Fun in Sleeping Bear means family, friends, and beach bonfires. That’s right, beach fires are permitted in the park! Grab a stack of firewood and some marshmallows for roasting—even binoculars and a star chart if you’ve got one—and head to one of many spots listed below for a memorable sunset and starlit evening.
Empire Beach Village Park
A family-friendly beach and lagoon with a dock, this shoreline is only a short walk away if you are staying in town. A perfect place for kayaking or paddle boarding for the adults (rentals are available), the flat, calm waters are also great for little ones. Featuring a playground, lighthouse, fire pits, and picnic area, there is something for everyone to enjoy—including amazing sunsets! (Remember, this beach isn’t technically a part of the park, so beach fires are only permitted in designated fire rings).
North Bar Beach
The warmer North Bar lake connects to Lake Michigan here, creating two swimming options for both adults and children. Long, sandy beaches make this a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. Head north from Empire to North Bar Lake Road. The access is about 3 miles from town.
Esch Road Beach
This treasured favorite (there’s even a locally-made jam named after it!) can be found at the mouth of warm Otter Creek. A favorite spot for kid’s and pets to play, the area also offers hiking and biking among wildlife and secluded wetlands. Head south from Empire on about 4 miles, turn right onto Esch Road and follow it another mile to the end.
Heading South (toward Frankfort)
A dog-friendly secluded beach favored by locals, this spot will likely be less crowded. Take gravelly Petersen Road (off of M-22 and Deadstream Road) through the woods for about a mile to a small parking area. Parking is limited, so if you run out of room, you’ll have to park along the road.
This popular beach features the Platte River outlet where warmer water enters Lake Michigan. It is a busy spot where many tubers, canoers, and kayakers end their river trip as it opens into the lake, but those interested in exploring on foot can enjoy this beach as well. Take M-22 south to Lake Michigan Road.
Heading North (toward Glen Arbor)
Glen Haven Beach
On Sleeping Bear Bay a few miles north of the Dune Climb, the restored port village of Glen Haven offers a stunning beach with incredible side-to-side views of dunes as well as a historical museum. Panoramic views look west to Sleeping Bear Point, north to the Manitou Islands, and east to Pyramid Point.
A cousin to Good Harbor Beach, this secluded beach is a quiet gem with sunsets over Pyramid Point to the west and Whaleback to the east. Follow M-22 north past Glen Arbor and take County Rd 669 just before Traverse Lake. Follow it to the end.
Good Harbor Beach
Many consider this beach one of the best in the area. Breathtaking views of sunsets over the Manitou Islands and wide, sandy beaches give you lots of privacy and room to roam. Follow M-22 north past Glen Arbor and take County Rd 651 about 2 miles past Little Traverse Lake. Follow it to the end.
BONUS VIDEO: Check out this beach at M22’s Good Harbor microadventure.
Shalda Creek Access Area
Once a small village named North Unity in the mid 1800’s, this off-the-beaten-path beach offers a peek into Sleeping Bear’s past. Enjoy the beach and see wildflowers along the creek in season. This beach area has a pit toilet at the entrance. TIP: Notice the historic cabin on M-22 and 669, and the school house just west of Narada lake on M-22.
Know Before You Go
Park passes are required.
Make sure to get yours at the Visitors Center before you go.
Check to make sure fires are allowed, and don’t build fires near vegetation.
Fires are only permitted on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore beaches—not city parks—and only between the water’s edge and first dune. The park works hard to preserve the landscape for generations, and human impact (especially wildfires!) pose a substantial risk.
Never bury your fire.
Put your fire out with water and make sure the coals are not only wet, but visible to passersby. Sand can trap embers below, keeping them hot through the night and possibly injuring beachgoers the following day.
Leave no trace.
Pack out what you packed in; never litter. For fires, only collect driftwood wood from downed trees. Leave other vegetation alone.
Dogs are allowed on some, but not all, park beaches.
Check here for more information.
Camping is not allowed on any beach.
Check our Where to Stay page for nearby camping options.