Best Hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes – Under 3 miles

All the best day hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes! From Empire Bluff, up to Pyramid Point, and all the must hikes in between!

Hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes Under 2 miles

South End to North End of Sleeping Bear Dunes

Empire Bluff Trail (1.6 miles)

Perfect for: hiking, trail running | Dogs allowed | NO beach or lake access – Lake Views

Easily Sleeping Bear Dunes most popular hike next to the Dune Climb. This easy-moderate 0.8 miles out and then 0.8 miles back, features incredible views of Lake Michigan and the dunes. Starting in the forest, you hike up a few hills and then finally reach the sandy dunes and Lake Michigan. Be cautious, and do NOT climb down the dunes, lake levels can vary and there may be little to no beach below.

This is the perfect hike for beginners, families, or really, absolutely anyone! I love this hike particularly for sunset views! There is plenty of space to find a nice area to grab a seat and enjoy the sunset. Keep in mind, if aiming to capture a sunset view on a hike, plan to arrive at the trailhead at least 1 hour prior to sunset time, allowing for time to hike and time to sit and enjoy the changing sky. 

Cottonwood Trail (1.6 miles)

Perfect for: hiking | NO dogs allowed | NO beach or lake access – Lake Views

Accessible from Pierce Stocking Drive, head down this sandy 1.6 mile loop trail through the dunes. Enter Pierce Stocking drive and head to stop #4 to access the trail, additional parking can be found at Picnic Mountain. This easy-moderate hike can take just a little bit longer due to it being completely in the sand. Make sure to bring lots of water and sunscreen as there is absolutely no shade along the trail. This is a great trail to get a taste of the dunes without hiking the Dune Climb, a much more strenuous hike. 

Windy Morraine Trail (1.5 miles)

Perfect for: hiking, trail running, XC skiing, snowshoeing | Dogs allowed | NO beach or lake access – No Lake Views

An easy, less populated 1.5 mile loop trail. Located just across M-116 from Pierce Stocking drive, this heavily wooded hike is less busy than other hikes. While there are no stellar lake views, you’re engulfed in a dense, beautiful forest throughout the entire hike. Keep an eye out for a peep at Glen Lake while you’re hiking! This is a perfect hike for beginners, families, and trail runners looking for a less busy spot.

Woman standing at a view point on a hike in sleeping bear dunes. Looking out onto Lake Michigan with Caribbean blue waters, lots of trees stand in between the Lake and view point
Lake Michigan Overlook – Alligator Hill

Hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes – Under 3 miles

South End to North End

Old Indian Trail (2-6 miles)

Perfect for: hiking, trail running, picnics, hammocking, XC skiing, snowshoeing

Dogs allowed on trail (not on beach)

Beach and lake access

Old Indian Trail features X miles of loop trails located in the southern end of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. With easy to moderate ratings, these trails are perfect for any skill level! Start out in a dense forest and take the trail to the Lake Michigan lookout and continue your way all the way to the water for a secluded sandy beach along Lake Michigan.

You’ll want to pack some bug spray while you’re in the woods and sunscreen for when you make it out to the beach! Bring lots of water and maybe even some snacks for a fun picnic in the dunes (don’t forget to pack in and pack out whatever you bring!)

Treat Farm Trail (2-4 miles)

Perfect for: hiking, trail running, hammocking | Dogs allowed | NO beach or lake access – Lake Views

A less populated version of Empire Bluff, located just south of the infamous trail, these two trails connect! Start in a beautiful forest, with a nice wide trail. Head through the old historic Treat Farm buildings, and then out onto the dunes, about a mile out and a mile back. Continue north along the dunes about 1/2 – ¾ mile to reach Empire Bluff trail.

I love this trail for the various hammocking spots with stellar lake views and the seclusion of the trail compared to Empire Bluff. This is also a perfect spot to catch some gorgeous sunset views, grab your favorite beverage and plop a spot on the dunes, and enjoy the view. 

Pyramid Point Loop

Sleeping Bear Point Loop (2.5 miles)

Perfect for: hiking, beaching | NO dogs allowed | Beach and lake access 

A sandy, forested, all-around incredible hike! For 2.5 miles you’ll loop through piney forests and sandy dunes. This is a more moderate hike with over 300ft of elevation gain up and down sand. But don’t let that deter you from hiking this unique trail. You’ll capture almost 360 degree views of Lake Michigan, spot the Manitou Islands in the distance, get a glance at Glen Lake and Sleeping Bear Bay. There are numerous spots throughout this hike where you can easily hike to the shoreline of Lake Michigan where you’ll find huge stretches of sandy shoreline, perfect to pop a squat and relax for a beach day. There are wooden poles throughout the trail so you don’t get lost in the dunes! Be prepared for this hike to take longer than usual due to much of it being in the sand and up and down dunes. 

Alligator Hill 

Perfect for: hiking, trail running, hammocking, horseback riding | Dogs allowed | NO beach or lake access – Lake Views

A moderately challenging forested hike that leads to some incredible lake views! With two trail heads to start at either off Stocking Rd or Day Forest Rd, there are over 7 miles of trails to be found here varying from easy to moderate to difficult. Start off and enjoy most of the hike through the trees. However, you’ll reach stretches that contain no shade, this was due to the devastating storm that hit Glen Arbor in 2015. Head to the Lake Michigan overlook to capture gorgeous views of Sleeping Bear Bay. Then head to the Glen Lake Overlook, where you’ll find numerous trees, perfect to set up a hammock and relax for a bit. 

Pyramid Point

Perfect for: hiking, trail running | Dogs allowed (on out-and-back trail, not loop) | NO beach or lake access – Lake Views

Another incredibly popular hike! At Pyramid Point there are two hikes; and out-and-back and a loop. The out-and-back is the more popular of the two, it leads straight from the trailhead up to a dune overlooking Lake Michigan. At a total of 1 mile and over 200ft of elevation it’s a moderate hike, dogs are allowed on this portion. Now to step up your game, instead of heading up and back, you can continue on a loop! This leads to expansive 270 degree views of Lake Michigan and stretches of sandy dunes. Though this hike is more strenuous at 2.5 miles and over 500ft of elevation change, it is well worth the climb. Note, that dogs are not allowed on this portion of the trail.