Arcadia Dunes is One of Northern Michigan's Most Rewarding Hikes

Arcadia Dunes is One of Northern Michigan’s Most Rewarding Hikes

A Arcadia Dunes View Lake Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore may get the most attention when it comes to Lake Michigan sand dunes in Northern Michigan, but we recently had a chance to visit another set of dunes in the area that offers similar views without the crowds. The Arcadia Dunes at the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve in Arcadia features a network of trails covering 15 miles with the highlight being the one mile long Baldy Dune Trail. While this hike isn’t the easiest mile we’ve ever put in, I have no problem saying that it might be one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. Today we’ll show some photos of the trails and dunes and detail the hike we went on in the hopes of letting more people know about this Michigan treasure.

The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve is located on M-22 just a few miles north of the small town of Arcadia. There is a decent sized parking lot and helpful signage at the trailhead. In addition to a large trail map (snap a picture on your phone and take it along with you) this colorful board showcases the plants and animals you may see while hiking the trails,  a brief history of the area (at one point this was going to be a subdivision with a monorail!), and the great story of how this land came to be preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy.

A Arcadia Dunes Lake Michigan North View

The trail begins as mostly flat and quickly heads into a section of pine forest. Every trail intersection is well signed and after a few tenths of a mile you will be faced with the choice of the “easy” 0.6 mile trail to the Baldy Dune or the “long and scenic” 1.6 mile trail to the Baldy Dune. We chose the easier route since we’d already been out hiking for most of the day, and found it to be pretty scenic as well. It was great seeing some green start to poke through in the woods, lots of different trees, and plenty of birds.

A Arcadia Dunes Trail Staircase

After almost a mile of hiking we reached an open area where we could see the staircase that leads up the back side of the dune. We were nearly there, and I wasn’t prepared for the amazing view that awaited at the top of the stairs:

A Arcadia Dunes Landscape Shot CS Mott Nature Preserve

The best part about finally getting to the dune was that we still weren’t done, as the trail continues until it reaches the edge of the dune near Lake Michigan. The views stretch on for miles and are very similar to those on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but with a lot less traffic. We only saw 10 other people while we were there and for a few minutes we even had the top of the dune all to ourselves! This was without question the highlight of a day full of exploring the area between Manistee and Empire and we can’t wait to go back.

A Arcadia Dunes Tree Fungi Covered

For the return hike we chose to head back down on the trail that heads straight south to where it intersects with the Overlook Trail. This route was more wide open (which makes sense since it follows one of the old roads that once existed here) and a lot less scenic, but once it hit the Overlook Trail it was a very short 0.2 mile trip back to the parking lot. The Baldy Dune hike is just a small part of what this preserve offers, as there are more than 15 miles of trails here!

A Arcadia Dunes Lake Michigan Views CS Mott Preserve

The photos below showcase everything this hike is about: beautiful trails, scenic landscape, massive sand dunes, wildlife, and excellent trail signage. The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy manages more than 70 properties in Northern Michigan and since we only visited two of them on this trip it looks like we’ll have our hands full exploring the rest of them in the coming years! To find out more about the GTRLA, head over to