I love walking on our Great Lakes beaches but prefer a Tom Hanks “Castaway” kind of experience, a lonelier environment without a lot of people cluttering the landscape.
One of my favorite beach hikes is along Good Harbor Beach beneath the Pyramid Point Dune. If you drive north along the paved portion of road from M-22 you come to a section of the beach that’s popular with many in our area as well as visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
On a nice summer day you may encounter hordes of people parking along the road and walking down to the easily accessible beach — no bluff — that stretches in either direction for as far as you can see. People sometimes seem to line the beach for the same distance.
A dirt road takes off in either direction at the end of the paved portion paralleling the lake. You can’t see the beach driving in either direction, but people will drive down the dirt road, park along it and hoof the short distance through the woods to the beach.
For my hike you have to drive the 2.5 miles west to get away from the maddening crowd. Keep right when you come to a split, and the dirt road ends in a circle. I’ve found few people drive that distance when they can get to the beach more quickly and easier closer to the paved end of Good Harbor Road.
You park around the circle and a short trail leads back to the lake and surprise, a bluff that rises about 25 or so feet above the beach and Lake Michigan. It’s another reason you won’t find lots of beach walkers at this point. At the end of the paved road and for much of the dirt road heading west there isn’t a bluff above the beach. That much easier access is the attraction for many beach goers that frequent that section.
When you reach the bluff and make the short descent down to the beach you often won’t see anybody. Occasionally there will be a few people on the beach, never many. The beach lends itself to walking rather than swimming. It’s somewhat rocky along the edge of the water.
As you stroll along the water’s edge colors sparkle from rocks and pebbles scattered along the beach. Piles of driftwood lay gleaming white like ancient whale bones washed on shore bleached and ground smooth by eons of water, weather and sand. The Manitou Islands are nestled just off the coast. Sunlight glints off small waves lapping on the soft sand. The sun warms your skin, and gentle breezes ruffle your hair. Gulls fly above with cries filling the air. Some dive into the water hoping to snatch a snack.
The mesmerizing pleasures of sight, sound and feel are always a delight. It’s so relaxing that I often get lost in thought. But, what better place could you find to sit on a clump of dune grass or a piece of driftwood and watch the day slowly creep by.
That’s what I call a “happy place.”