Slope Flying at Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Empire Michigan

Located in Northwestern, Lower Michigan Sleeping Bear is about 25 miles Southwest of Traverse City, MI. The National Lakeshore encompases a lot of area and there are many dunes from which to fly. Explore a bit! Pyramid Point near Glen Arbor is over 500 feet above Lake Michigan!

The following is courtesy of Tom Nagle from Columbus, OH:

Here is some detailed, mostly factual and I hope useful information on slope soaring in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

1. The ranger station, where you can get your free flying permit, is on Michigan Rt 22 in the village of Empire, about 22 miles west of Traverse City. Open 9 to 5 daily; phone number 616-326-5134.

2. Nearest slope is Empire Bluffs, facing west winds, but tolerant of SW and NW winds as well. Used by hang glider pilots. Go west on M-72 into Empire, and keep going until the road T’s out. Turn right (North), and drive out to the beach; drop the family there. Go back south on Lake Street, which turns into Wilson Rd. and goes uphill to a trailhead parking area. Hike the 3/4 mile (easy up and down trails) back to the bluff. If you land out (down at the beach) it is OK to go down the bluff to get your plane, but impossible to get back up; hike north to meet your family at the beach. Empire Bluff has an area marked for hang gliders, and this is were I flew.

3. Easiest Access to a Slope: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This one-way loop drive is named after Pierce Stocking, the great chief of the Michigan tribes who fought the early cherry ranchers at the Battle of Michikalawilliwannapaddiwack and then sold the screen rights to his story to Fox. But Idigress.

The Pierce Stocking site works with west or southwest winds, according to folks more fortunate than I, and is a short stroll from the paved parking area. When I was there, lightening was striking all around, and it seemed wisest not to extend an aerial.

Pierce Stocking Drive runs off M-109 which intersects M-22 just a little way north of Empire.

4. North Winds: Pyramid Point, about 15 miles north of Empire. Take Port Oneida Rd or Basch Rd off M-22, and park at the well-marked trail head. It is a good half mile uphill walk to the north-facing bluff. When I was there the winds were 180 degrees wrong. The big meadow at the trailhead would have been nice for handlaunch flying or thermal flying, but when I was there the entomologists were migrating, and had flocked all over the meadow to photograph dragon flies. I was afraid they would stick a pin through my ZAGI and pour ether on it.

5. Unabashed Plug for the Snowbird Inn: The Snowbird Inn is a bed and breakfast located on M-22 about a half mile south of M-204, and 20 miles north of Empire. Great
accommodations, wonderful breakfasts, friendly hosts, nice dog, and plenty of outlets. Phone (616)-256-9773. The Snowbird also has its own lake frontage, and a local winery that is close enough that you can crawl back to the lodge. The Snowbird Inn once belonged to the Capone organization, so all of us AMA cabal types should feel at home there, right Hugh? They are open year round.

6. There are many fine restaurants in the Empire-Glen Arbor-Leland Area, and lots of fun things for other family members to do, if you can just convince them to go and do them and let you go flying: dune-climbing, free beaches, canoeing, sea-kayak rentals, swimming, historic tours, the lifesaving station museum, winery tours, exretia shops, etc. (We also saw one beach with a sign that read “Private Members Only”. I spent some time visualizing what that would look like.)

7. Beautiful Lake Lelanau is unique in having an almost unpronounceable name. We settled on Lake Louie Louie. Fine for sea-kayaking or biking around.

8. If all else fails, try liberal quantities of “Sleeping Bear Amber Draft” an outstanding local brew. I did.

There are other dunes and presumably other dune flying sites on Michigan’s western lakefront; how about some of you other flyers giving us directions?

Contact Information:

Address: 9922 Front St. – Empire, Michigan, 49630
Telephone: (231) 326-5134

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