Top Photo Locations in the Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore is arguably one of the most scenic locations in Michigan. It boasts beautiful blue green water, stunning overlooks, and beautiful beaches. The Dunes offer a lot to work with, but it can be hard to know where to start.

From Pyramid Point by Leelanau, south to Point Betsie by Frankfort, here are scenic locations in the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Pyramid Point

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Pyramid Point is located in the northern portion of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and is a quick walk from the parking lot out to the overlook. On a clear day, you can see both the North and South Manitou Islands from the bluff.

Glen Lake Overlook

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One of the first stops on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, this overlook offers a view of Glen Lake in one direction, and the dunes themselves in the other direction. The last time I was there, I was able to see clouds weaving in and out of the hills and lake below me.

Overlook 9

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Overlook 9 is the most popular stop on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and with good reason. The overlook is perched high above Lake Michigan and offers views of both dunes, bluffs, and the Lake in every direction. This overlook is the perfect place to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan.

North Bar Lake Overlook

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While Overlook 9 gets most of the attention, the North Bar Lake Overlook is my favorite. You can see both M22 below, North Bar Lake, and the Empire Bluffs in the distance all at what feels like a bird’s eye view.

Empire Bluffs Trail

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By far my favorite hike in Michigan, the Empire Bluffs are also a good place to watch the sunset. It is a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike out to the bluffs, and the majority of the hike is wooded.

Point Betsie Lighthouse

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South of Sleeping Bear, Point Betsie Lighthouse is a fun historic lighthouse to visit and another pretty place to watch the sunset, this time from the beach rather than an overlook.

Want more in Northern Michigan? Check out some of my other posts:

Trail Guide: Sleeping Bear’s “Dune Climb”

Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore: Places to Visit in the Off-Season

Wilderness State Park and Winter Shoreline

Trail Guide: 5 Must See Sights in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains

North Carolina was not the first place that came to mind when I was looking for hiking destinations, but after stumbling upon the Roan Highlands on the internet, I decided to give North Carolina a closer look.

I quickly discovered the North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains have so much more to offer than just mountains—I found waterfalls, sweeping overlooks, thigh-burning hikes, and would 100% recommend you visit yourself. When you do, here are five places to get you started on that visit.

Linville Falls

IMG_5458-1.jpgThe Linville Falls are a quick detour off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and one of the most intricate waterfalls I have seen. As a photographer, I was thrilled, because the waterfall offers so many different angles and has so much character. At the first overlook you can see the upper falls, a small set of twin cascades. Also at this first overlook the waterfall cuts its way into the rock, forming a small canyon.

The second and third overlooks give you the more classic view of the lower falls featured above. If you zoom in on this photo, you can see a man in orange taking a selfie near the base of the falls—you can reach his location by taking a third, more difficult trail.

Hawksbill Crag

IMG_5489-1Hawksbill Crag is a steep mile climb up to an overlook of the Linville Gorge. It is well trafficked, and for good reason! The blooming flowers and rock formations at the top alone are impressive, but the views of the valley below are the sort you would expect to see only from a helicopter.

A word of caution: The last portion of this hike features steeper hiking that borders on climbing. I would recommend a walking stick.

Roan Highlands

IMG_5661-1A bit of a drive off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I will sing the praises of this hike until the day that I die. The trail from Carver’s Gap to Grassy Bald is five miles round trip, and follows the Appalachian Trail for a portion as it winds down the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Elk Falls

IMG_5530-1A more hidden gem, Elk Falls are hard to find, but offer the chance to get really close to a lesser known waterfall. Whatever you do, don’t jump from the top—the 40 foot drop and rip currents below claim lives every year.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

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The entire Blue Ridge Parkway scenic drive is worth your time, and there are plenty more sights to discover along the way!

 

Did I miss anything? Let me know!

 

Trail Guide: 6 Killer Hiking Trails in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge

For Kentuckians, the Red River Gorge is known and loved both for its climbing and trails. I am not a climber, so I stuck to the trails on my recent visit.

The Gorge, as it is lovingly referred to by locals, offers tons of different trails for almost all skill levels, all with different activities and sights to see. Some of the best seasons to visit the Gorge are in Spring and Fall, with the flowers blooming and leaves changing respectively. From arches to vistas, this Red River Gorge Trail Guide covers 6 hikes in the Gorge worth a visit, and provides some Natural Bridge State Park and Red River Gorge hiking tips!

(Copperas Falls, a beautiful spot)

Whistling Arch Trail: At around a half mile round trip and minimal elevation gain, this trail offers a sizable arch and an overlook over the valley below. The Red River Gorge has about 150 arches, its arch concentration second only to Utah’s Arches National Park, and the Whistling Arch is an excellent example!

Angel’s Windows Trail: Another short and sweet hike, this trail offers a double arch. The trail is about a half mile total and has little elevation change. These are some of the more intricate arches, making this arguably one of the Red River Gorge’s best hikes. The arch on the far side looks like a horse to some people; check out the photo below and tell me what you think.

Jump Rock: This is more of a swimming hole than a hike, but still well worth the trip. From the Sheltowee Connector Trail #211 lot off Sky Bridge Rd, it is a quick walk out to Jump Rock along the Red River. The rock is safe to jump off and the river is safe to swim across, although I would still recommend being a strong swimmer, and don’t recommend diving off the rock. The current is not strong, and the river is deep enough that you don’t have to worry about hurting yourself jumping. When we went, there were about 40 yellow monarch butterflies around the river and the surrounding trials.

Disclaimer: I did not jump or swim here, because it was 64 degrees when we visited. My sister swam, and has done the jump with a group in the past.

The Natural Bridge and Hanson’s Point Trails: Located in Natural Bridge State Park rather than the Red River Gorge, the Natural Bridge is a short but steeper hike from the parking lot in the Natural Bridge State Park. The Natural Bridge is what it sounds like—a bridge of sandstone connecting two ridges and carved out by the wind that you can hike across. From the top of the Natural Bridge, you can see Hanson’s Point—a local told me that the overlook was called this but I haven’t been able to confirm online. After crossing the Natural Bridge, you can head out to Hanson’s Point to get a view of the bridge from a distance. From here, we continued out to Lookout Point to watch the sunset. Lookout Point offers really nice views of the valley below, and is arguably the best spot in the Natural Bridge State Park to watch the sunset.

Tip for Red River Gorge photos: I have heard that fog collects in the valley below the Natural Bridge and Hanson’s Point in the morning, both of which face the east, and it is a really cool place to shoot the sunrise above the clouds.

Devil’s Staircase Trail: Located in the Natural Bridge State Park between Hanson’s Point and Lookout Point, this “staircase” will lead you deep into walls of rock. It’s a cool and short hike, but not if you have bad knees, don’t like heights, or are not steady footed. Honestly it’s amazing what this park will call a staircase. I can’t believe I did that stupid hike.

Copperas Falls Trail (Copperas Creek Falls Trail): This is an unofficial trail near Osborne Bend Trial, and is a little tricky to follow and isn’t technically a hike in the Red River Gorge Geologic Area. If you can see Copperas Creek or the creek bed, you are headed in the right direction. This hike is just shy of four miles round trip and doesn’t have a whole lot of elevation gain, but you will have to climb over some trees, and even large rocks depending on which route you take. When you first start off on the trail, it will split off into two. Following the trail on the right will give you a faster and easier route to the falls. We followed to the left. It was probably more scenic, but we had to climb over boulders the size of cars, and I had cuts and bruises. From here, the trial has multiple creek crossings, so be aware that your feet might get wet. If you are going to go, I would recommend going earlier than May or after a big rain—the falls were more of a trickle than falls by the time we got there. Technically in the Gorge or not, Copperas Falls is one of the prettiest spots to hike in the Red River Gorge.

Another tip on Copperas Falls: there was a lot of trash lining the hike. I was able to get some of it, but I’m sure there will be more if you get the chance to visit, so bring a trash bag to collect as you go! It can seem like a pain to pick up after someone else, but if not you, who else will do it? Besides, there is no better way to appreciate nature than to leave a place better than you found it.

With arches, rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls, you really can’t go wrong when planning a hiking trip in the Red River Gorge. Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment, or dm me on Instagram!

Where to Next?

Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore: Places to Visit in the Off-Season

The Sleeping Bear Dunes in the summer are busy at best, and crowded at worst. No matter the season, the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore offers a collection of beautiful beaches, hikes, and overlooks. The biggest perk of the off-season is having the Lakeshore to yourself.

In March 2017, my friend Estee and I took a day trip out to the dunes, starting at Pyramid Point in the north and making our way south toward Esch Road Beach.

pyramindpointwater-1Pyramid Point:

Pyramid Point is a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands. The bluff is steep, and several hundred feet above the water.*

From the top of Pyramid Point the big waves look like wrinkles, and you can see current patterns. Visiting in the off season left us with the entire overlook to ourselves. It was more work to get there than it would have been in the summer, and colder, but you can appreciate a place a lot more when there is no pressure to move on to the next location or get out of someone’s way.

From the trailhead it is between a half and quarter mile hike out to the overlook. When we went it was icy, and a relatively difficult hike just because of a quick elevation gain combined with the ice.

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North Bar Lake:

I added this spot to our itinerary at the last second, and had low expectations. North Bar Lake is popular in the summer— the smaller lake is buffered by dunes from the Lake Michigan waves. Despite the low expectations, North Bar Lake did not disappoint. From the parking lot it was a short hike to the beach, where we wandered around for a while. The beach offered view of bluffs, the bright blue water seen in the header image, and even some small tide pools. The area was empty again, so we had all of North Bar Lake and the Lake Michigan beach to explore.

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Empire Bluff Trail/Overlook:

It is about 1.6 miles out and back to the overlook from the trailhead, and a pretty easy hike. There are a few sets of stairs, and was a lot of slush and ice when went, but nothing that wasn’t manageable.

One of the coolest things about visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the Spring is the color of the water— it really is that blue. From Empire Bluff we had a birds-eye view of the teals and turquoise.

 

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Esch Road Beach:

This is easily my favorite beach in Michigan. I love the how you can see the slope of Empire Bluff in the distance, and how clear Otter Creek is as it runs into the lake. When we were there, tide pools had formed in some spots on the sand.

As I was taking this picture the tide was coming in—Lake Michigan has a small tide. I backed up as close as I could the mouth of Otter Creek to get both the lake and creek in the shot, and a wave complete soaked my hiking boots. It was about 50 degrees out, and the water might have been colder, but my boots and socks were already wet so I took off my shoes and dipped my feet in the creek anyway. I walked the rest of the way back to the car barefoot in the sand, occasionally dipping my toes in the edge of Lake Michigan.

 

Here are the places that we didn’t get to, but you should!

Sleeping Bear Point Trail:

I’ve never done this trail but I’ve heard good things. It’s a dune loop a little under 3 miles, and takes you Sleeping Bear Point, the place where the Sleeping Bear allegedly sleeps looking out over her cubs.

Dune Climb:

This hike is a 4 miles out and back over large dunes out to Lake Michigan, and is one of the more strenuous hikes Michigan has to offer. The last time I did this hike in full was about three years ago, when my sister and I ran it as cross country training. I remember thinking at about the half way point to the lake— a fourth of the way into the hike— that it was ridiculous that we had gone up and down that many dunes and still couldn’t see the water. It’s a long hike, and you have to be prepared to hike back as far as you have hiked out, but other than that I would recommend it. It’s incredibly rewarding to reach the lake; the water is clear and the bottom dotted with colorful rocks. Just remember to bring water with you.

That being said, if you aren’t up for the hike, the dunes are fun to run down, or sled down in the winter.

Frankfort Light:

The Frankfort Light Lighthouse is located in Frankfort, Michigan. Frankfort is a good rest point in general. It has restaurants and shops, which are less likely to be closed for the season than the ones along the rest of the Lakeshore.

As a side note, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive does close for the season. It opens tentatively in May.

 

*Some people do walk down to the lake from Pyramid Point, but there are several good reasons you shouldn’t. The first: it is a difficult walk back up— I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to walk up a steep sand hill, but it’s hard. There’s no traction, and for every two steps you take, you slide back one. There’s a good chance you won’t make it back up at all, and “they” will have to send a boat or helicopter to come rescue you. Don’t be that guy. The other good reason to not descend a sheer cliff of sand is that it causes dune erosion. If you’re coming out to appreciate a natural location, it only makes sense that you would try and preserve it for the next person.