Riding the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has long been renowned for its beauty. Spectacular views of the dunes, rolling hills, inland lakes, and of course Lake Michigan are everywhere.

Until recently, soaking in this gorgeous landscape was most easily accomplished by car. A short drive to one of the scenic overlooks or along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive would have you face to face with the majesty of northern Michigan. Sure, you could bike or hike along the roads, but few people with young kids want to do that.

The newly opened extension to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail solves that problem.

Riding the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail between Glen Arbor and the Dune Climb Riding the original portion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail between Glen Arbor and the Dune Climb

Since opening in 2012, the portion of the Heritage Trail connecting Glen Arbor to the Dune Climb has proved extremely popular. Weaving its way through pristine forest and gently undulating hills, it passes beneath Alligator Hill and through Glen Haven before turning south towards the Dune Climb. It is as picturesque on a bike in summertime as it is on cross-country skis in the winter. But it's a quick trip from Glen Arbor to the Dune Climb.

On Friday, June 6 the extension to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail connecting the Dune Climb to Empire to the south officially opened. Having kept an eye on the construction of the trail for the past few months, naturally we couldn't wait to get out there and ride it.

As soon as we got the word that the trail was open, Bob and some friends and colleagues rounded up some bikes and headed out to experience the new addition first-hand.

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail trailhead on South Forest Haven Drive. Bob and our group of riders at the trailhead to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail on South Forest Haven Drive in Glen Arbor.

We met at Cherry Republic and cycled the short distance to the trailhead on Forest Haven Drive. This first part of the trail is a delight to ride. We breezed along the gently undulating, shaded trail to Glen Haven.

Bob and friends cruising along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail towards Glen Haven. Bob and friends cruising along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail towards Glen Haven.

After reaching Glen Haven, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail turns sharply south towards the Dune Climb. This portion of the trail remains fairly flat, but isn't as heavily wooded as it is between Glen Haven and Glen Arbor.

Jason Homa getting some skiing practice in on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. Jason Homa getting some skiing practice in on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

It's amazing how quickly you reach the Dune Climb on a bike. It felt like no sooner had we passed Glen Haven than we were rolling into the parking lot. Without the trail extension, this would have been the end of the road; the end of a very enjoyable, very scenic, but very short bike ride from Glen Arbor.

With the extension open, we had another five and a half miles of trail ahead of us. We circled around the parking lot and onto the new trail.

Riding along the early stages of the new extension to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. Riding along the early stages of the new extension to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

This new section of the trail is even more beautiful than the original. It winds its way through hillier terrain and denser forest. Steep climbs are almost immediately rewarded by swift descents through shady glades.

A cool glade shaded by the brilliant green forest canopy. A cool glade shaded by the brilliant green forest canopy of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

While most of the terrain is fairly easy, there are a couple of steeper segments. One hill in particular will have all but the fittest walking their bikes to its summit. But once that summit is reached, the trail is downhill for almost the entirety of the remainder of the journey to Empire.

Bob riding on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail Bob enjoying the shade on the ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

The trail's steeper sections are a little tiring, but a lot of work went into planning the route to be as accessible as possible. The trail is very family-friendly.

The family-friendly Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail The Heritage Trail is hilly, but all ages can enjoy it.

There is so much beauty to soak in on this ride. The majority of the gently undulating trail winds through the shady glades of the Lakeshore. You cannot tire of its idyllic tranquility. There is wildlife too. We saw several deer during our ride.

Bob speeding down a hill on the Heritage Trail towards Empire. Bob speeding down a hill on the Heritage Trail towards Empire.

About an hour after we left Glen Arbor, we reached the end of the trail and rolled into Empire. Our legs were a little tired and there were some sweaty brows, but everyone enjoyed the nine and half miles of glorious Sleeping Bear Lakeshore.

Bob and Todd on the Heritage Trail Bob and Todd Ciolek near the end of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail in Empire.

Not a bad way to kill some time on a Friday, right?

Next time you're up north, you simply must take a ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. There is no better way to experience the Lakeshore.