Summertime and viewing areas at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can be crowded — and trying to find a spot to enjoy that vista isn’t always easy.
Sometimes it seems like almost standing-room only at popular spots along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which is the easiest way to get up into the towering dunes, or at popular beaches in Empire and Glen Arbor. The Dune Climb can look like a busy anthill.
One of my favorite spots among the perched dunes is the Pyramid Point overlook. Not that you won’t find people and occasional crowds, but most of the time it’s just a few other hardy souls. It’s a long, continuous climb from the trailhead parking lot, on Basch Road, to the view area, and there’s more climbing involved for other trails.
The reward is one of the most panoramic vistas, in my opinion, that you can find in the national park — and one well worth the strenuous ascent.
You step through the stunted trees once you reach the top into a real dune world. No boardwalks or roped-off areas, just sand often sculpted by the wind and a vista of white sand, blue water and sky. The Manitou Islands float in the sea of blue. It’s arguably one of the best island views in the park. I often find people just sitting in the sand staring out at the lake and islands. After the hike up it’s a nice reward.
The hike from the parking area climbs 225 feet to the overlook, which is a little over 300 feet above the lake level. Hang gliders sometimes launch off the steep dune from the top. I’ll keep my feet on the ground and just enjoy the panorama sitting in the sand.
Many people make the short hike from the trailhead to just enjoy the view and then head back down without exploring more of the Point. It’s only .6 mile to the top, but the climb is pretty moderate the whole way. Coming back down is no problem.
Another 2 miles of trails explore the backside of the dune and a large meadow below it that was cleared for homesteads in the early 1900s. The land was abandoned in the 1930s because the sandy soil wasn’t good for farming. Unofficial trails also lead east from the top of the dune out along the ridge and to more open dunes without going down to the lake level. You will see sandy trails leading down the backside of the dune to rejoin the mapped trails.
A sign at the top of the dune warns you to not go down the face of the dune to lake level. It’s dangerous, ecologically detrimental and, with current high lake levels, there is no beach. People have had to be rescued when going down — and at a pretty hefty cost to them in rescue fees.