|Sleeping Bear Dunes Voted 'Most Beautiful Place in America'|
|By ALBERTO ORSO and SABRINA PARISE||Aug 16, 2011, 6:51 PM|
Tens of thousands of viewers voted online for this Michigan park, which is one of the nation's best-kept secrets. The hidden gem boasts 64 miles of beaches along Lake Michigan, two islands, 26 inland lakes, more than 50,000 acres of land, and the monumental sand dunes from which it gets its name.
In June, "GMA" set out in search of the most beautiful places in America. Viewers nominated their favorite places online, sending in thousands of photos from across the country showcasing spectacular sunsets, regal mountaintops and jaw-dropping views, many with awe-inspiring stories to match.
From there "GMA" narrowed the field down to 10 -- Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mich.; Newport, R.I.; Cape Cod, Mass.; Point Reyes, Calif.; Aspen, Colo.; Sedona, Ariz; Destin, Fla.; Asheville, N.C.; Lanikai Beach, Hawaii; and Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.
"GMA" viewer Jim Madole of Grand Rapids, Mich., nominated Sleeping Bear for its natural beauty.
"It is peaceful and serene, a place for gazing out into the world, night or day, and realizing that the universe is truly a magical, majestic mystery, and humans are just a very small part of it all," he wrote in his submission. "Here at Sleeping Bear, I sit in awe and wonder at the perfection of Mother Nature."
The sensational scenery is not all that Sleeping Bear has to offer. The grounds will keep even the most adventurous outdoors enthusiast busy with hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing and more.
Catch a ferry to South Manitou Island, located off the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula, to explore the famous dunes without the crowds or see the historic Francisco Morazan shipwreck.
The small towns surrounding the park are full of the makings for a perfect family vacation, complete with small inns, charming architecture and delicious local food.
One of the area's biggest fans is none other than Mario Batali -- also one of "GMA's" favorite chefs. Batali told "GMA" his favorite restaurant for a bite when he is in the area is Hearth and Vine, in Sutton's Bay, Mich.
For a sweet treat, pop into Bob Sutherland's Cherry Republic, a mecca of cherry-themed products located in Glen Arbor, Mich.
"You're in the largest cherry growing region in the world," said Sutherland, who is the Willy Wonka of cherry products, selling delicacies such as chocolate-covered dried cherries, cherry salsa, cherry jam, cherry peanut butter, cherry ice creams, cherry pie, and more. "Cherries are what we are."
To work it all off, stop by Matt and Katy Weisen's kayak shop, Crystal River Outfitters. Each day countless visitors paddle down the serene waters of the Crystal River. Watersports abound with paddleboarding, kiteboarding above Lake Michigan, charter boat fishing or fly-fishing.
Before you leave town, make sure to head back out to those great dunes, to really appreciate why you voted the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this year's Most Beautiful Place in America.
10 Places Not to Miss at Sleeping Bear Dunes: Get Free Guide Courtesy of Traverse, Northern Michigan's magazine.