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Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail: Dune Climb to Glen Arbor
The first section of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage opened in 2012 to rave reviews. This 4.3-mile segment is anchored at one end by charming Glen Arbor and at the other end by the popular Dune Climb. In between, it passes views of Lake Michigan, towering sand dunes and the century-old storefronts of the restored company town of Glen Haven.
Best of all, most of the route stays away from M-22 and M-109, busy roads in the summer, the reason it is by far the most popular stretch of the Heritage Trail.
In the winter, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes (friendsofsleepingbear.org) grooms the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail from Empire to Glen Arbor, including this stretch, for classic skiers, skaters and snowshoers.
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail map.
A skier pauses to talk to the groomer on the Heritage Trail.
Dune Climb trailhead of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
A family cycling the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
Snowshoers on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
The Sleeping Bear Trail is groomed in the winter.
The most impressive terrain along the Heritage Trail is seen from the Dune Climb trailhead. The trail immediately heads north from the popular day-use area with a forest on one side and a towering dune on the other, a dune so steep that occasionally small avalanches rumble down it.
For all the change in elevation that surrounding the trail, it is an amazingly level and easy ski. After passing the Group Campground, skiers re-enter the woods and make a mild climb to reach the marked end of Dunes Valley Road at Mile 1.3. At this point the trail moves into a semi-open meadow and begins a long gentle downhill run.
Just past the Mile 2 post skiers enter historic Glen Haven and cross M-209. Founded in 1857 when a sawmill and an inn on the beach was built, Glen Haven peaked in 1881 when the village had 11 buildings including the inn, a store, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, and school. Steamship service continued to Glen Haven until the late 1920s when the Great Depression facilitated the end of the village’s maritime role as a port, including its massive dock.
The most distinctive building seen from the trail is the bright red Glen Haven Canning Company. Established in the early 1920s, it is now a seasonal museum maintained by the National Park Service.
Within a third of a mile from Glen Haven, Heritage Trail enters D.H. Day Campground and then reaches M-109 at Mile 2.7. After crossing the busy state highway, the trail continues in the woods on the other side. Though the trail is skirting Alligator Hill at this point, it remains an easy ski, reaching Forest Haven Drive at Mile 4. A quarter mile before reaching the road are several beech tree benches, the result of a Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes trail crew cleverly using chainsaws to turn a fallen tree into a place to sit and rest.
The trail follows Forest Haven Drive south for a third of a mile to a parking area and trailhead that also serves a spur leading to the Alligator Hill Trail system. Nearby is M-22 that leads north to the business district of Glen Arbor.
In the winter there are vault toilets at the Dune Climb. The rest of the year restrooms and drinking water are found at the Dune Climb, Group Campground, Glen Haven and D.H. Day Campground.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is open year-round. A Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore annual or weekly vehicle pass is required to use the trail.
The main trailheads for this segment of the Heritage Trail are the Dune Climb on M-109, 6 miles north, of Empire, Glen Haven Historic Village on M-209 and the Alligator Hill Trailhead at the south end of Forest Haven Drive just west of M-22 in Glen Arbor.
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