Road trip USA (Midwest): Sleeping Bear Dunes near Traverse City

Familienspass in den Sleeping Bear Dunes

For the second part of our road trip through the American Midwest, we drove further north to Michigan. Our destination for the day was the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which are located near the “Cherry Capital” Traverse City. This place has a special meaning for me. You can find out more about this in our blog post.

Our day began with a simple breakfast at the Hampton Inn Cadillac (bookable at Hilton*). A little later than originally planned, we left the hotel at around 10 a.m. and drove north on the M-115. After about an hour we reached the tranquil town of Frankfort and with it our first destination, the Point Betsie lighthouse.

Unterwegs mit unserem Dodge Charger
On the road with our Dodge Charger
Willkommen in Frankfort!
Welcome to Frankfurt!

Point Betsie Lighthouse

Point Betsie Lighthouse, built in 1858, was for many years one of the most important signaling facilities on the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, maintenance work was being carried out, so we were not allowed to enter the premises. Instead, we took our son on a trip to the beach before continuing.

Point Betsie Leuchtturm
Point Betsie Lighthouse
Ausflug zum Strand am Lake Michigan
Excursion to the beach on Lake Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Our real goal for the day was the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This is a 288 km² nature reserve on the east shore of Lake Michigan in the US state of Michigan.

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes

We stopped at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in the village of Empire and bought an entry pass. This cost USD 20 and was valid for the entire vehicle, including the occupants, for seven days. In addition to a ticket, which we had to put behind the windshield, we were given a map with hiking recommendations and a brochure. You can also learn more about the Sleeping Bear Dunes online.

Philip A. Hart Besucherzentrum
Philip A. Hart Visitor Center

Sleeping Bear Dunes: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

We decided to drive down the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive first. This 7.5 mile one-way road follows the coast and there are a few parking lots with picnic areas along the way. Our first stop was the “Dune Overlook”. As the name suggests, we had a great view over the dune landscape on site.

Dune Overlook am Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Dune Overlook am Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

After a long lunch break we drove to the 10th stop on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. At this stop we unpacked the buggy and walked with our son on the concrete path to the cliffs of Lake Michigan. The sight of the deep blue water stretching to the horizon was just beautiful. One completely forgets that Lake Michigan is not an ocean but an inland body of water.

Dünenwanderung an der Steilküste des Michigansee
Dune hike on the cliffs of Lake Michigan
tiefblaues Wassers des Michigansee
deep blue waters of Lake Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes: Dune Climb

The highlight for our son was the so-called “Dune Climb”. The approximately 130 m high sand dune was so impressive that we absolutely had to climb it. Our two-year-old son stormed up almost non-stop. About halfway we took a short break and then decided to walk, run or roll down again. Great family fun!

Sleeping Bear Dunes: Dune Climb
Sleeping Bear Dunes: Dune Climb
Blick von der Düne
View from the dune
Familienspass in den Sleeping Bear Dunes
Family Fun at the Sleeping Bear Dunes

After we all got out of the sand, we got into our black Dodge Charger and drove to Traverse City. This city has a very special meaning for me because this is where the USA chapter began for me in 2006.

Camp Maplehurst

In 2006, just after I had completed my military service, I worked as a counselor at Camp Maplehurst north of Traverse City. I spent the entire summer in Michigan and not only got to know good friends here, but also discovered my “love” for the travel destination USA.

Hampton Inn Traverse City
Hampton Inn Traverse City

After checking into our hotel, a Hampton Inn on Traverse City's main drag, for the next two nights, camp was our first destination. Unfortunately, the facility was closed in 2011, so we found the remaining buildings in a very poor condition. In addition, the main driveway was blocked with a gate and entry was prohibited with several signs.

Hauptzufahrt zum Camp Maplehurst
Main access to Camp Maplehurst

However, we still found a side street where there was no prohibition sign and whose barrier was also open. So we followed the sandy path and, after several curves, stood on the former camp site. Here we also realized why the driveway was open: demolition work was going on. The former stage, on which we used to organize various shows with the children, has just been razed to the ground. The former housing for the girls and the huts for the boys were demolished some time ago. The badly damaged main house was specially fenced off. All in all a sad sight!

Blick zum Hauptgebäude im Jahr 2018
View of the main building in 2018
Blick zum Hauptgebäude im Jahr 2006
View of the main building in 2006
Hauptgebäude Camp Maplehurst im Jahr 2018
Main Building Camp Maplehurst in 2018
Hauptgebäude Camp Maplehurst im Jahr 2006
Main Building Camp Maplehurst in 2006

Dinner at Pearl's New Orleans Kitchen

For dinner we drove to the town of Elk Rapids and had dinner at Pearl's New Orleans Kitchen. We went to the restaurant more often during our time at the camp. The interior, a bit tacky and colourful, was still the same as it was 12 years ago. We had crayfish croquettes for starters and chicken or beef po'boy (a type of sandwich) for mains.

Pearl's New Orleans Kitchen
Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen

After the extensive dinner we had to stretch our legs again and walked through the charming town of Elk Rapids. All is right with the world here.

Elk Rapids
Elk Rapids
Hauptstraße von Elk Rapids
Main Street of Elk Rapids

Roadtrip USA (Midwest) - route details

TagIn total
Kilometer:165.7 mi (266.67 km)509.5 mi (819.96 km)
driving time:04:20:3613:23:26
Consumption:30,0 mpg29,4 mpg
Ride costs:42,03 USD
Overnight stay:Hampton Inn Traverse City - $200 for two nights (bookable at Hilton*)

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Cadillac to Traverse City road trip review
  • Point Betsie Lighthouse
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes
  • Travere City


My name is Christian and I was born in the green heart of Germany and studied computer engineering in Ilmenau, Thuringia. Since 2021, I live with my wife Christin and our son in Merseburg and work in Leipzig as a product manager. What I love about travelling is flying, discovering delicious food and drink, and staying in great hotels. I am a travel enthusiast and always on the lookout for the next adventure. I have been posting about my experiences on the road since 2007.

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