Eleven years ago I hiked to the top of a perched dune just south of Elberta with Glen Chown, executive director for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy for a view of what was to become Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve. Today it’s considered one of the most outstanding views along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
From the top of the dune there are a couple of overlook platforms offering panoramic, steal-your-breath views of the shoreline far below. You look across the Lake Herring valley to a distant ridge of hills and more tall, rugged looking perched dunes that stretch to the south as far as the eye can see.
“I call this our Sound of Music view,” Chown said at the time. He hasn’t changed his tune in the decade since.
“There’s no better Pure Michigan view in the state."
Between this nature preserve and Arcadia Dunes just to the south, there are about five miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline. Sand dunes, secluded beach walks, and if you’re there at dusk, magnificent sunsets over Lake Michigan are all on the table for you to see and enjoy. Throw in an ancient offshore shipwreck and potential hang gliders floating on thermal currents and there isn't much more you could ask for.
The shipwreck, the remains of the City of Boston, was a 136-foot-long wooden steamer that sank in a blinding November snowstorm in 1873. As Gordon Lightfoot sang in his haunting song "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," “beware the gales of November.”
It broke up on a sandbar and the crew made it to shore. The ship’s remains are in about eight feet of water and can be seen when conditions are right from the platform overlook that hangs off the dunes edge. It’s also popular with snorkelers that hike down to the beach. It’s located due west, about 200 feet out in the lake, from the preserve’s beach access stairway.
The Green Point Flyers Association – a group of hang gliders and paragliders – owns land just north of the preserve where they launch off a platform about 400 feet above the lake in case you’re lucky enough to catch them in flight.
Fall is a beautiful time to visit with the hardwood forest covering the valley and distant hills. Color comes later in October, because of the lake’s influence, Chown said.
“It truly is one of the most magnificent views along the west coast of Lake Michigan," Chown said. "This is one of my favorite views. It’s as good as any you’ll find in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and a bit more remote without all the traffic and people.”
Terrell’s Trail Notes
The main parking area for the 242-acre preserve, complete with an informative kiosk, is on Green Point Road off M-22 about two miles south of Elberta. It’s the first area you come to driving up the road. A second trailhead on up the road accesses a two-track crossing the preserve that will shorten your hike by about a half-mile.
From the kiosk trailhead a two-mile loop trail will take you over to two overlooks, down to the beach and back up. The first overlook offers the Sound of Music” vista. The southerly view looks across Herring Lake and a wide valley to Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy's Arcadia Dunes Preserve and “Old Baldy,” a dune landmark. Trace the gentle curve of the lake stretching south.
From the first overlook the trail leads over to a perched overlook on the edge of the steep dune face. It offers beautiful views of the shoreline far below and the lake. Occasionally there are great lakes freighters heading up or down the lake, and you’re often eye-level with lake gulls.
The trail continues down to a set of stairs that descends the final steep drop to the beach, which is wide and sandy. Looking north, towering dunes dwarf the landscape and deserted beach. To the south the view opens up to low coastal dunes, grasslands and distant views of towering dunes. You could walk a mile-and-a-half along the beach to a trail that would take you up Old Baldy into the Arcadia Preserve. It’s a mile back up to the trailhead parking.
For more information and a trail map of the area visit gtrlc.org/preserve/green-point-dunes-nature-preserve.