3 Scenic Pure Michigan Hiking Trails Near M-22

Today, guest blogger Scott Christ describes his experience hiking along three scenic trails near M-22. For more information on hiking trails in Michigan, visit michigan.org. 

Close your eyes and imagine an idyllic place filled with vibrant, turquoise-hued lakes … powdered sand beaches surrounded by towering dunes … and pine-scented, old-growth forests.

For some people, Michigan may not be the first place to come to mind that fits this description. Yet that’s exactly what I experienced during a summer trip to the Leelanau Peninsula in northern Michigan.

Scoping Out the Hiking Trails Along M-22 Near Leland and Glen Arbor

Our destination for this trip: Lake Leelanau. Our goal: plan as many “Michigan-themed” activities as possible. I had driven up M-22 before, but after spending a week trekking up and down this infamous road, I was absolutely blown away by it’s winding roads, spectacular views, and overall magnificence.

Before leaving for our trip, I did my homework and found three hiking trails close to M-22 between Leland and Glen Arbor:

1. Houdek Dunes Natural Area

2. Whaleback Natural Area

3. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Here’s what each had to offer.

Experiencing the Trails

Whaleback Natural Area

Whaleback Natural Area is a 10,000-year-old playground of preserved dunes and forests. It’s within walking distance of downtown Leland and directly accessible from M-22. Plan on 1 to 1.5 hours if you’re walking the trail. There are a couple fairly intense climbs involved too, so I’d classify this one as “Moderately Difficult.”

Make sure you stop at the spectacular Lookout Point, which offers majestic views of Lake Michigan.

Houdek Dunes Natural Area

Quick disclaimer about Houdek Dunes: it’s not easy to find. A Google Maps search took us to downtown Leland and we quickly realized we were in the wrong spot. So we headed up M-22 just north of Lake Leelanau, and found it marked by a tiny sign on the left side of the road.

The troubles getting there turned out to be worth it though. Houdek Dunes was formed from glacial sediments about 4,000 years ago, and you’ll experience the amazing aftermath of geology and time with its combination of dunes and wooded forests.

Depending on which way you trek through the trail system, you’ll see plenty of hundred-year-old birch trees, mature pines, sun-kissed stretches of dense green ferns, and the beautiful Houdek Creek, a spring-fed trout stream that flows into North Lake Leelanau.

The trail features 3/4 and 1- 1/2 mile loops. Plan on a couple hours to get through it if you’re walking, but you can definitely do it in less. I’d classify the difficulty level as “moderate.”

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive turned out to be one of the coolest parts of our trip. Located in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it’s a 7-mile drive that offers a variety of stops and lookout points.

To get there, you’ll need to head over to Glen Arbor along M-22 then take a quick detour up “Dune Highway” 109.

About halfway through the drive, you’ll reach the Lake Michigan Dune Overlook Platform stop. Park your car and walk the trail to the dune, which towers 450 feet above lake level.

Although going down the bluff is not recommended, it’s also not prohibited for those who are up to the challenge. The way down is a little unnerving at first because it’s steep, but once you get used to it it’s smooth sailing. The way up is another story. I consider myself to be in good shape and it was strenuous. But if you’re in decent shape, like a little adventure, and don’t have a fear of heights, do it. You won’t regret it.

There is an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle, which gets you access to all areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s well worth the money and I was happy to help support these awesome parks.

Final Thoughts

As someone who comes from the ad world, my feelings about “Pure Michigan” were that it was just a clever ad campaign. But this trip changed that. Pure Michigan embodies the fact that Michigan, and particularly northern Michigan, is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in the world. Let’s keep it that way.

Where is your favorite spot to go hiking in Michigan?

Scott Christ is a writer, entrepreneur, and health enthusiast who helps people look better, feel better, and live longer with healthy real food recipes and motivational weight loss tipsConnect with Scott on Facebook or Twitter

7 Things to Love About The Great Lake To Lake Trail

In 2009, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance began a project called the “Great Lake To Lake Trails.” This would be a series of five trails that cut across the state, created from and connecting existing rails-to-trails conversions. Route 1 of the Great Lake To Lake Trail runs 250 miles from South Haven (Lake Michigan) to Port Huron (Lake Huron).

On September 13th, 2013, Chris Hillier set out to be the first to hike this entire trail while Chris Bowman, starting September 21st, wanted to be the first to ride this trail. It took the hiker two full weeks of 20+ miles per day and the biker one week of 40 mile days but they arrived, together, in Port Huron on September 28th. And together, they want to express what they most enjoyed most about traveling across the great state of Michigan.

1) The People  We’re not sure if happy people go out on trails or if going out on a trail makes you happy but everyone we met out there was kind, generous and interested in our journey. Sometimes they just  offered a kind word or helped with directions but sometimes they opened their homes to us and let us stay overnight. Generosity like that can renew your faith in the human race.  These 250 miles really were the best of nature and the best of mankind.

2) The Variety  This trail will take you through thick woods and downtown streets. You’ll travel across open farmland and suburban neighborhoods. Your surroundings are constantly changing and that kind of variety keeps things interesting and fresh. On the second day of the hike, I went from the remote forests of the Kal-Haven Trail to busy downtown Kalamazoo on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail and I loved it.

3) The Water  Each of us started a week apart but from the same beautiful beach on Lake Michigan. I could have stayed right there for two weeks and been happy but the trail has more in store from the gently flowing Black River to busy Sylvan Lake and everything in between. Swamps full of turtles and nameless creeks that attract deer, geese swimming in farm ponds and giant freighters on the St. Clair River can all be seen. The Falling Waters Trail actually bisects Lime Lake and was covered with morning mist as I hiked across it.

4) The Towns  You’ll pass through places you would never see if you just drove across the state. Stop for a cup of coffee in tiny Kendall, MI or spend some time checking out Battle Creek. Enjoy the youthful nightlife of a Saturday night in Kalamazoo or a picnic style lunch in the city park of Bloomingdale. You’ll discover new places and promise yourself that you’ll come back to visit.  It’s fun to come out of the woods to the edges of civilization, then see some neighborhoods, then right through the downtown areas and back out through townships, farms and back into the woods. That’s the way to see a city.

5) The Birds  There’s lots of wildlife to see on this trail but the myriad species of birds is the best part. Fields full of sandhill cranes, ponds full of ducks and swans, trees full of angry blue jays and a flock of turkeys running down the trail were all present.  Skip the headphones and you’ll hear eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings and barred owls.  Keep your camera handy and you’ll get pictures of belted kingfishers, sharp shinned hawks and the stately great blue heron.

6) The Courtesy It’s especially refreshing and, frankly, unusual for people to be so polite to each other but that is what we encountered. People said “Good morning!”, they gently called out “Passing on the left!” or rang a bell to let us know they were coming.  Even busy traffic gave us a break in the cross walks. All this proved to us that a little courtesy goes a long way and that a multi-use trail can be a great experience for everyone.

7) The MTGA  We took on this challenge to raise awareness for the Great Lake To Lake Trail and to help the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance raise money to complete it. These are folks who are trying to get the word out that trails in Michigan are good for the economy, for society, for health and fitness and environmental preservation and enhancement. Their website, Michigantrails.org, is the place to go to find more information about this trail or to find a trail near your home. We are grateful to them for all that they do.

What do you love about biking and hiking in Michigan? 

Chris Hillier has hiked more than 8,000 miles since 2011 included thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is proud to have been the first to hike the Governor’s proposed trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood. Next, he plans to attempt a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. Read more about Chris on his website.

Chris Bowman is a right lower-leg amputee but nothing slows him down. He is proud to be the first to ride the 250 mile Great Lake To Lake Trail. When he’s not riding across the state, he spends time with his daughter, Gracie and his dog, Olivia. Chris lives in Rose City, MI. Read more about Chris on his blog.

Sugarloaf Mountain: A Short Hike to an Amazing View

Michigan is home to hundreds of great hiking trails to explore – many of which offer spectacular views to enjoy along the way. Today, native “Yooper” Jesse Land takes us on a journey through Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette, which he thinks rewards hikers with one of the best views in Michigan.

Marquette is full of excellent hikes and beautiful views. One shining example is Sugarloaf Mountain. The trailhead for Sugarloaf is just a few miles from downtown Marquette, the turnoff from county road 550 is well marked, and it’s a relatively quick hike to the top where you’re rewarded with one of the best views in the Upper Peninsula.

The Hike to the Top

On a recent hike, my first time to Sugarloaf Mountain, two friends and I took the “difficult” route and made it up in about fifteen minutes. There’s an optional “easy” route with a tamer grade that takes a little longer, but both paths up the mountain do require a extra care as rocks and roots stick out of the ground along much of the path.

Most people come to Sugarloaf for the view, but the forest canopy that envelops the trails is worth mentioning. With century old trees and ancient rock outcroppings, this trail reminds me of a few of the better hikes I’ve done in the rainforests of Australia. It really is a gorgeous area.

As we approached the top, the dirt trail switched to a series of wooden stairs that brought us up to the viewing area. At the top we were rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Superior, Marquette, Presque Isle Park and Little Presque Isle as well as Hogsback Mountain and the large swath of forest between Marquette and Big Bay.

Photo courtesy of Crag Grabhorn @ Chalet Press

The Stone Monument

Also at the summit is a stone obelisk erected long ago by Boy Scout Troop 1 to commemorate their assistant scoutmaster Bartlett King. King had helped to establish the local troop, which is one of the claimants of first Boy Scout Troop in the U.S. He later fought and died in World War I and his troop members wanted to construct a memorial that his mother could see from her home on Marquette’s arch street.

Three Observation Decks

As we stood there, about 1,000 feet above sea level, I was impressed with how much work has been put into this viewing area. Three viewing platforms situated atop Sugarloaf Mountain offer three slightly different vantage points. The first observation deck faces southward toward Marquette and offers a view of the Superior Dome, the Upper Ore Dock and Presque Isle Park. The second deck faces northward toward Wetmore Landing and Little Presque Isle island. And the third platform faces westward and offers a great view of Hogsback Mountain.

After the Hike

After our hike we opted for a late lunch in downtown Marquette, but deciding where to eat was no easy task as Marquette County is filled with excellent dining options, not to mention being home to four of the thirteen Upper Peninsula Breweries.

Getting There

Sugarloaf Mountain is located about six miles north of downtown Marquette on CR 550. Get there by taking Washington Street to Fourth Avenue. Turn north onto Fourth Ave., which becomes Presque Isle Ave and drive .4 miles to Hawley Street. At Hawley Street, turn west (left). Hawley becomes CR 550. Drive about 4.0 miles on Hawley Street/CR-550 to the parking area. A sign that reads “Sugarloaf Mountain” marks the parking area and is easily visible from CR 550.

Have you been to Sugarloaf Mountain? What did you think?

This blog post was written by Jesse Land on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan. Marquette County is home to some of the best hiking, biking, motorcycling, beaches, breweries and restaurants in the Upper Peninsula. Learn more about beautiful Marquette County at www.travelmarquettemichigan.com.