Five Winter Activities for the Whole Family in Sleeping Bear Dunes


Faced with an open schedule on a Saturday afternoon, our family’s consensus was to head to one of our favorite place on earth: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The temps were cold, but not too cold. Everyone was in the mood for some outdoor fun.

With its soaring dunes, endless Lake Michigan views, and sugar sand beaches, there’s no better place to spend a Pure Michigan summer day than Sleeping Bear Dunes. But the magic doesn’t need to end when the snowflakes start flying. Sleeping Bear is a year-round wonderland for those with an adventurous spirit and a passion for outdoor activity.

There’s something magical and mystical about the solace and solitude of the dunes covered in a soft blanket of snow.

Here are five fun winter activities that the whole family can engage in while visiting this national treasure in Northwest Michigan. Enjoy – you’ll have the place practically to yourself!

Sledding the Dune Climb 

During most of the year, the payoff from the Dune Climb is at the top, where you can soak in expansive views of sapphire blue Lake Michigan. In the winter, however, when the Dune Climb is snow-covered, the fun is at the bottom. That’s where you’ll be brushing off the snow and reliving the ride you just experienced zipping down the hill on a sled. If you like a little speed with your sledding, the 260-foot Dune Climb – the only area in Sleeping Bear where sledding is permitted – is exhilarating fun.

We were on our own while sledding – not another car in the parking lot or person to be seen. Despite the fact that it’s one of the best sledding hills we’ve ever visited, it appears to be a hidden gem where you can rip down the hill, and trudge back up, without dodging other discs and tobaggons hurtling toward you.


There’s nothing quite like the unspoiled tranquility of fresh powder in the forest. When the snow is deep, strap on a pair of snowshoes in order to more easily – and enjoyably – explore Sleeping Bear’s different landscapes and beautiful vistas. Popular spots to hike in the summer, including the Empire Bluff Trail and Pyramid Point, are also great areas to trek using snowshoes. If you’re looking for a bit of company and insight about the area, National Park Ranger led snowshoe hikes are offered every Saturday during winter beginning the first weekend of January. All hikes begin at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire.

We hit the Empire Bluff Trail on our most recent visit, and Heather, Maddie and I wore our snowshoes, while I pulled the twins along in a sled. It takes a bit of work to get little ones to the end of the trail in the snow, but the views offer a big reward.


Sleeping Bear Dunes has extensive groomed cross country trails for classic track and skate skiing. Our favorite trails include the Good Harbor Bay Trail, a 2.8 mile loop, and the Platte Plains Trail, which features a number of loops to choose from totaling over 14 miles.

Downhill skiing more your style? The Homestead Resort, located just outside of downtown Glen Arbor, offers great Up North skiing in an intimate setting. Plus, the Lake Michigan views at the top of the hill are awe-inspiring. If you have young kids, The Homestead Resort is one of the best, most family-friendly places to ski in Northern Michigan. It has a “magic carpet” for the kids to ride up the bunny hill, and a convenient warming house at the bottom of the hill to warm up cold fingers and toes.


There’s no doubt that camping is generally considered a warm weather activity, but there’s something special and rugged about the idea of pitching a tent and pulling out the cold weather gear for an overnight in the snowy wilderness. Plus, winter camping holds two important advantages over summer camping: it’s a crowd-free and bug-free experience.

I have never been winter camping, but there has been some rumbling among friends over the last couple of weeks about heading out for a cold weather adventure. Fortunately, should we choose to venture out, we have options nearby. The Platte River Campground (hot showers available!) is open year-round and is the only Sleeping Bear campground that permits winter camping.

Treasure Hunting on the Beach! 

Winter is a great time to hunt for everyone’s favorite Northern Michigan treasure – Petoskey stones! The beaches are empty, so there’s less competition, and post-summer storms have washed up many new stones ripe for the picking.

We came up empty on our most recent visit. That’s probably because I was the one doing most of the hunting (and I never seem to have much luck) while the girls were “skating” around on big patches of ice that had formed on the beach. Lots of fun nonetheless!

Piping Hot Slice After a Day on the Ice 

Whether you snowshoe, ski, sled or explore (or all of the above!), you’ll no doubt need to refuel. Head north/east on M22 from Glen Arbor and hit up Market 22 for some deep dish Detroit style pizza. We’ve been there two times this winter following ski trips to The Homestead and enjoyed the delicious pizza and salads, cozy atmosphere and friendly service.

See You at Sleeping Bear! 

Despite the almost spring-like temperatures this past weekend, the snow is starting to fall once again in Northern Michigan. I’m not sure what the kids have in mind for this weekend, but if it’s up to me (which it rarely is given how badly I’m outnumbered) we’ll be heading back to the Dune Climb for some more sledding.

What are some of your favorite winter activities in Sleeping Bear Dunes?

AdventuresJay Harrington