climb.” You can stay close to the parking lot and hike the first hill of sand only, or you can continue hiking across hills of sand dunes all the way to Lake Michigan. 👇
The Sleeping Bear Point dune loop trail will also offer you sweeping views of sand dunes. 👇 Dune grass is considered to be fragile and an important part of the coastal ecosystem so try not to step on any grass when you are walking across the sand dunes!
And then another thing you may want to do is go be directly along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. You can take your pick from the many Lake Michigan beaches along the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, including beaches like Esch Beach. 👇 Swimming in Lake Michigan is a thing.
But note that no beaches in Sleeping Bear Dunes have lifeguards. Also note that in many ways, as a big body of open water, Lake Michigan can act like an ocean. Take care!
And finally, experience more of this lakeshore through camping! There are 2 regular Sleeping Bear Dunes campgrounds that you can drive up to. At the DH Day campground, it’s almost like campers have their own private beach! There’s a beach trail directly from the campground to Lake Michigan. 👇 Tent camping and RV camping is available.
There’s one backcountry campground in the main area of Sleeping Bear Dunes if you want to make it an overnight backpacking trip. That would be the White Pine backcountry campground which is about a 10 minute hike to Lake Michigan. This is also almost like having your own private beach.
And, there are also islands that are a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The islands of Sleeping Bear Dunes are the Manitou Islands. There’s the North Manitou Island and the South Manitou Island. Backpacking the Manitou Islands would be the ultimate backpacking trip in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
You’ll take a ferry from Leland MI to get to the Manitou Islands. If you’re an experienced kayaker, then it is also possible to paddle your way across the open waters of Lake Michigan. Once again, it’s important to note that the Great Lakes can be not so kind, which is why it’s best to be an experienced paddler. There are such things that have been called “rogue waves” on Lake Michigan. The term of rogue wave is more commonly associated with oceans! I tend to say don’t underestimate the power of the ocean, and in this case don’t underestimate the power of the Great Lakes!!
Detroit to Sleeping Bear Dunes is around a 4.5 hour drive.
Chicago to Sleeping Bear Dunes is around a 5.5 hour drive.
Aside from the Sleeping Bear Dunes campgrounds, many people stay in Traverse City or the Leelanau Peninsula for a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes. There’s also a state park campground near the Lake Michigan lighthouse at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: See more about planning a trip to this Michigan national lakeshore park
- Things to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
- The best of hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Lake Michigan beaches in Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Empire Bluff Trail (THE Sleeping Bear Dunes hike to do)
- Lake Michigan Overlook (THE overlook to see)
- The Dune Climb
- Sleeping Bear Point Dune Loop Trail
- DH Day campground
- Platte River campground
- Official NPS Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore website:
Michigan national lakeshore park road trip: Driving from Sleeping Bear Dunes to Pictured Rocks
From Sleeping Bear Dunes to Pictured Rocks is around a 4.5 hour drive.
Driving from Sleeping Bear Dunes to Pictured Rocks means that you’ll be driving from the lower peninsula to the upper peninsula. And THAT means that you’ll be driving across the iconic Mackinac Bridge! The Mackinac Bridge is said to be the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere and the 5th longest suspension bridge in the world.
If you want to spend a few days getting from Sleeping Bear Dunes to Pictured Rocks as a part of your Michigan road trip, you can find things to do in the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula. You can also make Pictured Rocks a part of a bigger circle the Upper Peninsula road trip.
Lake Superior: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Now, for Pictured Rocks, it’s a bit harder to say to do just “one” thing. If you’re making the trip here, there are basically 2 areas of the park that you need to see for a well-rounded Pictured Rocks experience!
There’s the cliffs of Pictured Rocks, and the unique rock formations along the shoreline is what makes Pictured Rocks the most famous. So I guess this would be the ONE thing to do if you are truly limited on time.
There are many ways to experience the Pictured Rocks cliffs. The one lookout you can drive to is the Miners Castle Point 👇 but this is really just an introduction to the unique rock formations you can see along the Pictured Rocks shoreline.
To really experience the cliffs, you can see them by boat, by kayak, or by foot! Each will offer a different experience so take your pick!
The other side of Pictured Rocks is the sand dunes. So try to visit this side too! To experience the Pictured Rocks sand dunes, be sure to go to the Log Slide overlook. 👇
You can also hike the Grand Sable Dunes loop trail. 👇
And then another thing you may want to do is go be directly along the shoreline of Lake Superior. There are a number of Lake Superior beaches in Pictured Rocks to choose from.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has some sandy beaches, and it also has one of the more unique beaches that you may want to stop by (more like hike to). Sable Beach is a beach with colorful rocks that Lake Superior is known for. 👇
Only look and don’t take, though! Being a part of the national park system, this is a protected area.
Hiking to Chapel Beach will give you a well-rounded Pictured Rocks experience because you will see waterfalls, a unique rock formation 👇, the Lake Superior shoreline from above, see a river flowing into Lake Superior… and then you’ll end up at the beach! And then you can opt to hike further to see the Pictured Rocks cliffs including hiking to Grand Portal Point. (You can remember this hike as the Chapel Loop Trail.)
Once again, note that no beaches in Pictured Rocks have lifeguards. And once again, in many ways, as a big body of open water, Lake Superior can also act like an ocean. Lake Superior tends to feel cold to most people even in summer, but people do go swimming in Lake Superior.
There’s a reason that the shores of Lake Superior are called shipwreck coast, and the shores of Lake Superior have even been called the graveyard of the Great Lakes. You can find the Au Sable Point Lighthouse along the shores of Pictured Rocks. This is one of the many Lake Superior lighthouses in Michigan.
There are also a number of waterfalls to see in Pictured Rocks.
And, you can also experience more of this lakeshore through camping! There are 3 regular Pictured Rocks campgrounds that you can drive up to. At the Twelvemile Beach campground 👇 you can have views of Lake Superior right from your campsite! And there’s access to the beach directly from the campground. Tent camping and RV camping is available.
And if you’re looking for an epic backpacking experience along the shoreline, a Pictured Rocks backpacking trip is one to consider. The North Country Trail runs through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, much of it as a trail that’s along the shoreline. There are a number of backcountry campsites along the way, just a few steps away from Lake Superior views. It’s possible to hike sections of the North Country Trail as day hikes too.
Detroit to Pictured Rocks is around a 6.5 to 7 hour drive.
Chicago to Pictured Rocks is around a 7.5 hour drive (through Wisconsin).
Aside from the Pictured Rocks campgrounds, many people stay in Munising (more common) or Grand Marais (smaller town).
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: See more about planning a trip to this Michigan national lakeshore park
- Things to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- The best of hiking in Pictured Rocks
- Lake Superior beaches in Pictured Rocks
- Pictured Rocks waterfalls
- Twelvemile Beach campground
- Hurricane River campground
- Little Beaver Lake campground
- Official NPS Pictured Rocks National Park website
- Tips for planning your trip to the Upper Peninsula
And those are ideas for visiting the Michigan national lakeshore parks!
More for your Michigan road trip:
- Lake Superior camping trip
- Lake Superior lighthouse Michigan road trip
- Michigan waterfalls road trip
- Great Lakes Michigan camping spots
- Porcupine Mountains State Park
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park
- The Kitch-iti-kipi bubbling big spring
- Keweenaw Peninsula
- South Haven Michigan beach town
HAPPY SEEING THE BEST OF AMERICA’S NATIONAL LAKESHORES!