Some of the best views to reward a snowshoe hike can be found in the dunes along the coast in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Most of the snowshoe hikes up into the dunes aren’t what I would call easy. Those jaw-dropping views come with a price ... normally.
However there is one outing along the National Lakeshore that is easier than most. The Treat Farm Trail has some uphill — but very manageable — terrain and is not a long trail. It’s a round trip of about 1.5 miles, and leads you to a breathtaking panoramic view from a bluff that follows the crescent of the Platte Bay shoreline.
The trail is known by locals but you won’t find many out-of-area visitors making the trek up to the old farm to enjoy the bluff views. For whatever reason, the National Park Service doesn’t list the trail on its website among its popular hiking trails. For a long time there wasn’t even a sign by the trailhead, which is on Norconk Road. There isn’t a designated parking area like at other trailheads. You park along the road.
Set in an upland meadow that's tucked between a hardwood forest and a dune bluff known as Old Baldy, the Treat Farm is all that its name implies. It’s one of my favorite hikes along the National Lakeshore, a real “treat.” A snowy winter makes it even more so with trees draped in snow and a white blanket covering the upland meadow.
It’s about a half-mile up to the homestead, which does involve some moderate climbing. But it's much easier than the park's best-known overlook trails at Pyramid Point, Bay View Trail, Alligator Hill, the Dune Climb, Pierce Stocking Drive Overlook or Empire Bluff.
An 1880 farm house, a restored barn on its original foundation and some out-buildings are the first things to come into view on top. The homestead sits in an upland meadow under the towering Old Baldy dune, which you pass under along the meadow trail over to the bluff. I’ve climbed to the top of Baldy, but not in winter. It’s a tough, exhausting climb.
The trail across the meadow from the homestead to the bluff is readily visible and easy to follow. Views stretch as far as you can see in either direction.
A retired park ranger friend once told me that he considered the Treat Farm Trail to be one of the “hidden gems” among park trails. I couldn’t agree more.
Terrell’s Trail Notes
Norconk Road, off M-22 south of Empire, dead-ends at the trailhead to the Treat Farm. You park along the road, go around the gate, and it’s a half-mile hike up through the forest to the collection of old farm buildings. All are well over a century old.
It’s less than a half-mile across the open field to the lakeshore bluff. The trail passes beneath Old Baldy. There are no trail markings, but the well-worn pathway is easy to follow. Breathtaking views of secluded beaches, the pristine shoreline far below, and Lake Michigan stretching as far as the eye can see unfold from the high bluff. Looking south the coastline rolls from the crescent of Platte Bay all the way to Frankfort.
It’s a panorama that never gets old any time of year, but the pristine beauty of winter and a sunny day are hard to beat. Don’t forget your camera, and pick a windless day. The bluff can feel quite cold on a blustery winter day.