How to Plan a Sleeping Bear Dunes Elopement

June 3, 2022

Plan your Sleeping Bear Dunes Elopement near Lake Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a pristine scape for every elopement love story, with beautiful sandy sceneries, turquoise waters of the Lake Michigan and woods full of magical ferns. When couples ask me what should they focus on when planning an elopement in Sleeping Bear Dunes, I always say – dream up the specific location, the season, the difficulty of the terrain you would like to explore and who you’d like to invite. All of these details will make your elopement day a meaningful immersive experience.

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In this blog post, you will find:

When Michigan Nature Serves as a Wedding Chapel

You don’t need a fancy venue to get married in Michigan. Abbie and Damilare are two adventure lovers that lived all over the world. They got married a few years ago and decided to venture out to Sleeping Bear Dunes to renew their commitment to each other. They wanted an adventure elopement while exploring the quintessential landscape of Northern Michigan’s sand dunes.  

We ventured out to the Maritime Museum Beach. We hiked through the sandy landscape to find a pristine beach for their private elopement vows. These lovebirds are no strangers to adventuring in nature, so they knew to choose comfortable wedding attire to let their vibrant personalities shine through their elopement day. Abbie’s florals were locally sourced and were a charming addition to her bohemian wedding dress.

The couple danced along the banks of Lake Michigan, sprinted down the dunes and popped a bottle of bubbly just before the sun peaked out from the clouds. We were lucky to get some stunning golden hour photos.

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Epic Locations to get Married in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Great views of the lake:

Pyramid Point – A fantastic choice for a hiking elopement with a touch of adventure. Pyramid Point is a a 20-25 minute hike to stunning views from top of the dunes.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at the Michigan Overlook – One of my favorite drives in Sleeping Bear Dunes with easily accessible overlooks and trails. There are so many amazing stops in this loop, but Michigan Overlook is my personal favorite! Make sure you either have your NPS pass with you, or you can buy an entry at the booth.

Empire Bluff Trail – This trail is approximately 1.5-miles, a quick drive from Empire, Michigan. This is a very popular area for birding, hiking, and snowshoeing, so you’ll likely encounter other people while exploring.

Treat Farm Trail – Treat Farm Trail is a mile long walk along an old road to the historic Treat Farmstead, but you can continue to stunning Empire Bluff for a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. Absolutely awe inspiring!

Sleeping Bear Point Trail – This loop trail is almost 3 miles long with a spur to Lake Michigan about 0.5 miles from the trailhead. This is a shorter and less strenuous trail through the dunes than the Dune Trail that starts at the Dune Climb.


Maritime Museum Beach – This beach features historic homes, a pristine sandy beach and trails through the dunes with lush ferns.

Glen Haven Beach – This is a fantastic beach for a quick elopement if you are inviting a handful of guests to your vows. It is easily accessible for family members who are not up for a strenuous sandy hike.

Esch Road Beach – This is also an easily accessible beach with a parking lot, with a stunning backdrop of woodsy dunes.

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Intimate Wedding Vows at Foggy Lake Michigan

Shannon and Eli envisioned an intimate wedding day in Sleeping Bear Dunes with a private vow reading overlooking the Lake Michigan. When we were walking up the trail, we knew we were in for a magnificent treat. One of the hikers returning from a walk told us the fog was rolling in. We, naturally, sped up, because we couldn’t imagine missing the magical foggy show Mother Nature prepared for us. When we got up to the spot, the landscape looked so beautifully moody. The light was diffused and soft as Shannon walked down the dune to meet Eli.

The bride chose to wear a bohemian wedding dress from Asos that allowed her to move freely when she walked on the ever shifting sandy landscape. The groom wore a tan suit that perfectly blended with the colors of nature. The couple exchanged vows in one of the most sunning landscapes of Northern Michigan, before they rejoined their wedding event.

NPS Permit for a Sleeping Bear Dunes Elopement

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore allows couples to hold small intimate wedding ceremonies under the vast skies enjoying the boundless beauty of Michigan nature. There is an easy process to follow through this link.

If you are looking for a portrait session, or wedding vow reading without any guests or props, you do not need to apply for a permit. You can venture out with your Michigan wedding photographer without any additional paperwork.

What to do When it Rains on Your Wedding Day?

If you are planning to host your wedding elopement outdoors, it is always good to have a contingency plan for a rainy day. On occasion, the best route is to go along with whatever Michigan nature throws at us. It might mean you get married in rain, fog, or snow. But don’t despair, these unexpected elements create beautifully moody atmosphere that will add another layer of drama to your wedding photos.

Sometimes, we get caught off guard. So, if you don’t have umbrellas and ponchos, you have a few other options:

  • Watch the radar and shift your outdoor ceremony time to an earlier/later time OR
  • Move your ceremony to an indoor location, if possible.

When Alicia and Travis chose to rent a traditional log cabin near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for their backyard ceremony, they knew that their intimate wedding day might be blessed with rain. After all, it’s good luck, they say.

While living in Michigan for the past decade, I learnt not to ever count on Michigan weather, even in the summer. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alicia, a Kentucky native, proactively ordered clear umbrellas ahead of her Michigan wedding day. When it was time to say “I do”, she marched down the pine needle layered isle to meet her groom. The couple exchanged their intimate wedding vows surrounded by a circle of family members who were cheering them on hiding from the elements under their ponchos and umbrellas.

After the ceremony, we ventured out for a wedding portrait session to the dunes. The skies magically cleared and the rain stopped. We waded through the wet sand and hiked up to the Michigan Overlook at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. We were thankful to Mother Nature to squeeze in a few playful adventure shots of the couple frolicking in the sand dunes.

Bohemian Sleeping Bear Dunes Wedding Venue – Nature a Michigan Retreat

If you are planning to host a wedding celebration with a larger group of guests, one of my favorite venues in the Sleeping Bear Dunes is Nature – a Michigan Retreat. It is a wedding venue in Maple City, MI with a modern barn “The Great Nest” and an adjacent reception tent. It can accommodate indoor ceremonies as well as vow exchanges in the woods. This Northern Michigan wedding venue inhabits 78 acres of private forest and is a unique addition to the Sleeping Beard Dunes area. For inspiration – check out this stunning wedding decor with a fun photo booth!

Host an intimate wedding reception in Traverse City wine country

For couples that want to privately elope in Sleeping Bear Dunes and then celebrate with loved ones in a picturesque landscape rimmed with vineyards, Traverse City is just about half an hour away from the dunes. This charming area with prime proximity to beaches and great wine is reminiscent of Napa Valley and Tuscany. Traverse City also known as the “Cherry Capital of the World” has a handful of beautiful wineries that can host intimate wedding receptions for couples that like to fuse an elopement adventure with a bit of luxury and fine dining. Mari Vineyards is one of the dreamiest wineries in the area, nestled in the hills of the Old Mission Peninsula, with views reaching to the Grand Traverse Bay.

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Hi, lovely, I am Yana, a Michigan wedding and elopement photographer! When you book me as your wedding or elopement photographer, you’re also booking my knowledge of stunning locations in Michigan and beyond. But that’s not all. I spend hours scouting new locations, researching activities and vetting vendors to be able to provide my expertise for a unique experience. I will also become your sounding board to consult ideas about your dream wedding or elopement adventure. Through all of this, we will most likely become friends and I will silently shed a tear hiding behind my camera when I witness you exchange your vows with your one and only. To book your complimentary consultation and chat about your mountain elopement planning with me, fill out the form below.