Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: History & Facts

sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore

Rightly named the Most Beautiful Place in America in 2012, the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes is one of the greatest attractions of the United States of America.

This nature reserve is the number one attraction for many tourists traveling through the northern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The panoramic platform of Lake Michigan is something like a climax for those who visit the region of the Traverse City in the American state of Michigan. No other place on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is so fascinating because of the panoramic view of the lake. The Sleeping Bear Dunes stretch for more than 37 miles along Lake Michigan.

The Scenic Drive, a one-lane road through the reserve, is also the most important route to explore the dunes. The beautiful scenic tour will allow you to enjoy multiple viewpoints of the dunes, lakes, and surrounding nature. If you have time, you can even explore some of the rocky areas along the shoreline to find Petoskey Stones.

Why Is It Called The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes?

The dunes take their name from the Anishinabe Indians, who saw in the sand mountains a bear that was sleeping. According to the legend, the animal was swimming across the lake with its two puppies. However, the young ones drowned and became the North and South Manitou Islands. The legend says that the sleeping bear is still waiting for the puppies to reach the shore. Here's the legend in detail.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Story: The Legend

According to a Native American myth, long ago in a wild place, before there were canoes on the rivers before the ships crossed the lakes, there was a beautiful forest near a large lake. Today that forest is the state of Wisconsin, and the lake is called Lake Michigan. But there was a time before the names, before many places had people, before the farmers and before Native Americans planted cherry and apple trees.

In this time and this forest near the lake lived the Mother Bear. She had darker hair than the night with big eyes. The Bear had two playful puppies. The three lived together in a den in the middle of a field of flowers. Every morning, when the birds sing, the she-bear and the cubs went to the stream. All the animals drank there. The Bear fished trout for breakfast. Afterward, they sat on the shore and ate hazelnuts and blueberries.

Every afternoon, the bears walked through the forest to the lake. The lake was so large that one could not see the other shore. The water seemed to disappear into the sky. The bears bathed and played and ran after the seagulls. Every evening, the Bear took the cubs to the den, where she held the little ones in her arms until they slept.

One morning, as they walked in the woods, she heard a loud knock like thunder. The Bear took two legs and sniffed the air. There were flames in the trees and smoke in the air. There was a fire! The bears ran to the riverbank, and the mother ordered the cubs to run to the lake. All the animals of the forest ran to the lake with the bears.

When they arrived by the lake, the Bear shouted: "Children, we must go away! We must swim through it.

The great lake. Always remember, I love you very much!" They began to swim. The lake was deep and very cold. The waves were so big, and the wind was mighty. "My children swim with all your strength. If we want to see the other shore, we have to swim all night." The puppies promised to swim all night.

They swam and swam, and every hour, they were more tired. The sun got more prominent and warmer. They swam again, and the sun was setting, and it was getting colder. While they were swimming, the Bear watched the puppies fight against the water. Each minute their faces were smaller.

It was still night, and the Bear could hear the sounds of the other shore. He could hear the owls and wolves. When the sun became big again, the Bear was almost so tired. When she turned to look at the puppies, she didn't see them anymore. On the shore, the Bear fell, and the earth seemed strange to her. There were huge sand hills, which today are called dunes.

The Bear waited for the cubs, but could no longer see them. The mother was crying: "My children, come! You are strong and intelligent. Children, can you hear me? I will wait for you forever".

The Bear went up to the highest hill. She looked at all the dark, deep water, but did not see her cubs. All-day, the mother, cried out: "My children, can you hear me? I know you should be near here. I wait for you; I wait for you on the hill".

The Bear waited until night and waited until morning. She waited while the flowers opened, and the birds learned to fly. She waited while the herbs turned yellow and dry. She waited while the leaves fell to the earth, while the air grew colder and the snow fell from the clouds. The puppies never arrived, and the Bear was adorned with her pain.

Many years passed and the winds covered the Bear with a blanket of sand: thus she felt warm and safe in her sleep. The spirit of the earth felt her pain and recognized her love for her puppies. With a high wind, the spirit brought the cubs close to the mother and the shore and turned them into two small islands. Thus they would always be under the gaze of mama.

Today the two islands are called the South Manitou Island and North Manitou Island. Happy to be close to their mother, they lie in the spirit of her love: two islands of sand. Finally, the Bear rests happily because she knows that the puppies are close. In her honor, today the dunes are called the Sleeping Bear Dunes!

sleeping bear dunes and lake michigan

A Popular Vacation Spot For Traverse City Travelers

Traverse City has been a vacation spot for American families for decades. In spring, millions of cherry trees are in bloom in a landscape marked by many small lakes. Because of this, Traverse City also calls itself the "World Capital of Cherries." In the vicinity of the city and on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas, there are golf courses, mountain bike routes, and campsites.

Northern Michigan is known for its vast array of natural beauty and outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, boating, fishing, and let's not forget Petoskey stone hunting!

What To Do At The Sleeping Bear Dunes?

Most tourists go to the Dune Climb, southwest of the resort of Glen Arbor, where they climb en masse to the mountains of sand. At the Pyramid Point, in the north, there is another beautiful path that leads to the steep coast.

An extraordinary experience is an excursion with "Riverside Canoe Trips" in the south of the nature reserve: everyone can rent a canoe, a kayak or a big tire and row through the Platte River, which is a wide stream, to Lake Michigan. Many hikers are not in a hurry. Somewhere they stop and put their coolers on the shore. You can hear laughter and the sound of beer cans opening. Summertime in Northern Michigan!

How To Get There

The closest airports are Detroit (at a distance of about 420 kilometers by road) and Chicago (550 kilometers). There are also connecting flights to Traverse City from Chicago with American Airlines and from Detroit with Delta.

The Climate

The winters are long and cold and with a lot of snow. Sometimes the summers are sweltering. To enjoy the trip, the best time to travel there is between May and September. The maximum temperatures between June and August are often 25 degrees.

cartoon sleeping bear

 Take A Piece Of Michigan Back Home!

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