Michigan Trail Tuesday: Portman Nature Preserve, Paw Paw

Michigan Trail Tuesday: Portman Nature Preserve, Paw Paw

Portman Nature Preserve Sign SWMLC

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.

We visitedĀ five of the preserves in the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy collection last year, and recently had the chance to check out another one of their properties. Portman Nature Preserve in Paw Paw has two miles of trails that pass through woods and wetlands and along the shores of two lakes. The birdwatching opportunities here are incredible and this is a great spot for a quiet and scenic hike in Van Buren County. Today we will take a look at our early spring visit and talk about the trails, what we saw when we visited, and how to get to this preserve to explore it yourself.

Portman Nature Preserve Paw Paw Mud Lake Views

There are two miles of hiking trails at Portman Nature Preserve, and they begin just north of a parking lot that can hold around 30 vehicles. The main trail is the Three Lakes Trail (marked in blue on maps), a packed dirt trail through the woods that has a few hilly spots. The first side trail option is the Mud Lake Approach (marked in yellow on maps), which leads to a viewing platform.

Portman Nature Preserve Mud Lake Platform

The viewing platform is here thanks to the efforts of Mattawan Public Schools students who led the fundraising to get it built. From here we had a clear view of Mud Lake and a few swans and geese. On our trip back to the parking lot this was a great spot to watch two bald eagles!

Portman Nature Preserve Trails Paw Paw

After this side trail rejoins the main trail it continues to run around Mud Lake before eventually following a causeway on the east end of the lake. Once you get past the causeway the trail splits and you can choose to go either way as it makes a big loop. We chose to take the path to the right (called the Fern Trail and marked in green).

Portman Nature Preserve 1

The Fern Trail is mostly wooded with a wide and well-worn path. It wasn’t long before we were offered another side trail, the short but scenic Hickory Ridge Loop (marked in orange on maps).

Portman nature Preserve Hickor Loop Trail

The Hickory Ridge Loop passes by some wetland areas then makes a short loop through some tall trees, offering some beautiful views of Lime Lake in the distance. This was the most challenging section of trail in the preserve with some steeper uphill climbs.

Portman Nature Preserve 2

After rejoining the Fern Trail we continued on through the woods heading to the lake. There were some spots where ferns and flowers were starting to add splashes of green to the landscape, and it was easy to imagine just how colorful this would look later in the spring/summer. We also came across a few surprise, like the frame of a vehicle.

Portman Nature Preserve 3

The Fern Trail soon joined up with our favorite part of the preserve, the Lime Lake Boardwalk. This stretch of trail allows visitors to pass through a prairie fen wetland while keeping their feet dry, and after a few hundred feet it reaches the shore of Lime Lake.

Portman Nature Preserve Bald Eagle

We were in for a treat once we reached this point as we were treated to the sight of a bald eagle soaring overhead. The view of the lake was great, but seeing this majestic bird out in search of a fish or other dinner option made for a memorable visit.

Portman Nature Preserve Swan Mud Lake

The Lime Lake Boardwalk rejoins the Three Lakes Trail and makes its way back to the trail split point. From here we took a right turn back across the causeway and around Mud Lake. We made another stop at the viewing platform and could see two bald eagles perched on one of the trees in the lake, with a flock of geese in the water not thrilled about their presence.

Portman Nature Preserve Northern Flicker

One final treat as we were walking back to the parking lot was seeing a few northern flickers. The sound of woodpeckers getting into trees drew our attention upward and we saw not one, not two, but three of these beautiful birds in one of the well-loved trees near the parking area.

Portman Nature Preserve Sign Paw Paw

Portman Nature Preserve is located in the 28700 block of 49th. Ave., west of 27th St. It is just a short drive off of the Red Arrow Highway and easily reached from exit #66 on I-94. Make sure this amazing preserve is part of your 2024 hiking plans for spring, summer, or fall!