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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

Top 3 Dune Hikes

Trek through a trio of wilderness playgrounds on shape-shifting mountains of sand.

by: Kelly Bastone

Oregon Dunes, OR (Charles Gurche)
Oregon Dunes, OR (Charles Gurche)
Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI (Chuck Haney)
Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI (Chuck Haney)
Eureka Dunes, CA (Lee Cohen)
Eureka Dunes, CA (Lee Cohen)

Explore America's Third Coast.

Towering above Lake Michigan, the dunes at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore are mightier than many of this state's pine-topped mountains. The tallest drifts are 200 feet high and sit atop the already-lofty bluffs lining the lake. These "perched" dunes cover 15 square miles of lakeshore. Take the four-mile (round-trip) Dunes Trail to an isolated beach perfect for an early-summer swim. The route begins at the Dune Climb, a popular 10-minute slog to the top of the sand with views over Glen Lake's azure waters to the east. From there, follow the blue-tipped posts west. In spring and early summer, wildflowers such as wood lily and red anemone bloom among the tufts of dunegrass. Bring a towel so you can kick back on the beach and listen to Lake Michigan's lapping. $10/vehicle;; (231) 326-5134

Sandy toes are welcome at Tiffany's (231-326-5337), an ice cream shop in Empire that scoops homemade sweets.

The way
From the visitor center in Empire, drive five miles north on MI 22, then take MI 109 to the Dune Climb parking lot and trailhead.

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Reader Rating: -


Jul 30, 2009

Sleeping Bear Dunes also includes S. and N. Manitou Islands. Fewer people, and it's possible to circumnavigate S. Manitou on foot as a day hike.

Gabe Knowles
Jul 30, 2009

I've been to a lot of places, but nothing beats Lake Michigan in the summer. The lake's crystal clear freshwater and pristine sandy beaches are some of the best in the country. An added bonus are the sand dunes, which are a lot of fun to climb, then run down into the waves of Lake Michigan.

K. Wassner
Jul 28, 2009

My son and I rolled into the dunes around 10:30 a.m. on July 24 and hiked for about an hour and a half. It was absolutely spectacular! Hiking on the beautiful white sand hills with the black hills in the background. The view from high on the dunes is stangely beautiful as you look at the desert floor. As expected, it started getting really hot around noon. When we left, it was near 100 degrees and there was a slight breeze at the top of the dunes. A very dry heat of course. Quite bearable and actually somewhat pleasant especially with an air conditiioned SUV and a cooler of cold drinks waiting in the parking area. We entered Death Valley from Big Pines and the road was very good (paved with many sharp curves)except for about the last 11 miles or so. We had a Honda Pilot SUV with 4 wheel drive capabailities. We never needed the 4WD but that last 11 miles of road was a road of jagged rocks the size of golf balls, baseballs and even softballs. We began by inching down the road at about 10 mph but couldn't take that pace. I hit the gas and zoomed over the rocks at 40 - 45 mph with no problems. It was quite a ride and we stirred up a lot of dust. My SUV was filthy but didn't have a scratch. There was not another car in sight so it was no problem. We went out the same way at the same speed and never saw another vehicle. When driving that road, watch for washed out areas caused by flash floods. We actually hit a few holes with some water in them. Fortunately, the few areas that had been washed out had already been repaired.
My suggestion would be to never take a regular car on that road. The rocks would tear it up and perhaps even punture the gas tank.
Take a jeep, an SUV or a big truck. Also, good, heavy duty tires are a must and they must be at the pro[er inflation. Over-inflated tires can be punctured by sharp rocks. Obviously, your vehicle needs to be dependable with a good cooling system. Bring plenty of drinks, some food and other provisions. There is no ranger station in that area. A few lizards were the only living creatures we saw on the entire trip for several hours. No cell phone signal in that area either.
Eureka Dunes is a great place to visit. Be smart and be safe. There's a reason why it's called Death Valley.


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