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7 Best Places to Camp While Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes

7 Best Places to Camp While Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes

Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes is the perfect way to stay near the national lakeshore. You’ll have access to epic views from atop the 450-foot dunes, and the surrounding area is full of history and excitement. There are many outdoor activities you can partake in during your visit. 

Are you ready to make reservations? Keep reading to learn the best places to camp near Sleeping Bear Dunes. Let’s get started!

What Is Sleeping Bear Dunes?

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes. The dunes stretch for miles on bluffs that rise 450 feet above the lake. The area also comprises forests, inland waterways, flora, and wildlife. 

It is one of the best national parks in Michigan and dominates 35 miles of the northwestern corner of the Lower Peninsula. North and South Manitou Islands also fall within the lakeshore preserve. These uninhabited islands lie 12 and 16 miles off the shore respectively.

Hiking at Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan (+ burgers & ice cream in Traverse City!)

Can You Camp Anywhere in Sleeping Bear Dunes?

While you can’t camp anywhere you want in Sleeping Bear Dunes; there are three backcountry camping options. There are also several campgrounds outside its boundaries. The reason camping within the National Lakeshore is sparse is due to the landscape, which is mostly sand. It can shift and erode at any time, making it potentially dangerous if you’re not on a designated campsite.

How Long Does It Take to Climb Up Sleeping Bear Dunes?

It depends on your skill level, but it can take 20 minutes to an hour to climb one of the massive dunes. There are smaller dunes that take a shorter time to climb. While getting to the top provides incredible views, don’t fret if it’s too challenging. Doing a small climb and sinking your feet in the sand can be satisfying.

Since you can drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are many turn-offs, so you can walk a short distance to stand on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

Three female friends looking out at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Camping in Sleeping Bear Dunes is perfect for friends, families, and solo campers.

Are There Bears in Sleeping Bear Dunes?

Sleeping Bear Dunes’ namesake came from an Ojibwe legend in which a forest fire on the lakeshore drove a mother bear and her two cubs into Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the cubs didn’t make it to shore and died. The mother lay down on the beach, looking to where she was last with her cubs. If you look closely, you’ll see the shape of one of the dunes is the mother bear.

However, are there bears in Sleeping Bear Dunes? Yes, black bears live in the area. Although they keep to themselves, you may be lucky enough to get a glimpse. Remember to put your food away when camping, as they enjoy searching for snacks.

Pro Tip: Protect yourself and the local bears by using a bear canister while camping. You won’t regret it!

View from Sleeping Bear Dunes
Keep an eye out for bears while enjoying Sleeping Bear Dunes.

7 Best Places to Camp While Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes

Are you ready to explore northern Michigan’s dunes? Sleeping Bear Dunes camping sites provide excellent bases for exploring the area. From forested campgrounds to lakeside getaways, there are many locations to camp. We’ve narrowed them down to the seven best places to stay. 

1. D.H. Day Campground

Address: 8010 W Harbor Hwy, Glen Arbor, MI 49636

Amenities: The D.H. Day Campground has electricity only at its campsites. It has several amenities, with potable water stations and a dump station on-site. The maximum RV length for the campground is 35 feet.

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Why You’ll Love It: The campground is within walking distance to Lake Michigan and a beach. It also accesses the multi-use Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 for its access to Lake Michigan and trails

2. North Manitou Island

Address: Ferry service to the island is available at 207 West River Street, Leland, MI 49654

Amenities: The small Village Campground on North Manitou Island is primitive, with eight sites, two fire rings, and an outhouse. Only two tents and four people can camp on a site. You can also camp in the wilderness area, but you can’t start open fires. You must obtain a backcountry permit to hike and camp on the island. 

Pet-Friendly: No

Why You’ll Love It: Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes via North Manitou Island is adventurous. You’ll find hiking trails, a nearby village, ghost towns, and inland lakes on the island to explore.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 for its island adventure and remoteness

sand dunes covered in snow
Camp within steps of the sandy slopes of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

3. South Manitou Island

Address: Ferry service to the island is available at 207 West River Street, Leland, MI 49654

Amenities: There are three primitive campgrounds on South Manitou Island. The Bay Campground has 28 tent sites and is the closest to the boat dock. The Weather Station Campground has 23 tent sites on bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan.

Popple Campground has seven tent sites and is about 3.5 miles from the boat dock. There is no drinking water at the campgrounds, so bring a full fresh water tank or a water filtration system.

Pet-Friendly: No

Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love the views and may feel like you’re on a deserted island. It’s the perfect quiet getaway with plenty of hiking and various flora and fauna.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 for its variety of campgrounds around the island

➡ Sleeping Bear isn’t the only National Lakeshore in Michigan. Be sure to check out Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, too!

4. Indigo Bluffs RV Park & Resort

Address: 6760 W. Empire Hwy (M-72), Empire, MI 49630

Amenities: Indigo Bluffs RV Park and Resort have lots for any RV type and particular paved sites for Class A motorhomes and 5th wheels longer than 30 feet. Campsites are full hookups with some pull-thru sites. The RV Park has a heated pool, WiFi, a bathhouse, laundry facilities, a dump station, and trailer and boat storage.

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Why You’ll Love It: The resort feel and amenities, like the heated pool, make this the perfect stay for your visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes. For RVers, having full hookups is convenient.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 for its amenities and being a luxury RV resort for big rigs

Look out over the trees next to Sleeping Bear Dunes
Whether you’re RV camping or primitive tent camping, there is something for everyone in Michigan.

Pro Tip: Want to stay off-grid while in Michigan? Use these tips on How to Find Great Dispersed Camping in Michigan.

5. Empire Township Campground

Address: 7264 W Osborn Rd, Empire, MI 49630

Amenities: Empire Township Campground has primitive sites and some electricity-only sites. It has coin-operated showers, a flush toilet, ice, firewood, outhouses, and drinking water stations. It’s a wooded campground within five miles of Sleeping Bear Dunes and the village of Empire.

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Why You’ll Love It: It’s an inexpensive option with access to Sleeping Bear Dunes. The quiet campground is a short drive to Lake Michigan and its beaches. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 for its location and being a budget-friendly option

6. Platte River Campground

Address: 5685 Lake Michigan Rd, Honor, MI 49640

Amenities: The Platte River Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers 96 sites with electricity. You’ll find back-in and pull-through lots. There are also food storage lockers in the campground, a dump station, showers, toilets, and potable water stations. 

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love the access to Platte River and Platte Lake. It’s the perfect location for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. It’s also a short distance to Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 for being on the Platte River

Sandy dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes
Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes is sure to be an exciting experience.

7. Garey Lake State Forest Campground

Address: 15051 E. Pettengill Road, Empire, MI 49630

Amenities: Garey Lake State Forest Campground is a rustic campground on Garey Lake. It has 13 primitive campsites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The campground has vault toilets, potable water from a hand-pumped well, and a boat launch. In addition, the campground is open to equestrian use.

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Why You’ll Love It: It’s a primitive campground, and you can bring your horses. If you like to fish, it’s the perfect spot. It’s also on the Shore-to-Shore Trail, which allows hiking and horseback riding.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 for being on Garey Lake and the ability to take horses

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - Empire, Michigan - Things to Do and See When You Visit

Is Sleeping Bear Dunes Camping Worth It?

Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes is worth it. We highly recommend putting it on your travel itinerary. The area has so much to offer. You can kayak down crystal clear rivers, spend the day at a beach on Lake Michigan, search for Petoskey stones, visit historical sites, eat at fabulous northern Michigan restaurants, and much more.

The summer and early fall are the best times to visit for warm weather. We advise staying at least a week to get the whole experience. 

When you leave Sleeping Bear Dunes, it’s just a short drive east to the popular town of Traverse City. Check out the best places to camp: 9 Best Traverse City Campgrounds for Visiting Northwest Michigan

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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