Celebrate the North’s woods and waters with this hike-inspired road trip to Little Traverse Conservancy preserves.
September is a spectacular month for walking as slightly cooler temperatures settle in under gorgeous blue skies. And what could be better than hiking land that Little Traverse Conservancy (LTC) has preserved with the support of family-donated land, monetary gifts from the public and public/private partnerships? Throw in that September is a perfect month for road trips, and you’ve got a great day cruise—or string these six Northern Michigan hikes into a weekend getaway.
We start in Charlevoix and head north, with stops for food, drink and a bit of history along the way!
North Point Natural Area // Photo by Todd Parker
Stop #1: North Point Natural Area
There are plenty of good places to bulk up on breakfast in Charlevoix: Dive into the crepes and pastries at That French Place, or try an egg and local bacon hand pie at Harwood Gold. Either way, you have some delicious stick-to-your-ribs fortification to get you through to lunch. North Point, located on the north end of Charlevoix, is a 27-acre, mostly wooded natural area that takes you right out to Lake Michigan, with several trails linking to the adjacent Mount McSauba. Here, you’ll find forests in several stages of succession, Lake Michigan shoreline and dunes, and three threatened plant species: Pitcher’s Thistle, Lake Huron Tansy and Pumpell’s Bromegrass.
How did it come about? LTC helped fundraise for this land, secured a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and then deeded the land to Charlevoix Township.
Directions to North Point: From US-31 on the far north end of Charlevoix, take Mercer Road north (toward the lake). Turn left on Maple and then right on McSauba. Look for parking on your left near the sign or continue to the parking/turnaround near the lakeshore.
Stop #2: The Hill Nature Preserve
You have a 17-mile drive along the coast of Lake Charlevoix to get to this 106-acre preserve that offers two miles of trails and a vista of Lake Charlevoix from its highest point. You’ll drive through Horton Bay, where you can take a moment to sit where Ernest Hemingway did—on the front porch at Horton Bay General Store. Belly up to the soda fountain inside for novel treats, then pop into the Red Fox Inn next door to browse old copies of Hemingway’s books.
How did it come about? In 1966, Dr. Gene Herzog, Dr. John Herzog and Dr. Lou Mrstik purchased this property for their families to have an “Up North” destination. It was used for family gatherings and enjoyment for several decades. In 1996, the families donated a conservation easement to protect it from future development, and in 2011, the land was donated to LTC as a nature preserve. In 2012, Al Haske donated a 10-acre addition to provide better parking for the preserve.
Directions from North Point Natural Area: Take Waller Road to US-31 S. (1.6 miles). Turn onto Boyne City Road to Sumner Road (10.5 miles). Drive to Old Horton Bay Road (4.4 miles).
The 18-mile drive from The Hill Nature Preserve will take you through the village of Walloon Lake. Ready for lunch? Stop at the Barrel Back, offering a 180-degree eyeful of aquamarine water that accents the panorama of Walloon Lake shoreline. Soak it up with a crispy whitefish sandwich and a cold pint of pale ale. The McCune Nature Preserve is 168 acres, with 3,400 feet along Minnehaha Creek. The trail system offers roughly 3.5 miles to explore, dominated by hardwood forest, and also includes red pine plantations, meadow, creek and a cedar swamp.
If you have your bike, across the street from McCune, Rock Solid (an internationally known bike trail construction group) built a brand-new mountain bike trail at the Tanton Family Working Forest Reserve. The nearly 6-mile, multi-use trail is officially open to the public.
McCune Nature Preserve // Photo by Todd Parker
How did it come about? This beautiful property was donated to the Little Traverse Conservancy in 1984 by Allan and Virginia McCune of Petoskey. The spring-fed Minnehaha Creek, which provides fish and wildlife habitat, flows through the preserve on its way to Crooked Lake. The trails were dedicated to Allan Purchis, whose family homesteaded the land. An addition to the preserve was donated by the Purchis family in 2017. A replacement footbridge was constructed in 1997 across the east branch of the creek with funds from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation in memory of Ellen Pray Bondy. A second footbridge and parking area were constructed in 2015 in memory of Sandy Wagar, thanks to another community foundation grant and significant volunteer support from the Petoskey Home Builder’s Association.
Directions: Take W. Clute Road to M-75 N. (4.1 miles). Continue on M-75 N. and turn right on E. Bear River Road (4.6 miles). Continue on E. Bear River Road and turn left on Maxwell Road, left on Greenwood Road and right onto Berger Road (9.3 miles).
Stop #4: Skyline Trail
You’re close to the coastal town of Petoskey and can head there from McCune Nature Preserve for a late lunch and some shopping. But first, if you’re up for some hills that offer the reward of sweeping views of Little Traverse Bay and the Bear River Valley, make Skyline Trail your next stop. This 65-acre preserve lies adjacent to more than 865 acres of City of Petoskey land, land owned by the county and the state, and land connected through privately-granted trail easements. At an elevation of more than 1,200 feet, the views are dramatic. Skyline Trail is a part of the North Country Trail (NCT) system, so the hiking is endless. This section, maintained by the Jordan Valley 45 Chapter of the NCT, is hilly and difficult with two switchbacks. You’ll be ready for a cold drink in Petoskey. (Pair the pepperoni pizza at Beards Brewery with Citranity, an American Pale Ale, or head to Tap 30 and choose from, you guessed it, 30 craft brews on tap.)
How did it come about? In 2008, LTC helped the City of Petoskey acquire this parcel and construct an overlook platform. The land was a logical location for diverting a portion of the North Country Trail away from Krause Road.
Directions: Head south on Berger Road from McCune Nature Preserve for 1.3 miles and turn right onto Greenwood Road (1.7 miles). Turn left onto Russet Road (.6 miles), right on Brubaker Road (1.1 miles) and left on Krause Road. The trail will be about a mile down on the right.
Offield Family Viewlands // Photo by Ray Gaynor
Stop #5: The Offield Family Viewlands
From Petoskey, you’ll travel 7.6 miles along Little Traverse Bay, past historic Bay View, to reach your next hike. Formerly the Little Traverse Bay Golf Club, these 280 acres are located a few miles southeast of Nub’s Nob. The land is now officially open to the public, with more than 4.5 miles of trails that follow old golf course paths. The crown jewels of this preserve are the breathtaking views of Little Traverse Bay and the Inland Waterway.
How did this come about? The Offield Family Viewlands were officially purchased by Little Traverse Conservancy in 2020 with a loan. More than $1.6 million has been raised toward the $2 million goal. LTC is in need of help to complete the purchase of this land—for those who are able to give at this time, LTC would greatly appreciate your support. All donations are tax-deductible. For questions, email Associate Director Ty Ratliff or call 231.347.0991.
Directions: From downtown Petoskey, head north on US-31 N and turn left onto M-119 (5.6 miles). Turn left and onto Clayton Road and continue for 1.7 miles. Turn right onto Hideaway Valley Drive.
Stop #6: Woollam Family Nature Preserve
Head into Harbor Springs from the Offield reserve. You can call it a day and choose from many local restaurants for a relaxing dinner. Or take advantage of being so close to the stunning M-119 Tunnel of Trees and drive the gorgeous corridor to a very short hike at Woollam Family Nature Preserve, north of Good Hart. This 69-acre preserve offers 3,300 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan and more than 2,300 feet along M-119. Mature beech-maple hardwoods transition to mixed upland conifers near the water. The shoreline is sandy with rock and cobble in some areas as a result of the receded waterline. Much of the property is classified as “critical dunes” by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and dogs and horses are not allowed on the preserve due to nesting bird habitat. A short (approximately half-mile) trail takes you through the hilly woods to the beach.
How did this come about? This was the largest remaining undeveloped and unprotected parcel on Lake Michigan in Emmet County. It was purchased with funding from and named after the John and Cyndi Woollam family.
Directions: From Harbor Springs, travel north on State Road 14 miles to Division Road. Take a left and travel 1.8 miles to Lakeshore Drive/M-119. Turn right and travel .9 miles to the parking area on your left. From downtown Cross Village (near Legs Inn), head south on Lakeshore Drive (M-119) roughly 1.7 miles and you’ll see the preserve sign on the right side of the road. The parking area is found just south of the sign.
Deb Fellows was a founding member of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy board and a three-term member of the Leelanau Conservancy. She’s a decades-long fan of the Little Traverse Conservancy and a joyous hiker and explorer of Northern Michigan.