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Ludington State Park: Sable River Trail
The Sable River Trail was originally 1.6 miles in length and formed a semi-loop on both banks of the Big Sable River within Ludington State Park. In the mid-1990s the park turned a good portion of it into a paved path that is popular with campers who arrive with bicycles.
The Sable River Trail is now a 0.7-mile path that begins at post No. 16 at the foot bridge across the river and skirts the south bank to the Hamlin Dam. Along the way it passes the east end stairway to the Skyline Trail. At the Hamlin Dam you can cross over to the north bank and read a historical marker about logging activities in the late 1880s.
Hamlin Lake was originally dammed by loggers in the 1880s to create a large holding area for trees felled up the Big Sable River. The trees were milled in the village of Hamlin, which was located within the state park, then taken to Lake Michigan by mules. In 1888, the dam burst and the resultant flood swept away the mill, 40 homes in Hamlin, and more than a million board feet of lumber.
Today the state maintains the dam, which regulates the water level of the 4,490-acre lake. The lake is known by anglers for its excellent bluegill, northern pike, and muskellunge fishing since many of the inlets and bayous, including Lost Lake, serve as pike and muskie spawning grounds.
Along with 5 miles of Lake Michigan beach, Ludington State Park has 355 sites in three modern campgrounds: Pines, Cedar and Beechwood. Each campground has electricity, restrooms and showers while Cedar Campground also has a small loop of eight tent-only sites. The park also features 10 walk-in sites at Jack Pine Campground, a hike of a mile along Lighthouse Road.
Ludington's campgrounds are booked daily July through Labor Day and are full on weekends beginning in Memorial Day. Late April is a particularly pleasant time to camp as reservations are unnecessary and the park is practically empty at that time of year. The campground is open year round but the modern restrooms are available only from April 15 to Nov. 1.
The park maintains two day-use areas, one on Lake Michigan just north of where Sable River empties into the Great Lake and a second on Hamlin Lake. Both have parking, bathhouses and concession stores, but Hamlin beach is often the more popular of the two early in the year as its water warms up quicker. M-116 follows the Lake Michigan shoreline for almost 3 miles after entering the park, and it's common during the summer for visitors to pull over anywhere along the road to enjoy a section of the beach.
Big Sable Point Light Station was built in 1867 and today includes an interpretive room and a gift shop on the first floor and the tower that visitors allowed to climb for a view of Lake Michigan. For more information about Big Sable Point Lighthouse contact the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (231-845-7417, www.splka.org).
The park is open year round and a vehicle permit is required to enter. Big Sable Point Lighthouse is open daily from May through October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. when visitors can climb the tower for a $2 donation.
The state park is 8.5 miles north of the city of Ludington at the end of M-116.
For more information contact the Ludington State Park headquarters (231-843-2423). For a campsite or cabin reservation contact Michigan State Park Central Reservations (800-447-2757; www.midnrreservations.com).
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