On a drive looking for scenic locations you’re always anticipating what’s just around the corner or over the ridge. Sometimes it can literally be just over a ridge close to home.
Hundreds of vehicles pass by the beautiful Yuba Creek Natural Area, just over a ridge off of U.S. 31 between Acme and Elk Rapids, and most people are unaware of the long, scenic valley and hiking trails. One of the trailheads is even located off the busy highway on top of the hill before it plunges down by the old Yuba school, but I’ve rarely seen a car parked there.
Fall is stunning in the valley viewed from the top of the ridge where trails lead you to jaw-dropping overlooks. The 413-acre preserve, purchased by Acme Township and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in 2002, features its namesake creek that flows the length of the valley, a mix of wetlands along the creek, open meadows and upland hardwood forests.
Unfortunately you can’t see the creek even though the description on the GTRLC website says you can. Observers saw nesting eagles in the area when the preserve first opened, but they allegedly moved over to Lochenheath a few years ago to a ridge above East Bay. You can frequently spot deer moving through the valley, and hawks patrolling above the open meadow looking for easy prey. It’s also home to otter and mink, which you probably won’t see since you can’t get close to the creek.
The other, and best, trailhead is located on Yuba Road shortly after turning off U.S. 31. It offers direct access to the main trail up the long valley and spurs leading to scenic overlooks along the ridge, including the overlook from the trailhead off U.S. 31. From the overlooks, especially the one that’s accessed from the end of the valley trail, look across the valley to distant hills on the other side, some containing orchards that light up in the spring with white blossoms. To the south are more faraway hills that drain into the watershed that drains into East Bay, ultimately protected by the preserve.
I like visiting the preserve in spring and fall, both beautiful times of the year that seem to highlight what it has to offer; invigorating hikes, drop-dead overlook views and serenity.
Most of my visits I maybe run into a couple of other hikers, most of the time I have it to myself. As you hike up the valley it’s easy to just get caught up in the moment enjoying the beauty of the preserve, the peace and quiet. Even though the busy highway is just over the long ridge you thankfully hear no traffic noise.
If you hike all the trails and spurs, which are all out-and-back, you will cover close to 4.5 miles round trip. You can also pick and choose the trails you wish to hike. Just hike the valley trail and avoid any aerobic uphills. It’s all good.