Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes

While bears are scarce, other wildlife abounds in Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.


| August 20, 2010



A white-tail deer browses at the forest’s edge just above the Lake Michigan beach at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

A white-tail deer browses at the forest’s edge just above the Lake Michigan beach at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Deer are plentiful in the park, which boasts 50 species of mammals – including black bear and a frustratingly elusive cougar – and numerous birds.

courtesy Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau

Traverse City, Michigan – In spite of its name, Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore isn’t a place where you’re likely to encounter bears in the wild. They’re around – especially at the southern end of the park around the Platte River – but they’re normally shy creatures who tend to stay away from people.

On the other hand, Sleeping Bear is a wonderful place to spot lots of other animals, from white-tail deer and porcupines to bald eagles and coyotes. In fact, coming face to face with wildlife is one of the thrills of visiting this unspoiled wilderness on the Lake Michigan coast.

“Whether it’s the slap of a beaver tail on a quiet afternoon, watching otters play on the riverbank, or catching sight of an eagle overhead, there’s a lot of chances to encounter wildlife here,” says National Park Service wildlife biologist Sue Jennings.

Because of its rich interplay of natural habitat of vast dunes, lakes, streams, hardwood forests and cedar swamps, Sleeping Bear is home to many kinds of animals and birds -- including a number of species that are threatened or endangered. It’s not at all uncommon to come face to face with them while driving, hiking or paddling through the park, or to be serenaded by frogs and coyotes at night. You may even catch a sight of the elusive cougar, a creature whose presence in this part of the country is still being hotly debated.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes take their name from a charming Native American legend about a mother bear and her two cubs who perished while swimming across the lake to escape a forest fire. Bears are not unknown in the park, but they’re rare and solitary animals who aren’t often seen. Much more common are forest creatures like deer, fox, porcupines, squirrels, bats, and raccoons, while the rivers and inland lakes are home to otter, beaver, muskrat and mink.

In all, 50 species of mammals can be found here. Most are small and numerous – like the eastern chipmunk, nicknamed the “timber tiger” because of its voracious appetite and fearlessness in stealing food from campsites and picnic tables. A much rarer predator that haunts the park’s more remote areas is the bobcat, a small wild cat whose effective camouflage make it hard to see.





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