Indigo Bluffs / Sleepy Bear Campground – Sleeping Bear Dunes

Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes – July 18 to 22, 2012


As you can see from all of the posts on our site that Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the places in Michigan that we visit every year. This year we visited with our friends in the middle of July. Being in the middle of the prime summer vacation season it was very busy at the popular spots in the park. After several dry weeks with temperatures in the 90s we were glad to have a little cooler weather for our long weekend trip. Although the cooler weather did bring along with it one day of rain.

Indigo Bluffs Campgrounds


For the past few years we have been staying in the Platte River Campgrounds. This year we were not able to get a reservation at the Platte River even though we tried to book exactly 6 months in advance. If you are looking for a modern campsite the next best option in the area is Indigo Bluffs in Empire. (formally The Sleepy Bear Campground) We camped here a few times years ago back when we were still tent camping because they had nice tent only area. Since then the campgrounds has undergone a big renovation and name change. The tent only area has now been converted into large seasonal sites and tent sites are no longer available at Indigo Bluffs.


We stayed in Sites 107 and 108. There were nice big sites that backed up to trees and were close, but not too close, to the bathhouse.


The transient camping area at Indigo Bluffs remained unchanged during the renovation. The sites are close together similar to most State Park campgrounds. The area has large trees that do not provide much privacy, but give some really nice shade.


The kids really liked staying at Indigo Bluffs because of the pool up front by the reception building. We had a great time too and will probably be staying here again sometime. The campsites are not as nice as the Platte River Campgrounds, but we really like the location just a few miles East of Empire, Michigan. Google Map>> It is more centrally located in the National Lakeshore than the Platte River which means you spend less time in the car driving to all the popular Sleeping Bear attractions.

For more information on camping at Indigo Bluffs:

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive:

After setting camp, eating dinner and a little relaxing we decided to head over to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. We made stops at our favorite two overlooks and also had to continue our tradition of taking the kids pictures by their numbers along the way. There was a cross country team training by climbing up and down dune at the Lake Michigan overlook. The picture of them gives a good perspective of how high this dune really is. The girls wanted to do the same thing …luckily we stopped them before they were too far down the dune.

The Dune Trail at Sleeping Bear Point:


The first morning I tip toed out while everyone was still sleeping and went to hike the 2.8 mile Dune Trail at Sleeping Bear Point. I wanted to get some photos with the morning sun hitting North and South Manitou Islands, but it was overcast and little foggy over Lake Michigan. It is still a great place to hike in any weather.


Right from the trailhead you start climbing on the soft sand that continues for most of the hike. The sandy trail makes this short hike a little more difficult than you would expect.


After a short climb through the woods you breakout into the open dunes and get your first of many panoramic views. To the north looking across Sleeping Bear Bay you can see Pyramid Point. The path through the dunes is marked by blue tipped posts. The one above has almost been buried by the shifting sand.


A little further down the trail you get close to Lake Michigan and a nice view of North and South Manitou Islands.


Next the trail heads inland and you walk through a big sand bowl with a ghost forest.


The trail heading away from the ghost forest.


Looking back for view of the sand bowl and South Manitou Island.

The view from the highest point on the Dune Trail.


From the high point the trail starts descending through the trees and starts get a little rocky. If feels good to have a hard packed trail under your feet after walking for a couple miles in sand.


The last half mile or so of trail heads down through a tunnel of trees on the way back to the parking lot. It is quite a change after the big views on the rest of the hike.

The trail map for this part of Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore.

Directions to the Trailhead >>

For more on this hike and others in Sleeping Bear Dunes see: Explorer’s Guide 50 Hikes in Michigan: Sixty Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula



It looked like it was going was going to be overcast with a good chance of rain for the rest of the day. We decided to head into town and go to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center. As you can see above Reid had great time playing with the phones on the displays. He was not happy at all when it was time to leave and let us and everyone else know it.


After the visitor center it was on to Glen Arbor so the girls could do some shopping. If you are up here, make sure to stop at the Cherry Republic and try something unique made from Michigan cherries. If you take their motto: “Life, Liberty, Beachs and Pie” and replace “Pie” with “Cookies” it could pretty much be Kim’s motto.


By the time we made our final stop at the Totem Shop the light rain started to fall. We made our way over to the picnic shelter in the Glen Arbor park to eat lunch and try to come up with a plan for the rest of the rainy day. We decided that the girls would head to Traverse City to watch a movie and the boys would stay back and guard the cooler while Reid took his afternoon nap. After nap time we met the girls at theNorth Peak Brewing Company in Traverse City for dinner.

By the time we finished dinner and drove back to the campground the rain had stopped and even though it was still cloudy and cool the girls were ready to hit the pool.

The Empire Bluff Trail:


The next morning was clear and sunny. Perfect weather for a hike on the Empire Bluff Trail. If you have read any of our previous trip reports you will notice that we try to make the 3/4 mile hike out to the top of the Empire Bluffs every time we visit. If you only have time for short hike in the National Lakeshore this is the one.


Breaking out of the woods on to the boardwalk along the top of the Empire Bluffs.


It was a busy morning on the trail.


The girls resting and taking in the view.


Trying to make a panoramic photo from the bluffs.


The shots from above stitched into a panoramic.

Tubing on the Platte River:


In the afternoon we took a relaxing float down the Platte River. We launched our tubes at El Dorado Landing and floated down to park at Platte River Point. This trip is about 1.5 miles and it took us a little over an hour to complete.

El Dorado landing has a pit toilet and parking for about 10 cars. If this is full you will have to park along the road like we did. At the take out at Platte River Point there are modern restrooms with a changing area. There is also a large picnic area and a great beach.

Directions to El Dorado Landing >>


The River was warm and pretty slow at this time of the year.


Reid decided it was time for a nap about half way into the float.


A happy tuber on the Platte.


At the end of the trip the dads had to walk a little over 1/2 mile back to get the cars. It was a busy day out at the Platte River Point beach with cars lining the road almost the whole way back to the launch.

Riverside Canoe Trips offers longer tube trips with transportation, but they are a little expensive. You really can buy your own tubes for less.


The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the mouth of the river and taking in the view.

Paddling North Bar Lake and Sleeping Bear Dune Bluffs:


The next morning I got an early start and headed out to paddle the Sleeping Bear Bluffs from North Bar Lake. By launching the kayak in North Bar Lake and dragging it through the outlet (show above) to Lake Michigan you can get to the Sleeping Bear Dune Bluffs after just 1 mile of paddling. The other option is to put in at the Empire Beach which is about a 3 mile trip to get to the bluffs. On this morning I decided to start at North Bar to save time. The only down side of doing this is that the carry from the parking lot to the edge of North Bar Lake is about 250 yards.


Nearing the Sleeping Bear Bluffs. You can see the deck from the Lake Michigan overlook on the Pierce Stocking Drive perched on top of the dune. I even saw two deer come down to the edge of the lake for a drink as I passed the low dunes on the approach to the bigger bluffs.


As I neared the end of the bluffs the wind started to pick up from the south and seemed to funnel right along to base of the dunes giving me a pretty strong push in the back.


After about 3 miles I decided it would be a good idea to turn around. The wind and the waves seemed to be picking up and it looked like it was going to be tough paddling into the wind on the way back.


About half way back to North Bar Lake my arms were starting to tire from paddling into the stiff wind, to my surprise, the wind started to let up and rest of the way back was a pleasant paddle. I even saw 3 more deer walking along the beach in t he distance.


Pulling the kayak back into North Bar Lake.


Before carrying the kayak back to the parking lot I made trip around North Bar Lake on the smooth emerald green water. The lake is narrow and about a 1/2 mile long. The wildlife sightings continued with a family of raccoons and a beaver swimming along shore. The trip totaled about 7 miles of paddling and was a great way to spend a morning in Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Directions to the North Bar Lake >>

The rest of the day everyone went to the beach at North Bar Lake while Reid and I took naps.

The video above is a time lapse of the campfire on our last night. It is a little slower than I usually like to do, but this way it is better for watching the girls put on a show after they realized the camera was on. We were interrupted by a short rain shower about half way through the night.

Unfortunately the next morning it was time to pack up and head home.



Our Favorites:

Canon Rebel XS DSLR Camera

I am often asked about the camera that I use for the photos on this site. We are starting to use our cells phone cameras more because of the convenience and improved quality. However, when I want to good quality photo it is still hard to beat my old Cannon DSLR camera.

I have been using a relatively inexpensive Canon Rebel XS with the 18-55mm lens for several years now. This trusty old camera only has a 10MP sensor, but the photos still look better than our 16MP point-and-shoot. For outdoor shots I often use a Circular Polarizer Filter to reduce glare and really make sky and other colors really pop.

Search for Canon DSLR Cameras on Amazon >>

Advertising Disclosure: We may receive a commission if you click a link on our site and purchase one of the products or services that we recommend.

2 Responses

  1. Ironically, we also got lot 108 (unplanned). The people across the lane from us were up with music, hollering, and lots of camper door slamming until 1am. Fun, fun. But the rest… it was just beautiful.

    • MyMichiganTrips

      Things have changed a lot, but we still go back and fight the crowds every year. We still think it is worth it!

Leave a Reply