Sleeping Bear Dunes Park

July 25

According to legend, a mother bear and her two cubs swam from Wisconsin, across Lake Michigan to what is now Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan. In the indigenous telling of the story, the bears risked the journey in hopes of food, because they were starving. 

Tragically, after many days of swimming, the cubs grew weary and slipped beneath the waves. The distraught mother bear continued to the shore, pulled herself from the water, and lay exhausted on the beach gazing at the spot where her cubs perished. 

Sympathizing with her loss, the Great Spirit Manitou raised the two cubs from the depths of the lake and created North and South Manitou Islands. The mother bear became a great sand dune and even today, she keeps watch over her two cubs.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is now a long, narrow National Lakeshore Park in Michigan, along the shore of Lake Michigan, taking in Sleeping Bear Bay, and then Good Harbor Bay at the park’s north. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is a “must” to fully enjoy this extraordinary park. It’s a great launch to help you decide what to see and do in the park.

We left the campsite early with our bikes on the Honda, and got maps and advice from the nice folks at the VC, as well as purchasing a few gifties for ourselves and friends.

We set off on what would be quite an adventure, after every bit of an hour’s drive from Kalkaska Campground to Empire, where the VC is, along Rt. 72 all the way. Unfortunately this route takes you through Travers City, although that was not the problem at 10A that it was at 5P. So we parked at the Bar Lake parking area (off Voice Rd., south of the “Dune Climb” and about a mile from the VC) and began riding at about 11 AM.


We’d been warned that there was some “serious climbing” to be done at the outset of the trail, before getting to the Dune Climb. The person at the VC said there were some 12% climbs. The signs we saw along the roller part of the trail indicated only one 11%, 2@10%, and the rest 8 and 7%. It wasn’t any kind of a big deal. I had to laugh at a couple of the signs that said “Steep Grade Ahead” and it was less than our driveway through the pasture. In other words, NOT steep.

But for some folks, families especially, that would be good info to know before you started. At the end of our ride, a fellow driving through the parking lot as we loaded our bikes back onto the truck asked how we did on the “steep parts.” He was a little younger than we, and he said his buddy who was older, was intimidated by the descriptions. We tried to ease his mind, because he obviously thought his buddy could manage the rolling part. So the folks at the VC aren’t doing a great favor to a lot of folks who are more serious riders.

In any case, the first leg to the actual Sleeping Bear Dunes, where there is a large parking lot and scads of folks enduring the very long and sandy hike up the steep hill to the top, was quite a fun ride. Shady and lovely, good pavement, not terribly many other riders or walkers, it was a great start to a long ride.

The dune hike was pretty awesome to see, however. We did NOT attempt it, but wondered what the view was like from up there. We saw one person who was actually on all fours trying to get up one of the hills.

After passing the Dune Climb, we enjoyed relatively flat cycling to Glen Haven. It says it’s an historic village, but other than the cannery and an old boat, we didn’t see much to get excited about. It used to be a fishing port, since it’s right on Sleeping Bear Bay.

We rode down to the maritime museum, but it was closed. En route, we passed a group of plain aire painters, and stopped to take a few pix. Only one of the painters had been there long enough to have some work on his easel.

There was parking and a pit stop available there, but we pushed on to our next “segment” goal, Glen Arbor, where we thought we’d catch a bite to eat.

When we got there, however, it was just 11:30A, and neither of us was hungry yet. Besides, the place was trammelled by tourists. Glen Arbor is also the site of a bike, canoe, rafting/tubing, and kayak livery, and a generous plenty of restaurants and gift shops. 

We had a bit of trouble finding the route through/around Glen Arbor, as our maps left us confused and flailing. Following some cycling route signs instead of the “heritage trail” signs, we pedaled along some backroads with less traffic than in town; a nice residential section with quiet roads, mostly.


Finally, we found not only the return of the dedicated bike route, but also the put-in for the canoe/kayak livery. It’s next to the parking area called the Crystal River Trailhead, and the livery put-in is Crystal River, called thus because you can see straight through the water to the bottom. The float from there to Glen Arbor looked like it would be a fun something to do next time we’re in the area.

Our paper maps did not indicate anything like what we found at the END of our trek through the residential roads.

After the Port Oneida trailhead, we found a shady cemetery in the middle of farm country. It was a great place to pause for water, and a fellow who’d been riding a bike and dragging a burly trailer, apparently full of English Sheepdog, was resting in the shade and throwing sticks for the dog. 

Next along the path we found a wetland (possibly Narada Lake) with (maybe?) swans paddling around (if anyone can tell what kind of water birds they were from the pics below, please drop me a line). The bike path crossed the wetland via a wide, well-built boardwalk.

We thought we’d be riding all the way to the Good Harbor Bay endpoint (according to our paper map) but we had discovered at the cemetery, that part of the trail was blocked out with paint from the signage. We’d heard there was a part of the trail that was under construction or development, so we figured the Park Service didn’t want anyone to go up there—anyone who didn’t want to ride along Rt. 22 and Rt. 651 to get there, anyway. So we figured we’d continue until Bohemian Road, which dead-headed at the western-most beach of Good Harbor Bay, and call it a turn-around point. By that time, we had about 22 miles on our trip.

So we reversed our direction and re-traced our ride back toward the car.

Back at the cemetery, the light was right to see a hillside covered in the pretty purple asters we’d been seeing everywhere along the ride, across Rt. 22 from us.

The swans were gone by the time we re-crossed the boardwalk, and we made it back to Glen Arbor for a spot of lunch at around 1:30, stupidly thinking that a lot of the lunch set would be done by then. But there were still lines out the doors of the most attractive places to eat.

There weren’t many folks at a country store type place where you could get a hot dog at the back and carry it out front to eat. On the side of this place was a Leinenkugel’s sign—I’ve no clue if it was old or not.


We found another place, however, with a shady terrace and there weren’t many folks there. Steeling ourselves for a bad meal or slow service (since few folks seemed to be eating there), we had a quite nice shrimp taco meal with restorative Pepsi and lots of cold water. It was actually quite fine. I wish we’d remembered the name of the place—someone’s bar and grill, we think. Anyway, it was a great meal stop and charged our batteries for the ride back to the car.

Not far out of Glen Arbor, my bike slipped its chain for the second time of the day (very unusual for my bike, but not a rough loss). When I got it back on, the derailleurs began going crazy. I was not trying to shift but the chain kept leaping from the different sprockets in the back and the two chain rings at the front.

I stopped to see what the problem was, and found one of my chain links to be seriously bent sideways, taking quite a few of the following links into its slant. This link and those following were hitting both derailleurs and forcing the chain to leap from gear to gear. It was the damndest thing and neither of us have a clue how it could have happened. Our best guess is that a stone had lodged itself in between the gear cassette in the back and when the chain hit it, somehow it bent. But that’s only a guess. 

These pix (above) were taken after Jack pried it back into alignment a little with the only tool he had with him.

This happened at mile 38, 3 riding hours into the trek. We had calculated that the endpoint of the ride would be 44-45 miles. So I limped along, keeping the rear cassette in the middle (around 4 or 5), although with Jack’s temporary “fix” (bending it back closer to straight) I was able to use the front gears, switching from the small ring to the larger one—but even then I was down from 20 gears to 2.

At every trail head, we thought about just leaving me behind with Jack heading to the car to come pick me up—the chain braking altogether was a real possibility, and that option was available to us, if that had happened. But it didn’t.

And I took things gently and did some “cross-training” (walking up hills) on the 11% grade, and one of the 10%, easing up all the other grades in gear 14.

Cross-training = time to stop and smell (photograph) the flowers.

Actually, I was surprised when we made it back to the car, because it didn’t seem all that far. I lost some “average speed” stats, but overall, the injury to my bike was pretty insignificant, if annoying. In fact, by the time I was circling the parking lot, most of the chain-slippage that I’d endured for most of the ride (sometimes it would slip out of 4 and then back in; sometimes it would slip from 4 to 5 and then back to 4) appeared to have abated.

We drove through rush hour Travers City (not recommended) and got back to the campsite by around 6, re-heated the poultry stew on the stovetop, and called it an excellent day.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride Time = 3:52
  • Stopped time = 2:30
  • Distance = 45.5 mi
  • Average speed = 11.75MPH