Climbing Up a Sleeping Bear

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Tackling the dune climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore feels like mountain climbing. But these mountains made of sand are tricky. With every step up, climbers sink back down again by almost the same distance.

Sleeping Bear Dune ClimbersBecause of this, it takes a while to climb up the 100-foot bear but it’s worth it for the views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes. When it’s time to go Sleeping Bear Dune Climbershome, another reward is to bounce or roll down the dune to the ground below.

The highest point in the park is 450 feet straight up from Lake Michigan. Anyone attempting to climb that dune might be forced into crawling, but that’s forgotten once the top is reached. From there, it’s easy to see why Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America.

According to the National Park Service, the Chippewa Indians once used the bear-shaped dune as a landmark. The bear rose about two thousand years ago and has seen its share of changes. It no longer looks like a bear. In the late 1800s, it was covered with trees and shrubs, giving it a dark shaggy appearance. For now, the bear has gone into hibernation and his sand dune looks more like a cave. With all the wind-swept changes, the bear may rise again or disappear.

Sleeping Bear Dune Lookout

Because these dunes feel so much like mountains, I was surprised to learn that Adelie from Artfully Aspiring had gone sledding there. I’ve been known for a few sledding feats, including barreling right into a raging polluted river, but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to sled down steep mountain dunes like these. Though you never know. If I find myself there again when there’s enough snow, I might be tempted.

Instead of sledding there, as a teenager I climbed up and bounced down the dunes while listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Sleeping Bear Dunes View

Do you have a favorite National Park memory?

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72 thoughts on “Climbing Up a Sleeping Bear

    • That reminds me – it’s been far too long for me too. I’ll have to find a grassy hill around here somewhere to celebrate spring. Cartwheeling might also be required. 🙂

      • Perhaps cartwheeling and rolling down a hill should be mandatory for everyone on the first day of Spring. A new national tradition!

  1. I would love to go rolling down that dune. I used to love rolling down hills as a kid. Of course, now I’d probably wreck my knees doing so…

    Love the photo with the blue, blue water and the gorgeous blue sky (the second to the last photo). Wonderful!

  2. That water looks absolutely gorgeous, almost like some sort of paradisical (it could be a word!) sea. I haven’t rambled in any national Parks over on your continent yet, although I hear the bears are friendly…

    I do remember climbing a steep hill in Derbyshire once and getting to the top to see a huge valley and hills rising up the other side with the scudding shadows of cloud dancing over them…I haven’t thought about that memory in years…

    • It’s funny how much it looks like the ocean and it’s almost disconcerting because there’s none of the usual ocean smells to go along with it. You just reminded me that another great thing about mountain climbing is getting to watch those cloud shadows move along. Climbing up to places like that gives us such a different perspective on everything – I hope you’ll get to climb up there again!

  3. I have experienced dunes and talk about a leg workout! Beautiful Captures:) Yosemite hiking trails have kicked my arse and OMG the wildlife in Yellowstone and the Gators in the Everglades. Some Great Memories! Happy Hump Day:)

    • Those dunes really are a workout – sometimes sand can be tougher than rock. 🙂 I haven’t made it to Yosemite yet but hopefully the sand dune training would help make those hikes easier. The gators must have been a lot of fun to see! They could give you a workout too if you have to get away from them quickly.

      • Hiking in Yosemite is a body challenge for the legs and the lungs because you are hiking in mountainous terrain, but also at a higher elevation too! I love the baby gators 🙂

    • I’m starting to think we should start a hill rolling club with Carrie and Letizia. We could take some action shots and post about it. 🙂 It would be a good way to make sure we don’t grow up too much anyway!

  4. I’m always amazed by how blue Lake Michigan is, Sheila. Beautiful photos!
    One of my favorite National Park was Rocky Mountain National Park…I remember seeing snow at the highest peak in August…it was wild!

    • Thanks Jill! You can really see all the swirling blues and greens from high up like that too. Rocky Mountain Park must have incredible views (and it would be a really crazy sledding place)!

  5. Sheila playing a game of baseball on the flat in Yosemite National Park is a memorable one for me. Or seeing the penguins in the snow on the beach in New Zealand, I cannot remember the name of the national park but is was gorgeous. When ever I am lucky enough to go on a bush walk I feel renewed and in awe of nature.

    • It must have been so much fun to see those penguins! Penguins are pretty high on my list of favorite animals. I always loved watching them walk and slide around at the zoo. Nature really is so inspiring and there’s so much to appreciate.

  6. I have visited Sleeping Bear Dunes a couple of times and have really enjoyed. Nice shots and thanks for reminding me of another beautiful place.

    • That’s great – it’s such a fun place. There’s lots of sand to play in. I’ve never seen so much sand and I live on a sandbar. Whether you make it all the way up to the top or not, it’s always fun to bounce down!

    • Thank you – I couldn’t believe the steep angle on those dunes. They’re like monsters compared with the ones around here.

    • It’s a tough climb! I only attempted it as a teenager. These days, I’d rather just look and enjoy that way. 🙂

    • I’m happy to hear this brought back some of those memories. It’s one of those special places that’s always fun to think about. xo

  7. Rolling down that dune would be tons of fun, although I might consider sledding if there were some big, squishy cushions at the bottom! Wonderful pictures.

    • You’ll have to join in on the hill rolling club too! I’m guessing we’ll need as many of those cushions as possible. 🙂

  8. Is it possible to get water any more beautiful than that? And I love the name of the dunes…Sleeping Bear. So many stories could be made of that! National Parks were so much of my early life it would be hard to isolate one memory. They just become a part of you, that you always long to come back to…Thanks for the sensory reminder!

    • I’m glad this stirred up some of those memories. Parks are perfect places for helping us appreciate that wild side (Cooeee). 🙂 I almost included the Native American legend on the Sleeping Bear but then didn’t because it’s so sad. I’ll tell you anyway – the legend says a mother bear and her two cubs tried to swim across the lake but the cubs couldn’t make it all the way across and turned into islands. The mother bear sat on the shore and waited for her cubs to return for so long that she became the Sleeping Bear dune.

    • Thank you – I had forgotten about hill rolling too but thinking about it is making me want to get out there and do it again!

  9. Wow, those are some impressive dunes! And I had no idea dunes next to a lake could be that high. I once “climbed” high dunes on the Atlantic coast of France and it wasn’t fun at all. Fortunately they had a stairway for one side of it. It was still a lot of steps!

    • Steps would have been nice. 🙂 I’ve always wondered why the dunes are so high and steep there. You’d think the ocean would create larger dunes but instead Lake Michigan somehow did. I hope you had a great trip!

    • Thank you! That might be a little too adventurous for me – I’ll have to stick to just rolling or falling down them instead!

  10. This is so gorgeous! I’m up for rolling down the hill, too. I used to love doing that as a kid, but couldn’t stand the itchiness from the grass. Sandy dunes would take that out of the equation!

    • That’s funny – I was around that age when I bounced and rolled down those dunes. That’s a fun thing to have in common!

  11. I had no idea Michigan had giant sand dunes! Have you ever tried sand boarding at Sleeping Bear? Another amazing place to try and climb, sled, or “surf” sand dunes is at the Mesquite Flat Dunes in California’s Death Valley National Park.

    • I’ve never heard of sand boarding – just rolled or bounced or fell down these. I’ll have to try surfing or sliding down them sometime. It sounds like a good reason to go to Death Valley – thanks for letting me know about that!

  12. Hi Sheila.

    Such a captivating post. I really enjoyed it and also liked the photos and information you provide
    How interesting to know that the Chippewa Indians used the bear-shaped dune as a landmark.
    Also after seeing these photos, it is easy to understand why the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America”

    Best wishes, Aquileana 🙂

    • Thanks Aquileana! It’s nice to know places like this are protected as national parks. It’s hard to pick a favorite beautiful place anywhere in the world – there are so many of them!

  13. I haven’t been to Sleeping Bear, but I helped my husband with some archaeological projects on the Wisconsin side many years ago. Those were in areas of older dunes that had become stabilized with vegetation growth. And very easy “soils” to excavate. 😉 I could handle sledding down those tamer dunes, I think. 🙂

    • That must have been interesting excavating around there. I love thinking about the Native American settlements and what they might have been like. If you go out there again, you’ll have to bring a sled!

  14. Beautiful images! Rolling down hills was a favorite childhood activity and your post has brought back some great memories!

    • I’m glad this brought back some of those memories – now we’ll have to get out there and try it again!

    • Thanks so much – I miss you too! Everything’s just been too crazy lately but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things soon. I hope you’re having a cozy winter filled with lots of writing time and inspiration. xo

    • Sounds like fun – stink bugs and all! I haven’t been to that one but you make it sound intriguing. Since it’s a pretty close, I might just have to check those stink bugs out.

  15. This looks amazing! I’ve got to do a little research on where this is, exactly. We’re going to Illinois for a few days in August. Gotta see if we can check these out.

  16. Sheila, before I read your post, I thought these images were taken at the dunes along the Oregon Coast. Both spots have such a pretty blend of blues and neutral tones, and apparently a similar trait of causing the visitor to crawl up the dunes. What a great workout that was!

    • I’ll have to go to Oregon to compare now and find out which is the better workout. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and adventuring through Michigan!

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