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Empire Bluff Trail

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

A leisurely stroll through a beech-maple forest scattered with giant boulders and old farm remnants leads to a unmatched view from a bluff high above the sparkling blue waters of Lake Michigan—no wonder Empire Bluff Trail is one of the most popular trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!

Empire Bluff, an excellent family trek, is a mere 1.5 miles roundtrip and can be hiked in less than an hour by most kids—be sure to pick up a self-guiding pamphlet at the trailhead or visitor center as you will encounter six interpretive markers along the trail. The numbered posts correspond to highlights within the brochure that explain the history, geology, flora, and fauna that are found along the trail.

The trail begins amid hilly terrain dotted with massive boulders known as glacial erratics—marker #1 explains that these out of place rocks were left here during the ice age. Continuing along the trail you reach post #2 where you will see an old farm remnant—the rusted piece of machinery is a 1930’s era McCormick Deering No 7 mowing machine.

After a brief climb, you arrive at the half-mile mark, here you will be rewarded with your first sweeping view of the lakeshore —on a clear day you can see Empire, the Lake Michigan Shoreline and dunes, and South Bar Lake, just a taste of the panorama yet to come.

Just a little further along the trail and you reach your destination—the Empire Bluff Overlook. Here you are rewarded with sweeping views of Lake Michigan, Platte Bay, Empire Embayment, South Manitou Island and Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore. A boardwalk and benches provide the perfect foreground for pictures and a spot to rest and take in the amazing scenery—look around for vegetation such as the endangered Pitcher’s Thistle and patches of milkweed. Grab a few more pics of this quintessential Sleeping Bear Dunes landscape and then retrace your steps back 0.75-mile to your car—definitely one of the best hikes with a view in Michigan!

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