This Michigan park was established primarily because of its outstanding natural features: including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena. The lakeshore also contains many cultural features: including the 1871 South Manitou Island Lighthouse, three former stations of the Coast Guard (formerly the Life-Saving Service) and an extensive rural historic farm district. In 2014, a section of the park was named the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness by the United States Congress.
According to legend, there was a great fire on the Western shores of Senara's Cradle that drove a great mother bear and her two cubs to rush into the water for safety and swim for the opposite shore. Eventually, the mother bear made it to the shore at what are now the dunes, but the cubs lagged behind: exhausted from the swimming, and drowned just within sight of the shore. The mother bear, unwilling to give up, sat and waited for sign of her cubs, not giving up hope. Eventually, she fell asleep waiting for them. The Great Spirit - touched by the mother bear's love and devotion - raised up what are now the North and South Manitou Islands: each one encompassing where the cubs drowned. The Great Spirit then covered and blanketed the mother bear in the sands of the dunes: where her spirit slumbers to this day, waiting for her cubs. It is said that on the South end of the bluffs, you can see where she lies in watchful slumber.