The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a new trail that will run for 27 miles from the northern end of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to a point just south of Empire, MI on Manning Road. To safely accommodate users such as hikers, bicyclists, walkers, cross-country skiers and birders, the trail measures 10 feet wide and the surface alternates between asphalt and smoothly compacted crushed limestone. The recently completed four mile portion that runs from the Dune Climb to Glen Arbor, MI is entirely paved. There are a number of different habitats and the paved surface provides a unique opportunity within the National Park to bird by bike and cover a significant amount of land.
The portion of the Trail covered here begins at the Dune Climb in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This site is one of the most spectacular scenes in the Park as the massive dunes rise before you. Many visitors plod and scamper their way up the dunes to take in the sights at the top and eventually find their way to Lake Michigan. Fortunately, your trail does not involve a dune climb and is accessed from the northwest corner of the parking lot. The trail winds its way for a short distance through open country but soon enters old growth forest that is framed by the dune to the west and a swamp to the east. This wet area also has a short spur that leads to an observation platform in the swamp. Given the mix of dunescape, canopy, and wetlands, the diversity of birds here is very rich including flyctachers, vireos and many warbler species.
The trail ultimately winds its way to Glen Haven, through the D.H. Day campsite within the Park, and then back across M-22 to continue to Glen Arbor. While most of the trail is forested, there are many wet, lush pockets that are the result of receding lake edges over the centuries and these pockets create a decent amount of undergrowth in an otherwise mature forest. Winter Wrens like to call these tangles home and several thrush species are always present. Black-throated Green Warblers and American Redstarts are also rather common summer residents.
Bikes can be rented from Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor.