Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Empire, MI

The small village of Empire is right on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We have taken advantage of our unscheduled visit by taking a short hike one day and a 23 mile bike ride the other.

The short hike was on the Empire Bluff Trail, just south of the village.  The trail is only a mile and a half round trip, but leads to a  great view of the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

As we approached the bluff, a great view emerged on our right

Lake Michigan Shoreline with Sleeping Bear Dunes visible to the north

The next day we took advantage of some great weather and rode the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail from Empire to Glen Arbor, a little over eleven miles to the north.

The paved trail meanders through woods and open fields

A bit over seven miles on the trail we came to the parking area for the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb.  The part of the trail we just rode recently opened in June.  Before that, the Dune Climb parking lot was the southern end of the trail.

The dune climb

About three miles north of the Dune Climb we came to the former logging and canning community of Glen Haven.

The main (and only) street of Glen Haven

During the second half of the 1800s Glen Haven was a busy place.  The picture below is a close up of a display board located along the lake front.  In it you can see a dock with a rail car on it and a large steamer arriving at the dock.  The train brought lumber from a few miles away to the dock, where it was loaded on to the steamers.

There are still a few pilings out in the lake (marked by the arrow below) that show just how far out into the lake the dock ran.

Turn around from the lake front and you are looking at a restored red building, the former home of the Glen Haven Canning Company.  When the lumber business began to fade in the 1920s, the mill owner diversified into growing and canning fruit grown, especially cherries.

The cannery went out of business and other ventures didn’t fair much better so the town slowly declined.  In the 1970s the National Park Service purchased the land and incorporated it into the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  Many of the buildings have been restored, like the old cannery building which houses a display of old boats.

About two miles further up the trail is the little touristy town of Glen Arbor.  This part of Michigan is known for growing cherries, so it is not surprising that one of the most frequently visited places in the village is the Cherry Republic.  There are three buildings in the small complex: a retail store (Great Hall of the Republic), a tasting building, and a small restaurant.

Outside the Great Hall of the Republic is a bit of a strange display, the rear end of a car attached to a wall.  Cherry Republic began in 1989 with a young guy selling t-shirts and Cherry Boomchunka cookies from the trunk of his car.  As a way to remember the company’s humble beginnings they chopped off that trunk and put it on display!

The Trunk

The cookie

Right next to the gift shop is the tasting building where you can sample wines and sodas made from, you guessed it, cherries.

The line was a bit too long in the tasting room so we walked around it to the other side where we found an interesting competitive sports facility, the Cherry Pit Spitting Arena.  Who knew!

The arena

The official rules are simple but very practical.

We stopped in the restaurant for lunch and both ordered the chicken salad sandwich with a glass of water.  Guess what was in the chicken salad? Cherries!  Guess what was in the bread? Cherries!  Guess what was floating in the water?  OK, this is getting old!  Good thing we love cherries ! ! !

And so ends our brief side trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes area.  Tomorrow we pull in the slides, raise the levelers, fire up the diesel and head about a hundred and fifty miles north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our plan is to stay overnight just across the Mackinac Bridge in the town of St. Ignace.

More on that later . . .


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28 Responses to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

  1. Ingrid says:

    3 years ago, daughter did an internship in northern Illinois. Upon completion, she and I did a road trip and Sleeping Bear Dunes was our first stop followed by a stay in St. Ignace and of course Mackinac Island. She and I had a great time…. I love that part of MI especially when all the fruit is ripe – enjoy 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      The fruit is ripe, Ingrid! The cherries are so black and sweet. There are also blueberries and raspberries. The best part of this area is the cool temps and no bugs!!

  2. We will just be happy that you visited, biked and hiked there since we will miss this part of Michigan.I had been enjoying the blueberries here too!
    The Cherry pit spitting game seems interesting, where you able to watch an ongoing game?

    • placestheygo says:

      This is such a nice area. Sorry you won’t get here, MonaLiza. But then, you could always do what we did and make a left at the last minute and come over:) The cherries here are so dark and sweet, The blueberries are excellent. There was suppose to be a spitting contest at 3:00 but it didn’t happen:(

  3. Sherry says:

    Oh this is so much fun to see a place we were earlier this summer and just loved through someone else’s eyes. We didn’t get to ride south of the Dune climb. Lucky you! We did get to do some tasting and sampling at the Republic. We also had the same lunch and loved both the bread and the salad but we did not see either the trunk or the contest area. Clearly, you are much more thorough than we. If you haven’t left yet and go through Traverse City on your way to the UP stop at the Grand Traverse Pie company. Their cherry pie is the best around. I swear it! And we know Cherry pies. 🙂 Great post!! Thanks for the memories.

    • placestheygo says:

      Sherry, the Heritage Trail is now over ten miles. The first six miles are hilly with one hill 14%. That made the return a little harder. I can see why you would miss the trunk of the car. I only found it because there was an article in the free paper for the anniversary this weekend. They article told the Cherry Republic’s story. The trunk was most visible through a window in the product store. We won’t be getting to Traverse City on our way out. Probably a good thing to miss the pie company:) But thanks for the tip.

    • Charlotte says:

      We were there this June and missed the Grand Traverse Pie Co. Another good reason to go back!

  4. Richard Taylor says:

    Make sure you stop at Torch Lake; it is a 27 mile long sky blue swimming pool. Then go thru Charlevoix and Petoskey. Exit Hwy 31 at Harbor Petoskey Rd and follow the coast line of Lake Michigan thru harbor Springs and continue on to Mackinac. Love your travels.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Rick! We didn’t take that route today but we did it on the motorcycle on our prior visit. It was a wonderful ride. Glad you are still following along. Let us know if you head out in the MH to do some traveling.

  5. pmbweaver says:

    That water is so blue. I am trying to picture the many feet of ice that was just there a few short months ago.

    With all the stops for photos, it must have taken you two all day on that bike ride. What a cute little town. Did you two do any spitting? I see on photos of that event.

    For over 30 years, Paul went fishing up at the Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignac. There are several little towns up there where they visited…mostly the bars. According to Paul that is all there is up there…fishing and bars. I am interested to see your take on the area…lol

  6. What a terrific stopover! That cherry place looks wonderful, love their sense of humor!

  7. Charlotte says:

    We were just there this June, love the area! My sister-in-law lives there. If you road M 22 all the way around the lakes you passed her house. Your pictures brought back great memories, sounds, tastes, smells. Next time you go to the Cherry Republic, take a pine cone and bark from a birch tree. They give you free cherry product!!! Every box of cherry product has a Michigan pine cone and birch bark in the box. Fair trade! We stayed at Indigo Bluff, which RV park were you at?

    • placestheygo says:

      We’ll have to remember the pine cone and bark for the next time, Charlotte:) We stayed on the resort side of Indigo Bluffs. I love how the sites are designed for privacy. It was so quiet.

  8. Jodee Gravel says:

    That ship in the plaque photo was huge……it must have been exciting back then to see them dock at that tiny pier. The sandwich looks delicious, but I don’t think I could have passed on the pie :-). The sign, the trunk, the contest – I love when an enterprise has fun with/for their customers.
    The pic of the water and trees is magical. A most excellent detour!

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Jodee, we were glad we decided to change directions at the last moment. We knew where we were going since we had stayed at this resort four years ago. But the bike trail was new since then and we missed the Cherry Republic so it was a new adventure.

  9. Interesting Post! thanks for sharing!

  10. Gay says:

    Awesome stop! I love cherries…sounds like a place we need to visit. We have never been to Michigan.

    • placestheygo says:

      Gay, you may need to add this to your list. The area around Sleeping Bear Dunes is very nice. The temps are cooler and there aren’t bugs. They don’t know why except maybe the breeze and the sand. I understand the UP is very buggy this year. I guess all the dampness and trees breed biting insects.

  11. Laurel says:

    We would love that bike trail — although the 14% grade is a bit daunting. The summer fruit sounds fabulous! We’ve never been to Michigan, either (well, except one trip to Detroit in the winter when I was in high school, and that doesn’t count). You’re making it look mighty appealing!

    • placestheygo says:

      We’ve only spent time in the upper part of mainland Michigan and really enjoyed it. The weather is cooler than most of the country in the summer. Of course, it is probably too cool for most. Lake Michigan is the most beautiful color and crystal clear. We will be spending a little time in the UP which is loaded with forested parks and hiking. But I understand it is also loaded with bugs. I don’t do biting bugs well! Yes, Laurel, your high school trip in the winter does count:)

  12. Did you spit your pits? Love those rules!

  13. frankeeg says:

    I thought of several “cherry” jokes but decided against it because those sort of jokes are the “pits”. Sorry couldn’t resist. However I plan on going strawberry picking tomorrow.

  14. LuAnn says:

    We loved the Heritage Trail and both Glen Haven and Glen Arbor. At Glen Haven we headed out to hike through the dunes to a lookout over the lake, giving our backsides a break from the saddle. I can’t believe we missed the Great Hall of the Republic in Glen Arbor. We must have been too busy scouting out ice cream shops. 😉

  15. Pam says:

    That sandwich looks amazing, we loved the cherry republic when we were there bit missed out on lunch obviously.

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