Northern Michigan is hard to get to — the drive up the mitten is long, and the local airports are expensive and small — but the region's inaccessibility is exactly why it's remained so beautiful.
Still relatively unknown as an American destination, the Michigan lakeshore is one of those hidden gems where only those who know it's location are able to find it. It was only after my sister-in-law introduced me to the place where she spent every summer of her childhood that I began to notice other mentions of family cottages on the lake, or spot M22 bumper stickers on cars here and there (M22 being the stretch of Michigan highway along the thumb's coastline).
Sleeping Bear Dunes was one of the highlights of my trip up north. A short drive from the picturesque beach town of Glen Arbor, the dunes rise up from earth like, well, a sleeping bear — a mother bear, the legend says, gazing out into the water where her two cubs drowned. Parking at the base of the dunes is $10 (which goes toward maintaining the lakeshore) and from there you just head up, up, up, barefoot and breathing hard from the exercise.
It's a long, sandy, and steep walk to the far side of the dunes, but the view over Lake Michigan is spectacular. It's one of the best spots I've come across to watch the sun set.
And the climb might be hard, but it's worth it for the return trip — running back down the dunes, the sand sinking and flying out from under your feet. You'll feel like a kid again.