Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2018 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Northern Michigan’s hilly, glaciated topography offers a seemingly unlimited number of opportunities for scenic views. One of the newer view sites — dubbed the Skyline Overlook, which tells you something about its view potential — should be on your short list of places to visit this fall.
The overlook, a built-up wooden platform with benches, is part of the North Country Trail that crosses a tall moraine just south of Petoskey. Left behind by the last retreating glacier, it rises nearly 700 feet above Lake Michigan and offers panoramic views that stretch several miles over rolling hills to the lake and across Little Traverse Bay to Harbor Springs.
From atop your perch you look over the Bear River Valley and farms nestled between lower hills above Lake Michigan. Hiking along switchbacks you look down into a forest that drops endlessly away. It’s easy to imagine that you’re hiking along an eastern mountainside.
It’s arguably one of the best overlooks in northern Michigan and the fall colors just enhance the experience.
The North Country Trail stretches from the Vermont/New York border 4,600 miles across the northern tier of the nation to the middle of the North Dakota plains. About 1,100 miles of the trail crosses both of Michigan’s peninsulas. The good news is that you only have to hike 1.5 miles out and back, for this jaw-dropping vista.
This relatively new section of the trail opened in 2010 and is still being discovered. One of the things that may limit its appeal is that the trail is a bit of a workout with an elevation change of about 200 feet. It’s mostly downhill to the Skyline Overlook, which is perched on the side of the moraine around 1,100 feet above sea level.
This is where northern Michigan resident Joan Young, the first woman to hike the entire 4,600-mile trail, ended her 20-year odyssey eight years ago. It was the final bit of trail left to complete her long hike.
“It’s a special place, not only for some of the best views found along the trail, but it’s the first place you see any of the Great Lakes along the trail — in this case Lake Michigan,” Young said. “A whole bunch of people joined me on the newly built overlook to sing ‘The Happy Wanderer’ with me as I completed my 20-year odyssey.
“I enjoy coming back all seasons, but especially the fall,” she said. “It’s the kind of short hike that makes you marvel at nature and feel glad to be alive that time of year.”
Pick a nice sunny fall day, pack a picnic lunch and grab the camera. You will want to spend time drinking in that jaw-dropping view before facing the climb back up to the moraine parking area. The climb back to the top of the moraine requires some effort. At least there are a couple of benches for rest along the trail, and that eye-candy panorama makes it all worthwhile.
This section of trail came about through a partnership between the North Country Trail, the city of Petoskey, which owns Skyline Municipal Forest lands along the moraine, Little Traverse Conservancy, and Doug and Pam Boor, who donated land to connect it all together. The Jordan Valley Chapter of the North Country Trail Association oversees the section of trail.
You see the towering moraine from U.S. 131 heading north to Petoskey from Walloon Lake. Take Evergreen Road east off 131 and in a short distance turn north on Cedar Road to Valley Road, a little over a mile. Follow Valley Road for about 2 miles north and turn right (east) on Greenwood Road. In about 1.5 miles the road curves south. At a four-way stop continue south on Brubaker Road for a mile and turn right (west) on Krause Road. Within a mile the North Country Trail crosses the road adjacent to a cell tower. The parking area is on the right. marked with a NCT sign. Head west downhill on the trail, which is marked, as is the short spur trail over to the Skyline Overlook.