Michigan Trail Tuesday: Houdek Dunes Natural Area, Leland
Michigan Trail Tuesday is our attempt to showcase a different trail or trail segment each week. The Mitten State is home to thousands of miles of trails, including the new Iron Belle Trail that runs from Detroit in the southeast to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula and more miles of the North Country Trail than any other state.
The Leelanau Peninsula offers some of Michigan’s most beautiful coastline, including most of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Thanks to the efforts of the Leelanau Conservancy there are also more than 25 preserved natural areas that showcase dunes, forests, waterfront, wildlife viewing, and more. The Houdek Dunes Natural Area is one of these preserves, and is open to the public for hiking and birding in warm weather months and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. We recently had a chance to visit Houdek Dunes and check out the trails and today we will share our experience and some photos.
Located on the west side of M-22 just five miles northeast of Leland, Houdek Dunes Natural Area offers 370 acres of preserved land and more than three miles of trails. Highlights here include several kinds of sand dunes, views of Houdek Creek, and a wide variety of trees. The trails are split into five different segments and offer varying degrees of difficulty.
A sign at the trailhead shows the entire preserve and notes the distances of each trail. A staircase leads up to the trails and that is where the adventure begins. We chose to hike the Houdek Loop (0.8 miles), a segment of the Forest Trail (1.6 miles), and the Houdek Creek Trail (0.05 miles).
The Houdek Loop leads into the woods, where aspen, maple, oak, and birch provide shade as you hike along the well-worn trail. We found all intersections to be well-marked, with plenty of benches along the way for those needing to stop for a rest.
We continued on the Houdek Loop heading towards Houdek Creek, stopping to marvel at the large, old maple tree. This looked to be a perfect spot for quiet reflection. When the trail reached an intersection with the Forest Trail we followed that to continue our trek to the dunes and the creek.
The Forest Trail continues on before it comes to an open area of dunes. This was a sudden landscape change after hiking only wooded trails to this point, but the color contrast of the sand, trees, and sky made for some beautiful photos.
The trail re-enters the woods and continues on. In a shirt while we had reached the very short branch trail to the creek, where there is a viewing platform. Visitors are asked to view the creek from up here and not contribute to dune erosion near the creek bank. Just past the platform we found a bench overlooking the creek and a few places that offered better creek views than the viewing platform had.
We retraced our steps back to the parking lot, with a total hiking distance of around two miles covered in just under an hour. If you’re looking for quiet hiking at a beautiful preserve that is much less busy than the national lakeshore to the south, check out Houdek Dunes Natural Area on your next trip to the Leelanau Peninsula!