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Sleeping Bear Dunes: Windy Moraine Trail
After a stunning trek like the Empire Bluff Trail or the Dunes Trail, the scenery along the Windy Moraine Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore may seem, well, ho-hum at best. But arrive in early October with your children in toll and this foot path is a delightful afternoon walk. In the winter the trail at times can be a wild downhill run on Nordic skis.
The 1.5-mile loop is located opposite of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and basically climbs its namesake moraine, a nearly 300-foot high ridge, before descending back to the trailhead. Along the way are nine numbered posts that corresponds to an interpretive brochure stocked at a trailhead map box or can be downloaded from this page. The brochure points out everything from the “edge effect” between forests and fields and woodpecker holes to a 200-year-old maple in effort to teach the importance of diversity in nature.
Good lessons for children or their parents.
The trail begins in a field as a mowed lane and paralleling M-109 before climbing the moraine left from when the last glaciers melted 10,000 years ago. Today part of the hill is a beech-maple forest and within a half mile of the hike you arrive at post No. 5, pointing out the ancient maple tree. In fall, this 200-year-old giant is an astounding sight, a blaze of red that rivals any lakeshore view. At least in October, the reason, no doubt, a bench was placed here.
So large and full of color, this maple makes the red pine plantation that follows next look sterile and lifeless. So take a break and sit and soak in its beauty.
In less than a mile, you reach post No. 7, the Windy Moraine overlook. In the summer the view can be disappointing as foliage obscures much of it. But the view changes from season to season and in October it’s at its best. Some leaves have already fallen and what remains paints the foreground of this scenic panorama that includes Little Glen Lake, Sleeping Bear Dune and even North and South Manitou Islands on a clear day.
The rest of the hike is a quick descent down the moraine through an open hillside, whose sandy soil and afternoon sun make it an outstanding berry patch in July and August. Eventually you re-enter the old farm field and return to the trailhead.
Within the parking area is a display sign and map box along with a vault toilet.
The trail is open year-round and all visitors are required to have a weekly vehicle entrance permit, an annual park pass or a per-person pass if they arrive on foot, bicycle or motorcycle. Passes can be purchased at an automated pay station at the trailhead or from the Philip Hart Visitor Center in Empire.
From the Philip Hart Visitor Center in Empire, head north on M-22 and then continue north on M-109, Within 3.5 miles, just after passing the entrance to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, turn right on Welch Road to the trailhead and posted parking lot.
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