GTPulse Weekend Planner: Take a Hike

Exploring Northern Michigan Trails

There’s something about the air in September. A specific element, a sort of crispness that seems to linger in your lungs. I absolutely adore the changing seasons in Michigan, but fall is my favorite.

Yes, it’s true—I am a pumpkin spice loving, scarf-and-sweater wearing, everything in flannel print admirer of the cooler weather. I’m aware, however, that not everyone is such an autumnal super fan, though.  A co-worker of mine says he’s actually booing the leaves that are falling in September. “Booing the leaves,” I say shaking my head, “So this is what you’ve become.”

Even though I love the fall, I have to admit—it seems to be making an early appearance this year. The lingering summer-in-September we’ve grown accustomed to was replaced by cooler temperatures and even frosty mornings that triggered mother nature to pull out her paintbrush—and my colleague to heckle.

But, regardless of your seasonal opinions, we are beginning the trek to a long, Northern Michigan winter. And, for me, that means soaking up as much fall hiking as possible.  Incredible hiking opportunities are all around us, so get outside and enjoy! Here are a few of my favorites…Happy hiking!

Antrim Creek Natural Area

Antrim—The Antrim Creek Natural Area

When it comes to hiking in Antrim County, it doesn’t get much better than the Antrim Creek Natural Area located just off Old Dixie Highway in Ellsworth. The 156 acre parcel, which includes almost a mile of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline, was saved from residential development in 1994 when the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, the Jones family, and officials from both Banks Township and Antrim County came together to purchase and protect the property. The array of landscapes included in the area is incredible: hardwood forest, wetland, thickets, meadows, dunes and even the mouth of Antrim creek, which empties into Lake Michigan.

Pro tip: Start from the trailhead at the south entrance and head west, following the stream along Creek Trail until you reach the mouth at Antrim Creek. Then, backtrack to Nipissing Trail and head north to reach the North loop that takes you to the dune overlook.

Lower Woodcock Lake Nature Preserve

Benzie—The Lower Woodcock Lake Nature Preserve

The recently established Lower Woodcock Lake Nature Preserve is an incredible property located within the Platte River Watershed in Benzie County. The 230 acre preserve includes the entirety of Lower Woodcock Lake, a 22-acre lake surrounded by a forest, and even a half mile of frontage on the Platte River.  Currently, there is just one trail, which loops from the parking area off Burnt Mill Road and depends to the lake level. Future trail options are being considered.

Pro Tip: Be one of the first to hike this easy, nearly one mile trail in beautiful Benzie County.

Upper Manistee Headwaters Milock Family Preserve

Kalkaska—Upper Manistee Headwaters: The Milock Family Preserve

Perhaps the most dazzling land preservation in Northern Michigan, The Milock Family Preserve boasts and incredible 1,288 acres including a mile of the north branch of the Manistee River, a 130 acre spring fed lake, wetland habitats and several ponds. Many species call the Headwaters home, including bald eagles, loons, and smooth green snakes. With six miles of hiking and multi-use trails, and, virtually no invasive species to be found, this property truly has something for everyone.

Pro Tip: Hunting and fishing are allowed, but outside watercraft is strictly prohibited. All DNR rules for hunting apply.

Alligator Hill

Leelanau- Alligator Hill Trail

The Alligator hiking and ski trail encompasses a total of nine miles through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The looped trails have something for everyone—from the easy trail to the very hilly advanced trail.  The one-and-a-half mile hike from the trailhead at Stocking Road to the Islands Lookout on the top of Alligator Hill is a pretty gentle uphill walk that will take you through the forest covered with maple and beech trees to a spectacular view. On a clear day, you will see North and South Manitou islands as well as Sleeping Bear Point. If you’re still motivated to explore, take the trail spot at the top of the hill that leads to the Big Glen Lake lookout.

Pro Tip: Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy with your amazing views.

Miller Creek Nature Reserve

Grand Traverse—Miller Creek Nature Reserve

The Miller Creek Nature Reserve is one of my favorites for one very specific reason—it’s located behind the Grand Traverse Crossings Mall on South Airport Road in Traverse City. Having a designated nature reserve just steps away from big box stores and one of the busiest highways in Traverse City reminds us about the importance of maintaining natural areas even in the midst of development. This 88 acre reserve offer trails that pass through a former red pine plantation, beech forests, and cedar swamps while following Miller Creek. There are several ways to access the trails including behind Aldi and Planet Fitness and at the intersection of Hartman and Cast Road.

Pro Tip: Turn your weekend/after school “shopping” trip into a fall family hike by building in time for a walk through the woods!

Field Notes:

—Most trails are maintained by volunteers so PLEASE don’t leave anything but footprints behind.

—COVID-19 may have impacted some trail accessibility and amenities. You are encouraged to research before planning your next hike.

—Most Northern Michigan trails are accessible in the winter. Don’t let your love of the outdoors be restricted to three seasons!

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