Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, tucked in the northwest corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, is one of the nation's best-kept secrets.
That's why "GMA" viewer Jim Madole of Grand Rapids, Mich., nominated the lakeshore in the "Good Morning America" search for the Most Beautiful Places in America.
"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."
This national park boasts towering dunes, 35 miles of beaches along Lake Michigan, islands, and more than 50,000 acres of land. From swimming and hiking to fishing, canoeing, skiing or snowshoeing, there's no place better to take advantage of the great outdoors summer, spring, winter or fall.
With help from Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine, we've rounded up some of the best outdoor activities for beginners and experts that are not to be missed on your visit.
Climbing the towering dunes is one of the park's most popular activities. The hike will be sure to get your blood flowing, but there's a spectacular view of the surrounding lake and countryside awaiting you at the top. To kids, the only thing better than conquering the giant mountain of sand, is rolling down it afterwards. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the base of the dune.
Want more? From the top of the dune, adventurers can take on a 3.5-mile hike to Lake Michigan, which typically takes three to four hours. The National Park Services recommends packing a lot of water.
Gear up for a hike on the 4.5-mile Otter Creek loop of the 15-mile Platte Plains Trail. Wandering through the tree-lined lakeshore is a breeze and the perfect way to take in the spectacular scenery. On your way, visit the nearby Lake Michigan beach for a picnic or beach jaunt.
|Kayak the Crystal River|
Satisfy your craving for the backcountry beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes with a leisurely float down the Crystal River in Glen Arbor. Learn more. There are other watersports to experience in the area, including paddleboarding, kiteboarding above Lake Michigan, charter boat fishing or fly-fishing.
|Explore South Manitou Island|
Catch the ferry to South Manitou Island, located off the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula. Here you can explore the dunes without the crowds or head out to see the historic Francisco Morazan shipwreck. There are no stores on the island, so come prepared with the supplies you'll need.
|Snowy, Cross-Country Ski or Snowshoe Getaway|
In winter, Sleeping Bear's hiking trails turn into the perfect place for skiing and snowshoeing.