Climb to incredible ridge-top views of Good Harbor Bay and Pyramid Point at Whaleback Natural Area.
When Jeff Smith joined the magazine in 1981—and when he wrote this piece as the Editorial Director in 2005—the view from one of his favorite Northern Michigan spots was the same as it is today, thanks to the Leelanau Conservancy. Jeff is now the Communications Director for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.
To best appreciate Whaleback Natural Area, first make a quick stop at another magical place for a brief geography lesson. Aim your car to Good Harbor Beach (corner of C-651 and M-22) and make your way to the water. Look north to see Whaleback from a distance and study the outline of this sloping promontory. You’ll understand why people—sailors, perhaps—named this local icon for its resemblance to those giants of the sea.
Now steer north on M-22 toward Leland and the trail. About a mile past M-204, as M-22 serpentines its way along Lake Leelanau, look for the Whaleback Natural Area sign to your left. The sign is subtle (and nearly invisible from the north), so keep your eyes keen.
Once you reach the trailhead, tighten your laces, clip the pooch on a leash (plastic bag in your pocket) and set a leisurely pace up the soft forest trail. There’s no hurry here because the trail is only 3/4-mile total. You’ll want to go slowly to soak it all in. Listen for the songs of wild birds on a warm summer evening—even the caw of crows, the honk of a lone goose or the squeak-toy call of a gull sound special in this forest by the big lake.
Just a few hundred yards up the trail, a weathered park bench invites a sit. Go ahead and accept. You’re in no hurry. Continuing on, notice a forest littered with deadfall, evidence of powerful blows that careen through from Lake Michigan.
At the crest of this glacial moraine—a remnant of glaciers that retreated about 11,000 years ago—scan the forest again to find still more evidence of the harsh headland environment. Many trees are snapped off 20 feet above the ground, others lie uprooted. Then wander the short path to the overlook platform and get the payoff. The bluff drops 300 feet to the shore, delivering the green-blue waters of Good Harbor Bay below. Straight west across the shimmering expanse, Pyramid Point makes a dramatic statement of its own—look for the wide band of sand on its face, evidence of a giant slumping of sand that slid to the lake back in 1998.
The Leelanau Conservancy and the generosity of many other folks put the deal together that saved this remarkable headland for your hike today. Hike down the Whaleback and head to Leland to browse the galleries and shops of downtown and Fishtown. Cap off your day at Bluebird Restaurant & Tavern (102 River St., 231-256-9081) overlooking the river with a glass of Northern Michigan wine and a basket of fried Great Lakes smelt.