Jul 5, 2022

Sleeping Bear Dunes Elopement Guide

Looking at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are a TON of places to pick from to elope. There are also a few places that are off limits that may not seem so. In this post I am going to go over a guide to eloping at Sleeping Bear Dunes from Permits, Locations, and more. If you have any questions about eloping at sleeping bear dunes, you can post a question in the comments section or contact the Sleeping Bear Dunes NPS office. I will be providing links, maps, pictures, and more of all of the things we are going to talk about.

Eloping at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Eloping at Sleeping Bear Dunes is pretty similar to eloping at any other national park in the U.S. Sleeping Bear Dunes is considered a national lakeshore but it still falls under the same category as the national parks. This means if you are eloping at Sleeping Bear, you will need a permit (most likely).

Sleeping Bear Dunes Checklist

  • The Perfect Location
  • Wedding Permit
  • National Park Entry Permit
  • A Vehicle (Transportation)
  • Water, Snacks, Food, & Similar Items
  • Sandals & Proper Clothing

Locations At Sleeping Bear Dunes

There are a ton of areas in the Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore that you can elope but the NPS permitting office has come up with a detailed list of approved places you can elope. Now, if you find a location that is not on this list, that doesn’t mean it’s unavailable. Feel free to contact the NPS Sleeping Bear Dunes Permitting office to see if the area you have in mind is on the list. Below is a copy from the NPS website of official and approved locations at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

  • Good Harbor Bay Beach – County Rd 651,limited paved parking lot for 28 vehicles, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year. Pets allowed north of CR 651 to northern boundary of Lakeshore.
  • Good Harbor Bay Picnic Area – limited parking along county road, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year. No pets allowed.
  • Good Harbor Bay Beach – limited paved parking lot for 20 vehicles, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year. Pets allowed to the south of CR 669.
  • Pyramid Point – limited parking, restrooms available, no beach access, maximum group size of 25, available September to June.
  • Port Oneida Historic Farms – limited parking, no restrooms, no beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year.
  • No Name Beach – limited parking along county road, no restrooms available, beach access, maximum groups size of 25, available all year.
  • Sunset Shores Road Beach – limited parking along county road, no restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 25, available all year.
  • Lane Road Beach – limited parking along county road, no restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 25, available all year.
  • Glen Haven Beach – limited parking, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 25, available September through June.
  • Maritime Museum Beach – limited parking, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year except during special events. No pets allowed.
  • Glen Lake Picnic Area – limited paved parking lot for 20 vehicles, maximum group size of 50, available all year.
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Picnic Mountain – limited paved parking lot for 20 vehicles, restrooms available, maximum group size of 50, available May until Scenic Drive closure.
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Dune Overlook – limited paved parking lot for 8 vehicles, restrooms available, no beach access, maximum group size of 25, available May and June and after Labor Day until Scenic Drive closure.
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Lake Michigan Overlook – limited paved parking lot for 30 vehicles, restrooms available, no beach access, maximum group size of 25, available May and June and after Labor Day until Scenic Drive closure.
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive North Bar Overlook – limited paved parking lot for 15 vehicles, restrooms available, no beach access, maximum group size of 25, available May and June and after Labor Day until Scenic Drive closure.
  • Esch Road Beach – limited parking along county road, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year. Pets allowed on beach area to the north side of Esch Road.
  • Peterson Road Beach – limited parking along county road, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50, available all year. Pets allowed on beach area south of Peterson Road.
  • Tiesma Road Beach – limited parking for 10 vehicles, no restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 40, available all year.
  • South Manitou Island Village Area – ferry access only, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50 available during ferry operating season Memorial Day to Labor Day. No pets allowed.
  • North Manitou Island Village Area – ferry access only, restrooms available, beach access, maximum group size of 50 available during ferry operating season Memorial Day to Labor Day. No pets allowed.

Interactive Map For Sleeping Bear Dunes

I have created an interactive map for you to see all of the approved locations to elope at Sleeping Bear Dunes. All of the blue marks are the approved places on the list above. The Yellow markers are my top 3 places to elope at Sleeping Bear. All of the red markers are places I was directly told by the permitting office that you cannot have your wedding or elopement. You can view each marker and see a picture or two of each location. Below the map you will be able to read about my three top favorite places to elope at sleeping bear (with pictures).

Top Places To Elope In Sleeping Bear Dunes

Out of the many places to elope on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National lakeshore. These are the top three places that I have found when location scouting. There are some places that I have not been to and that may be why they are not listed in the top 3.

1. Sleeping Bear Dunes Lake Michigan Overlook & Scenic Drive

These two go hand in hand because you have to go through the scenic drive to get to the Lake Michigan Overlook. The scenic drive is the perfect place to take some epic photos on your way through the drive or after your ceremony. There are plenty of places to stop on the side of the road to take photos or some overlooks on the way to stop at. They even have random picnic areas here and there to stop at where you can make food or use the bathroom.

Scenic Drive

The scenic drive has a lot of really cool places to stop but the most notable one is the classic covered bridge crossing. This is a very cool spot to stop and take some photos. This comes pretty soon in the drive and it’s one of the first “things” you will see on the way around. Not to mention how beautiful this bridge and drive is in the fall season.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Scenic Drive in the fall at the bridge
Photo Credit

There are some other cool spots that have overlooks, parks, trails, and more that you can stop at anytime. Be creative as you want on this journey and remember, you can go around the drive as many times as you want. It’s all included in your park pass.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Scenic Drive in the fall with colored leaves.
Photo Credit: Snap Happy Gal
Scenic Drive in the Summer

Lake Michigan Overlook

The Lake Michigan Overlook is a really cool spot that has more than just an epic view of the lake from very high up. One of the benefits of this location is that there is a bathroom. There are also places you can walk to around the area that you could hold your ceremony or just take some awesome photos. I will say that this area is generally more busy than most since it’s the biggest spot in the scenic drive for people to see. Please do not climb down the big hill, if you don’t know what I mean by this, you will when you get there. I am sure on your elopement day you wouldn’t want to do it regardless, but it has to be said just in case!

Sleeping Bear Dunes Main overlook at the scenic drive
Main overlook at the Dune Overlook in the Scenic Drive

There are a few cool spots to hold your ceremony or say your vows here that may be a little further away from people. Check out the photos and map below for a little more information and visuals on these locations for photos, ceremony, or anything else.

2. The Dune Climb

I know what you are thinking…”you want me to climb what now?” It’s not what it seems! The dune climb is quite a large area of dunes that you may have a little more privacy to do your elopement or take photos. In general the first 0.5 miles are pretty busy with people climbing but once you get to the top of the second hill there are so many places around that will give you the view of dunes and the lake which ended up being pretty cool. The downside to this is that you do need to climb one larger dune and one more smaller dune. You will most likely need to climb up and down a few more to get to a more private spot to take your photos or do your ceremony but it will be well worth it if you want a little more privacy. The downside to this location vs the other ones is that you do need to climb and walk a little bit longer to get to a nice spot where as the Lake Michigan overlook its quite a short walk but you might encounter more people.

Sleeping Bear Dunes dune climb at the main entrance and first hill
Parking lot view of the main first hill

3. Empire Bluff Lookout (Trail)

The Empire Bluff Lookout is a really cool spot that has a nice view of the dunes off in the distance as well as the lake. There are some spots that will be a little more secluded than others but it’s a pretty easy location to access. You start at the Empire Bluff Trailhead in which you walk on a easy to moderate walk to get to the lookout. I did this hike in flip flops if that helps with any difficultly level. It takes around 20-30 minutes to get to the lookout. Once you are at the lookout you can choose to continue down a sandy path along the cliffside. This will take you to a more secluded spot to either take photos or hold your ceremony/vows. The reason I chose this location for number 3 is because it was a nice change of pace having a wooded area (forest) to walk through to get to the lookout. You can take photos in the forest (on the trail) on your way in or out of the lookout. Then once you are at the lookout you can take more photos, so it gives you a little more variety of location. Not to mention this trail is very close to the city of Empire where you can also take photos, get food, ice cream, and more.

What the trail looks like to hike up to the overlook
An area a little away from the main overlook

Honorable Mentions

There are 2 locations that I have to mention here that didn’t quite make it into the list: Pyramid Point and Glen Haven Beach.

Pyramid Point falls under the honorable mentions because it is a location that was recommended to me by many locals and the DNR staff but I did not get a chance to check it out in person. Just keep in mind that the east side of the trail system is a “no go” zone for your elopement or wedding. This is a wilderness area and you must stay on the main trail that goes out to the overlook.

Glen Haven Beach also made it to this list because it is one of the easier places to access the beach next to the lake for your elopement. This is a slightly more busy area though. There are not a lot of areas on the sleeping bear lakeshore that have beach access and you can hold a wedding due to the large dunes. So Glen Haven beach is a great choice for someone who wants to get some photos on the beach or hold their ceremony on the water.

Where NOT TO Elope in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore

There are a few locations that you cannot hold your wedding or elopement. These are commonly the wilderness areas and potentially other protected areas. Two of the main areas that I was told by the permitting office was the east side of Pyramid Point (the looped trail) and the Sleeping Bear Point Trailhead. If your location is not on the list of pre-approved locations, please contact the the permitting office.

Getting An Elopement Permit For Sleeping Bear Dunes

When do you need a permit?

You will need a wedding or elopement permit when you are planning to hold a legal ceremony with or without guests within the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore area. This means if you plan to have an officiant marry you and have a ceremony you will need to get one. There are some exceptions to this rules (read below). You will also need a permit if you plan to have guests attend your elopement or ceremony even if you are not legally getting married at Sleeping Bear.

If you plan to have guests attend any part of your elopement within the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore plan to get a permit from the permitting office. If you plan to legally get married within the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore, plan to get a permit.

When a Permit is not necessary

A permit is not necessary to get if you are not legally getting married within the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore. This, for example, could be a time where you plan to just take photos for your elopement by yourselves. You can even go and say your vows to one another but this cannot be a legal ceremony of marriage. It would have to be just your vows. Basically any photoshoot that is considered a “portrait session” does not need a permit. This would be any photoshoot that does not include any legal ceremony or any guests attending other than you and your photographer and videographer. This means you can also take your engagement photos here without a permit.

How to get a permit for your elopement or wedding

  1. Find your favorite location(s) or general areas you would like to Elope. You can always ask the permitting office or park rangers for their recommendations
  2. Fill out the “Special Use Permit Application” via this webpage
  3. Mail or Email your “Special Use Permit Application” to the Permit Coordinator (info at the bottom of this page)
  4. Pay the $50 application fee here. (I recommend using this link since the link on the NPS does not take you directly to the pay link)
  5. Once your permit is accepted you can pay the final fee of $100 via this link here

How to get into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Getting into the park is very easy! This is a National lakeshore which is very similar and treated the same as a national park which means you just need to purchase a day pass, week pass, or yearly pass for national parks. a yearly pass is usually around $80 and a week pass is usually around $25 per car. Once you have this pass, you can get into all of the areas within the public lakeshore area.

You can purchase your pass at the gate of entry or online at: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm

How to get around the National Lakeshore

You will most likely want some sort of transportation to get around since there are a few different areas to explore! If you plan to have guests join you for your ceremony or elopement, it might be easier to rent a larger vehicle to fit more people since each vehicle entering is going to need a park pass. You may be able to work something out with the permitting office to get multiple vehicles in for a discounted price at a one time entry but this would be up to the office. Most places around the lakeshore are not walkable so you will need some sort of transportation to get around.

What kind of snacks, food, or drinks to bring

There are a few small towns near the lakeshore areas but they do not have a huge selection of restaurants to pick from. I would bring a few snacks and plenty of water for your adventures. There are plenty of picnic areas around all of the parks and locations. They even have charcoal grills at a lot of them that you could use to cookout if you wanted to go that route. You could also grab premade food from a store or a restaurant. Most of the hikes/areas do not require a huge hike so you shouldn’t need to bring an entire days worth of food, but you will most likely get hungry. Bringing some snacks and water would be the best idea and if you plan to stay longer without leaving, bringing a meal or something to cook would be recommended. You can always adventure out to one of the towns for an actual meal if needed.

What to wear for your elopement in each season (& When to Elope)

Summer

Summer is hot at Sleeping Bear so as mentioned above, bring a lot of water. As for clothing a very heavy and/or large dress may be quite hard to trek around in on the hot sand and blazing sun. If you plan to elope in the summer, I would recommend a lighter and more flowy dress so that you don’t get too hot. As for the groom, a light suit or a suit without the jacket could be comfortable enough for the day but you can always go lighter if needed.

For shoe choice, I personally think it’s quite difficult to walk around in dress shoes on sand, even sandals or tennis shoes too. Barefoot is probably the easiest method of getting around on the sand but make sure you bring them with as the sand will start to get VERY hot on your feet after a while. You could also wear your shoes or sandals during your ceremony for the look or if you want to match the aesthetic of being on the beach, going barefoot for your ceremony could be cute!

Fall & Spring

The fall is absolutely beautiful up north full of color and perfect weather. I believe the fall is the BEST time to elope at Sleeping Bear Dunes. On the lakeshore though it can get pretty cold, even on a normal sunny day so bring some layers or something to warm you up. Realistically any dress or suit would work to keep you warm but not too warm. We are in Michigan though, so remember that the weather could be super hot one day or super cold one day and snowy even. We’ve had days in the middle of October where it was 90 degrees. Once the sun starts the set you will notice the temp dropping pretty quick. Bring a combination of warm and cold clothes to cover your basis.

As for shoe choice, I would say the same as the fall. Barefoot is easiest to walk around in and in the fall, you shouldn’t have issue with the sand being too hot for the most part. I would recommend bringing some warm socks for the nighttime though.

Winter

Winter up north is pretty cold most of the time and the snow comes a lot sooner than it does down south. Be prepared for the cold. There are not many places to “hide for cover” if you get too cold in the dune areas other than your car. Have someone bring a very warm jacket for you and the groom and you can wear them when there are no festivities going on. In the above seasons it’s usually easier to walk around barefoot but some nice hiking or winter boots will be your best friend during the winter. The winter can be very beautiful with all of the white snow and even some frozen ice on the lakes.

Keep in mind that not all places are open in the winter and snow drifts can make dunes look longer than they are so stay way from the edge of dunes so you do not fall in.

Summary

This elopement guide will be updated with more information as it comes. To summarize, Fall is the absolute best time to elope at Sleeping Bear, just make sure to apply for your permits in a timely manner and to get your park passes to get access to the dunes. If you want to avoid the permit process, you will have to legally get married elsewhere and do just a “photoshoot” at the dunes.

If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you need a videographer or photographer, you can click the menu options above for some work or to contact me.

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