Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Empire, Michigan
Website – NPS Website
Distance – 7.4 mile loop drive
Options – you can drive, bike, or hike this loop, but I’d be very afraid to hike or bike it due to traffic.
Open – Sunrise to Sunset, or hours posted (depending on which part of the park)
Terrain – Woods, beach, lake, dunes, and forest
Trailheads – 44°51’9.69″N, 86° 2’13.05″W (Scenic drive entrance)
Directions – Check with NPS site.
Parking – Limited parking along the way, will sometimes have to fight for spots. Best to get to this early!
Standouts – Beautiful overlooks, dues, and, of course, Lake Michigan.
Camping – Two campgrounds in the park. Sadly, each was closed due to storm damage when we were there.
Description – As part of our Great Great Lakes Trip, we stopped off at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We got there plenty early to snag a campsite, only to find out that the campgrounds were all closed due to a terrible storm that had taken down most of the trees two days before. Undaunted, we decided to enjoy the beauty of this national park. We started at the Visitor’s Center in Empire, then went on to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
The words “Scenic Drive” are no lie, you’ll get some amazing views… once you get out of your car! However, parking can be a problem, so try to avoid the high season or the busy times of day. We, being the excellent planners that we were, made it here during the worst part of the day of the high season. Still, we made our own luck and got some great views. We start from next to the picnic area, where we had our lunch.
Then, it was a short drive to the main overlook of the loop, the Lake Michigan Overlook.
This was the hardest spot to park, but worth every bit of effort. Why? Electric blue water, a sheer cliff of sand, and (with a little hiking) a nice, secluded birds eye view.
This drive, and this spot in particular, is hugely popular. Apparently Good Morning America labeled it as “The Most Beautiful Place in America” a few years back, and its popularity has skyrocketed.
It’s also home to the worst hike ever… two minutes down and two hours back up. Still, many people make it.
A climb past this first viewing area will help you loose the crowd. In fact, by the time we made the highest overlook, we had lost everyone, despite it being well under a half mile walk (maybe only 1/4 mile). Our reward was unbroken views.
It’s not really close to anything at all, but we were happy to go out of our way for these views.
Nearby – The Dune Climb is also very popular here, but we had to miss it due to not knowing where we were going to sleep.
Rest of day… we found a place several hours further up Michigan’s mitten in Petosky, Michigan, famous for a certain type of rock and sunsets. Wasn’t impressed by the rock, they weren’t lying about the sunsets.
Next on our journey…
We travel to the tip of the mitten of Michigan, crossing over to the Upper Peninsula. There, we hop on a ferry and head to America’s second national park – Mackinac Island.