Awesome Trip to Traverse City Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes

The beach at Lighthouse Park


My wife, our golden retriever, Layla, and I recently took a fantastic trip to Michigan’s northwestern lower peninsula. We stayed just south of Traverse City on the Boardman river in a very nice VRBO (Boardman River Cottage Traverse City). We love the outdoors, so our trips are very much focused on hiking with our pup, biking, kayaking, and anything else we can do outdoors! On this trip we also enjoyed the hot tub, fire pit, hammocks, and just relaxing playing board games, reading, cooking, and knocking out a puzzle.

For context, here’s where we were relative to the whole lower peninsula (Fun fact: Locals call the Upper Peninsula “The U.P.” for short)
And here’s a zoomed in view of the area we covered (click image for Google Maps Route)


Saturday: Settling In

Arrived at cottage in the early evening after a 6 hour drive from Ohio, explored the digs, got settled in and relaxed.

Sunday: Hiking and Exploring Traverse City

At the recommendation of our very helpful VRBO host, we checked out the Brown Bridge Quiet Area for some hiking (This ended up being one of our favorite spots of the trip and this won’t be our last visit of the trip). We then drove into Traverse City proper to check out the town, local beaches, and landmarks and capped the night off with a fire by the river (I have no shame admitting I used a product like this firestarter block to make starting the fire a piece of cake, I only made it through a couple years of cub scouts…)

The Boardman River as it winds through the Brown Bridge Quiet Area. This was off of Trail 3, Trails 3 and 4 were our favorites as they have the best views/access to the river. See for trail map and more on the Brown Bridge Quiet Area.
Monday: Relaxing and More Hiking

This was the one day of the trip when weather limited our activities. We made the best of it by sleeping in, playing Rummikub (our current go to board game), and when the sky cleared up in the late afternoon checking out The Oleson Bridge Trail, another local park with hiking trails located in the Natural Education Reserve.

Tuesday: Sleeping Bear Dunes

A beautiful National Lakefront (different from, but similar to, a National Park). Overall, we found the park to be very pretty, but most of the trails were uncomfortably crowded.

First, we hit the Empire Bluff trail, it was ok.  An out and back trail through woods that takes you to a nice scenic area overlooking the lake and dunes in the distance; however, even on a Tuesday afternoon it was pretty busy and we found ourselves rushing just to get back to the car and off the trail to avoid the crowds.  Bring masks.

View from the Empire Bluff trail

Next we hit the Dune Climb.  This was pretty cool, but hard to find parking, lots of people, and honestly you’ll get everything you’re looking for from this experience at Pyramid Point (coming up soon).  There was a nice picnic area nearby at Lake Glen if you want to stop and have some snacks with a lake view.

We then went to the Sleeping Bear Point Trail and on the way saw some nice beaches at Glen Haven, a tiny historic town, so we stopped and relaxed on the beach for a bit. We ended up coming back to this spot on a bike ride another day and found that the crowd at 11am was way less than at 2pm or so, but both times we found some comfortable beach space to relax and test the water.  The Point trail itself was packed, so much so that we couldn’t find a parking spot and turned around.

THEN the highlight of Sleeping Bear: Pyramid Point Trail (link to trail website) This is a loop trail, but most people just do the first stretch to a lookout point and then go back to the parking lot.  Do yourself a favor and skip the popular viewpoint and follow the loop. Here’s the map of the area, the circled heart area was the highlight of our day.  We had the whole area practically to ourselves with huge dunes and beautiful views.  Don’t skip that area if you visit that trail.  p.s. it includes a dune climb that will easily satisfy you and your kids sand needs and then some.

Wednesday: Biking, Wining, and Dining

We started the day off with another visit to the Brown Bridge Quiet Area with Layla and then took the bikes to the Leelenau Trail followed by a wine flight at Black Star Farms Suttons Bay Vineyard. We capped the day off with dinner at the Wren restaurant in Suttons Bay, a cute town with little shops, restaurants, and a beach.

Thursday: Kayaking!

One of our most anticipated days of the week… Kayak day! But before mom and dad could have their fun, we took Layla back to the Natural Education Reserve and found a new trail that followed the river. We got home, put on our suits, packed a cooler, and our gracious host picked us up in his truck with a couple kayaks and dropped us off a few miles up the river for a wonderfully fun and relaxing cruise down the Boardman River (winding through the Brown Bridge Quiet Area) that ended right back at our cottage on the river.

Friday: Biking, Wine, and Lighthouse Park Beach

While at Sleeping Bear a few days back, we noticed a nice looking bike trail called the Sleeping Bear Heritage trail. We decided to head back to try it out and were, for the most part, quite impressed, the only exception being our choice of a starting point. After a nice ride, we dropped off the bikes and picked up Layla for a trip up the peninsula to Bowers Harbor Vineyard, a pet-friendly vineyard with beautiful views. After some tasty wine and hard cider (not usually our thing, but it was pretty good!) we made our way to Lighthouse Park where we found a very nice and not too crowded beach to spend our evening wading, catching some rays, and playing fetch. There are some hiking trails in the area too, but we didn’t have the time to explore.

Saturday: Heading home

Not ready to go home and wishing we had taken more time off to continue exploring, we sadly hit the road back to Ohio, but arrived refreshed and clear headed after a busy, but relaxing trip.


Of all our activities, our favorites were:
1. Hiking the trails and kayaking through the Brown Bridge Quiet Area
2. The Pyramid Point Trail hidden dunes at Sleeping Bear National Waterfront
3. Biking the Leelenau Trail and enjoying local vineyards

Final Thoughts

We would both highly recommend a visit to this part of Michigan. We are considering going back (likely to the same VRBO) in years to come and doing a lot of the same activities.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments of this post! Have you visited this area and have tips of your own? Did we miss anything that we have to check out next time? Please share and let me know if you have questions!

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Blair Everett

We loved the Pyramid Point trail you recommended! Thanks for the tips.