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Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary - Manistee National Forest
We stood near the edge of Loda Lake, looking for a splash of pink but finding only brown leaves. We were too early for color. But, though we had never been in the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary before, we knew that in a few weeks a pink lady’s slipper orchid would grace this spot. Post number 6 told us so.
A little way down the trail, post number 9 indicated sweetferns, and, my gosh, it was right. We dropped to our knees, and pushing up through last fall’s decaying leaves were the small fiddleheads of this year’s understory of ferns.
Originally part of a 1000-acre private reserve, Loda Lake was sold to Manistee National Forest during the Great Depression. Because of the wide variety of habitats found in a relatively small area, the U.S. Forest Service invited the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan in 1938 to assist in creating a sanctuary for native plants, especially endangered and protected species, to ensure their survival.
Today the 72-acre preserve is still managed by the Federated Garden Clubs and over the years has evolved into a unique haven for botanists, wildflower enthusiasts, and families looking for a short but scenic hike. Winding through the sanctuary is a 1.5-mile loop with 40 numbered posts, keyed to an interpretive brochure, that mark the locations of plants. Most are wildflowers, and the trail guide informs you when they will be in bloom: early spring, summer, or fall. If you stop to examine every one, plan on a good hour for this hike and longer if you like sitting on a bench searching a small lake for wildlife.
The Loda Lake trailhead is located in a small picnic area and marked by a box with interpretive brochures. The trail guide is so important that at the end of the summer it’s best to download the one from this site or stop at the Baldwin Ranger field office at 650 North Michigan Ave. in Baldwin to pick one up rather than trust your luck on the map box being stocked.
You soon encounter the first numbered post, near the junction with the return loop. Head left at the junction to continue following the posts in numerical order. The trail skirts the shoreline of Loda Lake and then uses a boardwalk to cross a wetland. Along the way you pass posts pointing out everything from pink lady’s slipper and blueberries to wild lily-of-the-valley, bug-eating sundew, and swamp rose.
At the east end of the boardwalk there is a junction with a crossover spur that shortens the walk to 0.5 mile. There is also a bench in the middle of the boardwalk and another one farther up the trail on the east end of Loda Lake. From the second bench the trail revisits the lake and then swings inland to begin its return. It’s 0.75 mile back to the picnic area, and along the way you pass a fern marsh, two pine plantations, and an old orchard from when the area was being farmed in the 1930s.
A short walk from the parking area is a small picnic area that includes tables, a few grills and vault toilets.
A daily, weekly or annual Huron-Manistee Recreation vehicle pass is required to park at the Loda Lake trailhead. You can purchase a daily or weekly pass from a self-registration fee pipe at the trailhead and an annual permit from the Baldwin Ranger field office at 650 North Michigan Ave. in Baldwin.
To reach the sanctuary from White Cloud, head north on M-37 and then turn left on Five Mile Road where a sign for Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary is posted on the corner. Head a mile west and then turn right on Felch Road. The entrance to the sanctuary is a mile to the north.
Contact the Baldwin Ranger District of the Manistee National Forest at (231) 745-4631.
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