As a flatlander, I was mesmerized by the 130-foot sand dune that greeted me at the parking lot of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I decided to join the kids and run straight up the side. Most of the crowd stopped at the top, but my fiancé and I decided to continue the 1.5-mile hike to the lakeshore. Our sizable effort was rewarded with more scenic dune climbs and at times, total solitude.
We carried daypacks with water, snacks and swimsuits. After walking (in shoes) over sandy dunes for over an hour, we finally reached the rocky shoreline of Lake Michigan. The water was clear, relatively still and cold - which was refreshing after the sweaty hike. We essentially had the beach to ourselves, so we changed in the dune grass without concern.
We had enough juice left in our legs to walk down the shoreline and stand at the base of a massive dune standing 450 feet tall. (Attempting to climb up the side of this dune was a completely humbling experience.)
After completing the hour-long hike back to the parking lot, we hopped in the car and drove the scenic route through the park. Our timing was perfect - we made it to stop #9, which happened to be the top of the 450-foot dune, just before sunset. We were greeted by a small crowd watching the sun dip into the water, Key West style. A few people even clapped for the setting sun, Key West style. And why not? From this vantage point high above the water, you might as well be overlooking the ocean.