The Lake Bluff Audubon Center (2890 Lakeshore Rd., three miles north of Manistee, 231-723-4042) boasts 72 acres of forest and meadow and a third of a mile of Lake Michigan beach. Humans adore this preserve, but the center is really for the birds – bald eagles, hawks, woodpeckers, songbirds and wild turkeys call Lake Bluff home. So keep a sharp eye and ear, and bring along a set of binoculars.
The crown jewel of the Cottonwood Trail is a giant sequoia near the east trailhead. Like Lake Bluff’s other Michigan Champion Tree (the largest of their species in the state), a sycamore maple, this sequoia was planted by the Gray family, who donated the land to create the Lake Bluff Audubon Center.
The tree, which is generally confined to warmer climates, has thrived here thanks to the moderating effects of Lake Michigan.
The Cottonwood Trail also winds past the herb garden. Get a whiff of four kinds of mint (apple, mountain, Corsican and pineapple), silver thyme and Cuban oregano. The sprawling wildflower garden nearby flaunts a kaleidoscope of lupines, ox-eyed daisies, spotted knapweed and zillions of other brands of blossoms.
The 3/4-mile Jack-Fern Trail snakes through peeling white birches. The Meadow Bluff Trail follows the gently sloping grassy path through the meadow where hordes of monarch butterflies alight until August, when they migrate to Mexico for the winter. From the meadow the trail moves to the beach. Leave this luxurious sand long enough to explore the tree-lined ridge where goldfinches flit and endangered butternut trees grow. Take in the expansive Lake Michigan shoreline, then head back to the beach and crack open those cookies.
Katie Holland was an intern at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in June 2007, and was updated for the web February 2008.