The Palmer Woods Forest Reserve, which opened just a few years ago, offers some nice trail systems that cater to a wide range of forest users.
Hikers and cross-country skiers share the same trails, but they are groomed with set tracks in the winter specifically for Nordic skiing. You can also snowshoe alongside the tracks with the wide trail system.
The mountain bike trails, which opened late last fall, are the first public, flow-style mountain bike trails in Leelanau County as it states on the conservancy’s website. They were incorrectly identified in a GO article last fall as the first flow-style trails in northern Lower Michigan. That distinction belongs to the Glacial Hills mountain bike trails near Bellaire.
They are nicely built trails featuring rollers, berms, tight corners, and jumps with challenging drops, but remind me more of a BMX track. You can find an easier, slower route around the loop by avoiding the built-in features, but the majority of riders accessing the trails are there for the thrills. I feel like I’m just in the way. I like more of a cross country type of single-track trail system where I can average 6- to 8 miles-per-hour. The VASA Single-Track, Glacial Hills and Maplehurst Natural Area trails are more my pace.
What I enjoy most about the new Forest Reserve are the peaceful, scenic picturesque strolls along the Price Valley Trail that I’ve taken, especially in the fall. I call it a stroll, because it’s almost like walking along a boulevard through the forest. It’s a nice wide two-track that goes from the Palmer Woods’ trailhead off Wheeler Road almost 2 miles to an access off Darwin Road, a seasonal road not plowed in winter.
The Palmer family, which owned the land for many years, operated it in sustainable fashion as a working forest growing and harvesting the timber to keep the forest healthy. The old logging roads have turned into hiking and skiing trails, and the forest is beautiful.
The Price Valley Trail heads quickly down into a fairly long valley with tall ridges on the right housing the Loop Trail and mountain biking trails on top. It’s a pleasant walk through the woods on this wide pathway. This time of year there are many colorful pockets of trees scattered all along the trail. Many large trees, primarily colorful beech and maple, are sprinkled throughout the forest.
With friends last fall we parked one vehicle at the Darwin Road entrance and the other vehicle at the Wheeler Road trailhead where we started. That gave us about a 2-mile hike one way with a good moderate climb over the last half-mile up to Darwin Road. That to me was “forest bathing” at its best.
A new trail, opened within the last year, creates about a 1.5-mile loop using Darwin Road as part of the loop. Park at post 9 off upper Darwin, hike down the road to post 8 and the trail takes off through the forest back up to post 7 and over to post 9. The views through the trees as you reach the upper sections of trail between post 8 and 7 make you realize how high these hills are. It’s a short but strenuous hike.
Kudos to the Leelanau Conservancy and the Palmer family that worked together to preserve this beautiful forest for all of us to enjoy.