There are 13 hiking trails located within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and over 100 miles of trails including those on North and South Manitou Islands. During our time here in Empire, Michigan, we have attempted to hike as many trails as possible. Four of them stand out in our minds, and we still have time for more trail exploration!
As workampers, we are often asked about things to do in the surrounding area, and what better way to share than to experience things first-hand! The very first hike we completed – and we have now done it several times – is Empire Bluffs Trail. Right outside the village of Empire, it is a very easy hike, approximately 1.5 miles roundtrip. We have seen people of all ages walking the trail and it is worth every step. The trail leads to a high bluff where you can view the dunes as well as Lake Michigan. There is also one lookout along the way that is a great photo spot against the large expanse of Sleeping Bear Dunes. You can linger up on the bluff, which is also a popular spot to view sunset.
If you are looking for a more challenging hike, experience Alligator Hill. This is a 4.4 loop, which includes the choice of three hiking levels. This area met with major damage last August when extreme straightline winds unexpectedly hit the Glen Arbor area. On the north side of the trail are the remains of an 18-hole golf course that was popular in the 1920’s and near the start of the trail are strange-looking concrete structures that we learned were kilns used to dispose of sawmill waste when the area was a major logging site. A goal of the Alligator Hill Trail is the Big Glen Lookout where one can view not only Lake Michigan but also Big Glen Lake.In the winter on Alligator HIll, 8.3 miles are groomed for cross country skiing!
I learned about the next hiking trail from two local business women, Sherry and Sarah from Glen Lake Salon. It was almost like it was a secret, and I have come to realize that it really is! It is, indeed, part of the National Park Service, but remains virtually unmarked. This trail is named Treat’s Farm , often referred to as Tweddle/Treat Farm. Named after the two families who have owned the farm, it is now vacant, but the buildings remain very alluring for some reason. The first portion of the adventure takes you about a half mile through a huge field – we saw beautiful wildflowers, a woman painting as her dogs ran freely, and a couple out for their morning run. You can continue at an easy pace, but Bill spotted a more vertical sandy path, so of course we chose the road less traveled! It was a challenging climb, but when you reach the top, Old Baldy, you are awestruck by the steepness of the dune and the beauty of the view. This hiking trail is truly a “treat,” no pun intended!
The most recent hike we took was to Pyramid Point, a 2.7 mile trail with a 0.6 mile spur. This trail is challenging in that it is a gradual and sustained incline of 570 feet and climaxes in a near-180 degree lookout of Lake Michigan along with South and North Manitou Islands. Again here, as at most of the other bluffs, visitors are told to enjoy the view, but do not descend the dunes. People just don’t realize how steep the dunes are in spots and how much energy it takes to climb back up. There is also a major expense involved in having to be rescued by the National Park Service. So take the walk, enjoy the magnificent view, but don’t attempt the climb!