One of my favorite go-to spots for a winter beach hike is Maple Bay Natural Area between Acme and Elk Rapids.
The trailhead is just off U.S. 31. You take the drive by Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s Maple Bay Farm house and barn. You can hear busy road traffic from the parking area, but once on the trail that quickly drops down a bluff, the noise of bustling vehicles disappears.
The trail out to the lakeshore takes you through a kind of enchanted winter forest setting when trees are cottoned with snow, and you see sunny bright-blue skies overhead through treetops. Proceeding down the trail you notice many large toppled over trees cut up along the footpath. That’s the aftermath of the 2015 windstorm that tore through our area. A plaque along the trail offers details.
The trend from last year with more people accessing area trails is continuing into the new year, especially when last month was so mild. Trailhead parking areas on weekends have been busy. Midweek has been better, and over the last couple of weeks with polar air spilling into the region a lot less busy.
It was around 18 degrees the midweek morning I hiked along East Bay in the nature preserve, and I saw only two other hikers from a distance.
The sun is out, no wind-chill, and it offers a bit of warmth. Maybe it’s in my mind, but I felt warmer. Streaming through the trees the sun makes long, straight shadows on the trail as I head for the lake.
There’s something about icy landscapes that can be both intimidating and irresistibly captivating. The scenery, the silence of winter, briskness of the air and arctic-like patches of ice and land blend together to create a kind of magical frozen landscape.
The bright-blue lake waters appear through the trees as you head up the trail paralleling the shoreline.
The trail continues north allowing more lake views. Some have hiked over venturing along the frozen lakeshore. The surface can be uneven so be careful if you choose to do that.
The contrast of white snow, teal-colored lake waters, chunks of bobbing solid ice, and bright blue skies is mesmerizing. I’ll stop, linger and enjoy that view, but mostly keep moving along to avoid the cold.
According to my Fitbit I hiked around 3 miles venturing north to the edge of Petobego Pond and south to the southern edge of the natural area. All of the trails are out-and-back.
I have also hiked this on gray winter days. It can be just as appealing, especially if shelf ice is less allowing waves to coat logs and underbrush along the shore.