Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Fall Camping

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Fall Camping  -October 19 – 21, 2012


When we discussed where to go for our fall camping trip this year the unanimous choice was the Platte River Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes. We were just up here in July, but we couldn’t think of a better place to go and see the fall colors. The only weekend that we could make work was October 20 and we were worried that we would miss the peak colors. We were lucky and the timing ended up being perfect! All week the weather forecast was good. Then as we were packing up on Thursday night it changed to scattered showers for most of the weekend. We did see some rain, but it never was enough to keep us from what we wanted to do.

The Platte River Campground:


I decided to spend my last half day of vacation for this trip so we left home at noon on Friday. For most of the drive up it rained. Then just as we pulled into the Platte River Campground it let up. We chose site #121. It was a nice pull though site at the end of loop 1 just the right distance from the bathhouse.


At this time of the season the park service only has the sites in loop 1 open. We were surprised that it was about 90% full on both Friday and Saturday nights. It you are interested in camping in the off season the Platte River is one of the few modern campgrounds in the state that is open year round.


Reid making a run for it past the bathhouse. He was going to try and find more numbers on the posts by the sites.


The kids had a great time playing in the woods behind our campsite.

The Railroad Grade Trail:


By the time we finished setting up camp the sun was starting to come through the clouds occasionally. We decided to take advantage of the good weather window by walking the Railroad Grade Trail out to Lake Michigan.


The trail can be accesses off the back of any of the 4 loops in the Platte River campground. It follows an old railroad bed that in the late 1880s was used to move lumber from a sawmill on the West end of Platte Lake to the docks on Lake Michigan. It is an easy walk on wide and mostly flat path.


Reese at the trail sign near Lake Michigan. It is about 1 mile from the campground out to the lake.


Walking over low dunes at the end of the trail.


The view of the Empire Bluffs from the end of the Railroad Grade Trail.


When got out to the sand dunes at the end of the trail we looked back over the trees and could see really dark clouds heading our way. We quickly turned around and made it back to the camper just as the rain started coming down.


Because it was raining we drove into Empire for dinner. We decided to try Joe’s Friendly Tavern. Many people on TripAdvisor recommended the fresh ground hamburgers here, so of course we had to give it a try. I can’t say it was the best burger I ever had, but it was still a good old fashion style hamburger that was pretty tasty. Kim and the girls shared a piece of homemade peanut butter pie that was awesome. Overall we liked Joe’s, the service was friendly and the atmosphere was good for our family.

More Joe’s Reviews on TripAdvisor >>


After dinner we drove down to the Empire City Beach. The photo above is of South Bar Lake from the Empire Beach Park.


The clouds were starting to break up again over Lake Michigan. By the time we got back to the campsite and started a fire the stars were starting to come out.

The Empire Bluff Trail:


The next morning was sunny for the first couple hours, but by the time we made it to the Empire Bluff Trailhead the clouds moved in again.


The first overlook on the Empire Bluff trail.


Reese near the top of the dunes. It is about 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot to the overlook.


A cloudy day on the Empire Bluff overlook.


The girls climbing on the dunes above the overlook benches.


Empire Bluff panoramic.


Reid was so excited about the view from the top that he filled his pants. Unfortunately his parents did not think to take provisions along to fix this problem. We figured having him walk back to the car would be better than sitting on it in the backpack carrier. He walked a little funny at times, but was excited to be walking on his own. It was his first 3/4 mile hike…not too bad for little legs.

Directions to the Empire Bluff Trailhead >>

For more on this hike see: Best Hikes with Children in Michigan



The colors on Wilco Road between the Empire Bluff Trail and the town of Empire.


After the hike it was time for a cold picnic back at the Empire Beach.


A stream that goes from South Bar Lake out to Lake Michigan just North of the Empire Beach.


Playing on the playground at the beach.

Moomers Ice Cream:


The last time we were up here our friends recommended that we go to Moomers Ice Cream near Traverse City. It was starting to look like rain and Reid needed a nap so we decided to take a drive and give it a try.


Regan enjoying a cone of “Choc-O-Holic” inside Moomers. Mom could be considered an ice cream expert and she thought it was the best chocolate she has had.


The best part about Moomers is that you can see the cows on the family farm right next door that provide the milk for the creamery. This fresh milk has to be why Moomers ice cream is so good.


Ice cream makes everyone happy.


Reid checking out the letters on the sign. In May of 2008 Moomers was “America’s Best Scoop” on ABC’s Good Morning America. Stop by and you will see why.

Moomers Website >>

Directions to Moomers >>

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive:


On the way back from Moomers the weather roller coaster continued and the sun came out. Before heading back to the campsite we made a loop through the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.


The Glen Lake Overlook.


The Dune Overlook.

Click here to see the larger version of this photo >>


Regan at the Lake Michigan Overlook.


The North Bar Lake Overlook.

Click here to see the larger version of this photo >>


After roasting hot dogs in the fire for dinner we drove down to Platte River Point for sunset.


When were here in the summer this was part of the Platte River. It is now cut off by a sand bar and the river turns out into Lake Michigan before here. It is always interesting to watch how the sand moves and things change out here on Platte River Point.


Throwing rocks in the water is one of Reid’s favorite things. Mom was keeping close watch to make sure he didn’t get his only pair of shoes wet.


We took it easy the next morning and packed camp. Then around lunch time we pulled the camper in to Empire and had a pizza at the Village Inn. We have had a quick meal here a few other times. The pizza and service have always been good. It is nothing fancy, just good simple pizza.

More Empire Village Inn reviews on TripAdvisor >>

The Alligator Hill Trail:


The weather was the best it had been all weekend so thought we should get one more hike in before heading for home. We decided on the Alligator Hill Trail.

At the trailhead there are kilns that were built by Pierce Stocking in the 1950s. He used these to make the waste from his sawmill into charcoal that was bagged and sold in stores through out Michigan.

Alligator Hill Trail Map – If the map does not show up above click here

We did the 2.7 mile loop that is marked as the “Easy Trail” on the map.


Climbing up the hill through the golden tunnel of trees. The trails here are on old roads that are wide and flat making for easy walking. One thing that is unique to this trail system is that it is also open to equestrians. So you have to watch your step.


Resting about half way up to the lookout.


Fall colors along one of the old golf fairways that are said to be the left from a resort that was built here in the 1920s.


The panoramic view of Sleeping Bear Bay from the Islands Overlook. North and South Manitou Islands were mostly hidden by the fog out over the lake on this afternoon.

Click here to see the larger version of this photo >>


Resting on the bench at the overlook.


Happy to be free from the straps in the backpack carrier.


From the overlook it is 1.3 miles back to the parking area on the Easy Trail.


Leaves carpeting the trail on the way back.


The trail back down to the parking area continued to be wide and easy with more really nice color. We let Reid walk the last 3/4 mile back hoping to tire him out before the 3 hour drive home.

Directions to the Alligator Hill trailhead >>

For more on this hike see: Hiking Michigan (State Hiking Guides Series)


With this we concluded our 2012 camping season. We are already looking forward to next year.



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