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

Exploring the Old Mission Peninsula on M-37

Just north of Traverse City, the Old Mission Peninsula is a narrow finger of land extending into the center of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s 22 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide: a beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages that’s especially lovely in fall.

Highway M-37, known by locals as Center Road, shows you the best of this magical place. It’s perfect for a half-day drive that combines fall color with beautiful views, visits to wineries and fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at charming restaurants.

The first winery you’ll encounter is just past the crest of the first hill, it’s the Old Mission vineyard and tasting room of Black Star Farms, established on the site of the former Underwood farm. At the bottom of the hill, rising up on the left, is the Italian stone villa that houses Mari Vineyards, the peninsula’s newest winery.

For the next few miles the road runs along the shoreline with its ducks, docks, birds and boats, then begins to rise again. On the right you’ll see a former one-room schoolhouse. (The Peninsula once had seven of them, and five are still in use.) It’s the tasting room of Peninsula Cellars. Across the road and up the hill is the relaxed new Bonobo Winery.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

At the summit of the hill, there’s a scenic treat: a lovely overlook with splendid views of both arms of the Bay – a favorite place for watching sunsets, storms and other natural displays. It overlooks the sprawling vineyards of Chateau Grand Traverse, the first winery established on the Peninsula.  As the road descends the hill, continue to enjoy the scenery along with the fruit and vegetable stands that will be increasingly noticeable on both sides of the road. Stop by for some fresh apples, plums, beans, squash and other locally-grown goodies!

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Just ahead is the village of Mapleton, one of the Peninsula’s two small towns, home to the laid-back Peninsula Grill and Bad Dog Deli, as well as a handy grocery store, the Peninsula Market, which has the only gas pump out here.

From Mapleton, the road leads north over a razor-thin bluff known as the Hog’s Back, (with wonderful views of East Bay to the right) and rises even higher to the imposing Chateau Chantal Winery Bed & Breakfast. Over the next hill you’ll find the Old Mission Tavern, a charming eatery that has its own art gallery, the Bella Galleria.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

One last hill takes you down past cherry orchards, vineyards and tall rows of hops with great views of Old Mission Village to the right. Here, as the highway makes a gentle turn to the east, you’ll enter Lighthouse Park, home to the picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870. Although it is no longer in operation, it is open for tours and is the centerpiece of an attractive park with popular beaches, historical exhibits and extensive hiking trails.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

What are your favorite memories of the Old Mission Peninsula? Share with us by commenting below!

Blogger Bio: Mike Norton majored in history at the University of Michigan and spent 25 years as a newspaper writer and columnist in Traverse City. For the past decade, he’s been director of media relations at Traverse City Tourism. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

No better time than Autumn in Northern Michigan’s Benzie County

Fall signals its arrival with the slow turning of leaves. Michigan’s 19 million acres of woods crescendo into vibrant crimsons, oranges and golds, finally exploding in their annual blaze of color inviting residents and travelers alike to take the open road.

If you’re looking to plan a Michigan roadtrip to view the colors, (and possibly check out a few events!) read why Benzie County in Northern Michigan is an ideal choice.

Autumn, when crowds retreat, the air is crisp and the landscape is ablaze with color, this is Benzie County, Northern Michigan Preserved®. Our pristine location offers time to reflect and experience the beauty of fall color.  Take the scenic M22 drive, which was named the “Most Scenic Autumn Drive” in the county by readers of USA Today in 2015. The beautiful drive takes you through three northern Michigan counties, Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau and offers multiple opportunities for scenic views of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is breathtaking in the fall

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce

There are many fantastic fall events taking place during October throughout the area. Make your way to Fall Fest in Beulah/Benzonia on October 1 or Fall Fest in Frankfort and the Peak to Peak Mountain biking event on October 8.  Frankfort Beer week runs October 3-8, where you can enjoy delicious craft and seasonal brews and the Frankfort Film Festival (perfect for cinema lovers!) runs from October 20-23.  For ORV-enthusiasts, there are specific Saturday events that allow you to rev up your  ATV’s and 4×4  season long. The local-favorite Pumpkin Run takes place on October 22 and the Haunted Trail Ride (with ghosts, goblins, and more!) will take place  on October 29 at Twisted Trails Off Road Park off of M-115.

Benzie County is an ideal biking destination in the fall

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce

How about getting a bird’s eye view of the colors?  Every Saturday in October enjoy panoramic views of three counties at Crystal Mountain where you can ride the Crystal Clipper Quad Chairlift to the top of the mountain to enjoy the music.  Or take a tour of the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan, The Point Betsie, who’ll have lighthouse tours October 1-3 and 7-9.

The Point Betsie Light looks beautiful no matter the season

The Point Betsie Light looks beautiful no matter the season

If artisan crafts and foods peak your interest, then there’s no better place than Benzie County. Wineries, Breweries, Distilled Spirits, Artist Galleries and Farms will certainly round out your visit to our area.  So what are you waiting for? Start planning your autumn visit to see us.  Need more of an incentive?  Check out our Benzie Treasure Trove promotion that offers hundreds of dollars in freebies, discounts and gifts from area businesses, just for staying two or more consecutive nights at one of our participating lodging properties.  All the details on events, lodgings, dining, shopping and the Benzie Treasure Trove promotion can be found on our website, www.visitbenzie.com or call us at 800-882-5801.

What is your favorite memory from Benzie County? Share with us by commenting below!