empire Bluffs Trail - empire, Michigan
The Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is a favorite destination for vacationers from all over the world. Most visitors make it a point to hike out to the overlooks of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and most miss an easy walking trail that has some of the best views anywhere on the shoreline, and arguably, the best sunset in the entire region. The Empire Bluffs Trail is only about a mile and half round-trip, but there is some elevation, change so this is not a perfectly flat trail. Still, the climb is fairly moderate. The gentleman who told me about this trail is 5 feet nine inches tall and weighs in at a cool 350 pounds. He said he has no problems with this trail at all.
What climbing there is, is well worth it, and is made easier by benches that are placed at intervals along the way. In addition to the wildflowers, hardwood trees and wildlife of every kind that is indigenous to the area, there are scenic vistas that are unique to this trail. At the far end of the trail you are more than 400 feet above Lake Michigan ,with a large portion of the Sleeping Bear Dunes area spread out below. At this point you are actually above the highest dunes. The view from here would be difficult to find anywhere else. To the south is the Platte Bay where Coho Salmon were first introduced into the Great Lakes. To the north all of South Manitou Island is visible and also, part of North Manitou Island as well.
Another feature that makes this trail special, is the nearly total absence of light pollution. Just a short time after those spectacular sunsets are over, the stars come out in a brilliance and profusion that you can rarely find on Lake Michigan. The pure darkness here makes this a favorite destination when we have meteor showers. For annual meteor showers or a prediction of northern lights, you might want to arrive early. This place will be full of families out to enjoy the show.
Local Treasures: Sleeping Bear Dunes – Many travelers come to this area specifically to hike the dunes. There are several places in the area to access the dunes.
One of the most photographed barns in Michigan on the D. H. Day farmstead is nearby. The barn, built in the late 1800's, has twin silos and an ogee (bell-shaped) roof with octagonal cupolas topping it all off. You really can't miss it. It doesn't lie in the district but is within the boundaries of the park.
Art's Tavern – Located in downtown Glen Arbor this is a favorite spot for lunch or dinner. The place is a bit retro as is should be, it has been there since 1934. Tim Barr is one of the proprietors. On the rare occasion when he isn't busy, he can tell you all about the destinations and history of this region. Directions:
Important Notes: The Empire Bluffs Trail is within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A pass is required to make use of the parking area. Passes are available at the Park Headquarters, as well as, maps and important information about the local flora and fauna, like poison ivy and bears. The trail is open year-round and is a popular snowshoe trek. Mountain biking is not allowed.