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Empire, a small town of lumber-era architecture and Lake Michigan views, sits in the heart of the 35-mile-long Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. From this Northwoods village you have easy access to all the beauty the national lakeshore has to offer. Miles of trails, fresh snow and some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Great Lakes await, so pull on your hat and gloves and head out to choose your trails.
Picking your path is not an easy decision. From its southern end near the town of Frankfort, to Good Harbor at the northern tip, the Sleeping Bay Dunes National Lakeshore is laced with trails of alluring names: Alligator Hill, Empire Bluff, Pyramid Point, The Dunes. They meander through hardwood forests, around fat fir trees and across snow-covered meadows. This glorious rolling topography owes its existence to the advance and retreat of glaciers, which geologists say rose two miles high. The historic farmsteads and perches that look out over Lake Michigan now punctuate these landscapes.
Before you hit the trails, stop by the visitors center in Empire and purchase a lakeshore pass to place in your car windshield at the trailheads (weekly passes are $10 per car; $20 buys an annual pass). Know, too, that the lakeshore doesn't groom any of its cross-country ski trails. There's really no need, because skiers generally keep them well tracked. If you're uncertain about the prospect of breaking trail or icy trail conditions, exchange your skis for snowshoes. Just heed snowshoe etiquette: Stay to the side of the trail - well away from present or future ski tracks. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 231-326-5134, nps.gov/slbe