Pierce Stocking Drive is a one-way loop through glacier-sculpted forests, dunes and meadows.
On Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you can imagine the might of the glaciers that sculpted this land 10,000 years ago, contemplate nature's intricate beauty or just kick back and have one of the prettiest picnic's in the world.
Your Sleeping Bear Dunes tour begins in the laid-back beach town of Empire, where in-the-know staff at the National Lakeshore's visitor center (corner of M-72 and M-22, 231-326-5134) will hook you up with maps, guidebooks and a park permit. A few blocks west at Deering's Market (10233 Front St., 231-326-5249), find no-prep, no-mess picnic options like ready-made pasta salad, crusty loaves of French bread, nibble-sized fruit chunks and Coca-Cola in retro glass bottles. Forgot utensils? No worries—napkins, paper plates and plastic silverware are available near the deli counter.
Once you've got the goods, drive north on M-22, veer left onto M-109 and turn left again at the sign for Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Grab a self-guided tour brochure at the ranger booth, then, obeying the 20-mph speed limit, glide down the paved road. Cruise under a historic covered bridge, past a panoramic Glen Lake view, and up to the first dune overlook. Here, on the appropriately named Picnic Mountain, you'll find the perfect spot to shake out a blanket and plop down with lunch. Between bites, peek ahead in the brochure to learn about dune ecology and the legend of Sleeping Bear.
It's perfectly fine to stay here and relish the view for a while, but why not walk off the meal on Cottonwood Trail, a 1.5-mile loop along the dunes? Afterward, you can herd the crew back into the car and putter around the remaining points of interest, dipping into lush beech-maple forests, rolling past beach-bright sand and dallying at fabulous overlooks above Lake Michigan and North Bar Lake.
Emily Bingham is assistant editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in May 2006, and was updated for the web April 2008.