Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
I don't think there could be a more fitting inaugural adventure for a website titled "Mitten Camper" than an entry about camping at Sleeping Bear. Every year over a million people visit the area and for many people in Michigan it is a place they've enjoyed time and time again.
Initially Sarah and I were planning on taking a trip down to Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. We were all set. The driving directions were ready, all the camp supplies and food accounted for, a campground and a couple of good looking hikes picked out. Everything we could plan for had been planned. Then a couple days before we were set to depart I checked the one thing we could not plan: the weather. The weekend weather forecast for the Red River Gorge area of the park we were visiting called for an 80% chance of rain all weekend with thunderstorms all day Saturday.
Now, if we had been planning on spending a week or more hiking around a little rain or even the possibility of thunderstorms wouldn't have deterred us. Part of enjoying the outdoors is accepting that sometimes the outdoors get very wet! But this was just a weekend getaway and we both wanted to spend more time out of the tent than in the tent!
I notified Sarah of the unfortunate forecast and she immediately said "Sleeping Bear??" I checked the weather and was told there was 0% chance of rain all weekend with temps maxing out at 80F. Perfect camping weather and with Sleeping Bear being up north the temps at night would be cool enough to enjoy the cozy warmth of a campfire and sleeping bags.
Friday afternoon came, I picked Sarah up and off we went on the 4 hour drive to Sleeping Bear. We arrived at D.H. Day Campground around 8:00pm to a sign that read "Campground Full." This was not completely unexpected. I knew based on some internet reading that this was the most popular campsite in the area and that it usually filled up at 8:00am when they started accepting new campers.
The Ranger at the entrance to the site offered up a few alternative sites to check out, but also added that we were welcome to park right there in front of the ranger station and sleep in our car. She even recommended campsite #74 as the most secluded site. We were free to roam the campground and enjoy the beach, so that is exactly what we did. After parking and gathering up some sandwiches for dinner we checked out campsite #74 and walked out to the beach to eat and enjoy the sunset.
At around 10:30pm we returned to the car and tried to get comfortable. Sarah even managed to get in some reading by flashlight before turning in.
The Ranger had warned us that people line up for sites throughout the night and she wasn't lying. When we woke up at 6:00am there was a line of about 15 cars and campers behind us. We were 2nd in line, so we were able to get our #74 site. Outgoing campers had until noon to check out, but thankfully the people staying at #74 left before we registered, so we were able to set up our site tout suite!
After settling in we cooked up a breakfast of chili beans, hard boiled eggs and bacon. Oh and coffee, of course. Did you know Folgers actually tastes pretty incredible if you make it in a percolator?
After filling our hungry bellies and getting sufficiently wired with caffeine we set off to check out the Lake Michigan Overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This overlook includes the option to walk/run/roll/slide/tumble down a massive dune that, by my estimates, has about a 45 degree angle to climb back up. Despite the warning of "may take up to 2 hours to climb back up" we decided to go to the bottom. Sarah took these photos to illustrate how steep this dune is:
Running to the bottom was a ton of fun! You really have to be careful not to pick up too much speed and not to accidentally kick sand in someone's face (Sarah.) Once at the bottom you're treated to a very sparsely populated, quiet beach. We spent about an hour basking in the sun and listening to the waves lapping at the shore.
Thankfully the climb back up the dune only took about 30 minutes, but it has to be done on hands and knees. It isn't that difficult, but it is a pain in the ass and the dune isn't pure sand. It is littered with many, many stones.
Upon returning to camp we started cooking dinner. On the menu was what we'll call "camp fajitas." Not fajitas in the sizzling pan at the Mexican restaurant sense, but we had stir-fry steak, red/orange bell peppers, onions, jalapenos and Mexican spices. We simmered all this in a pan and served it in a flat/wrap bread. Suffice it to say after a hot day on the dunes it hit the spot! I enjoyed mine with a New Holland Paleooza. It is made with hops grown in Empire, Michigan which is about 15 minutes from Sleeping Bear! Delicious.
After dinner we enjoyed another sunset on the beach and warmed up by the fire before bed.
Sunday morning greeted us with clear blue skies, bright sun, and fresh air. We were in no rush to start the day, so we ended up dozing in and out of sleep until about 9:30am. For breakfast we mixed the leftover steak and peppers with eggs. It was exactly as tasty as it sounds!
Downtown Glen Arbor is a very cute little town filled with some great looking restaurants and lots of shops for tourists to enjoy. There are a couple outdoor gear oriented shops too. We stopped in at Leelenau Coffee Roating Company and picked up some more morning coffee and a couple home made doughnuts. This little guy said hi to us in the parking lot!
After checking out a few shops we headed over to The Dune Climb and spent an hour enjoying the sun and sand while watching kids run up the dune and roll back down before heading home. A sunny and relaxing end to a sunny and relaxing weekend.