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The dune climb, the Coast Guard Station and Maritime Museum, the stellar hike to Sleeping Bear Point — there are lots of ways to spend a day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. But there's only one way a beachcomber should spend the night: by setting up camp at D.H. Day Campground on Lake Michigan's Sleeping Bear Bay.
Let's get this straight right now. You can't camp on the beach at D.H. Day. But if you can snag one of the campsites at the north end of the park — that is, any between sites 52 and 61 — you'll have yourself a nifty nook in the woods that is no more than a Petoskey stone's throw from shore. Arrive early; this woods-and-water paradise operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
A short boardwalk near site 55 is the route to D.H. Day's beach. (Paths also weave from neighboring campsites, but beware. Though direct, many trails are rimmed with poison ivy.) Follow the boardwalk through the dune bowls to the pebble-strewn beach. North and South Manitou Islands hang in the distant split between sky and lake. Laze in the water, pick shells and pebbles from the sand, but by nightfall, head to the campground's outdoor amphitheater for one of the nightly summer ranger programs where you can learn about local lore, lakeshore environment, wildlife and more.
The sun doesn't go down in summer until around 10 p.m. this far north, but when it does, quiet hours begin at D.H. Day — a welcome hush that allows you to relish the crackle of your campfire and a peaceful barefoot walk on the beach before bed. Come dawn, the squawk and splash of seagulls diving in the shallows for their breakfast is your only alarm. Fire up the camp stove, heat a tin cup of coffee and amble over the dune to sip it as morning spills over the horizon and another beautiful day at the beach begins.
From Empire, drive north on M-22 for 2 miles to the intersection of M-109, turn left onto M-109, continue for another 5.3 miles. The entrance to the campground will be on your left.
Campsites are $12 nightly (rate does not include national park pass). 231-334-4634.
Lynda Twardowski is travel editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in July 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.