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Arcadia Dunes: Baldy Trails
The favorite destination for most hikers at Arcadia Dunes is Old Baldy, an open dune perched 356 feet above Lake Michigan for sweeping views of the Great Lake. Mountain bikers are allowed on portions of Baldy Trails but the open dunes and short segments make this system best suited for hikers and trail runners.
The straight trails on the west side of the system are old gravel roads that were built in the 1960s for a subdivision that never materialized. Future plans call for developing a segment of them and the overlook they lead to as a handicapped accessible path and viewing platform.
The hike described here is the perimeter of the system that makes for a 3.1-mile loop to Old Baldy and passes all three viewing areas.
When followed in a counterclockwise direction this loop begins with an easy and surprisingly level hike through a mature mesic hardwood forest that is carpeted with trillium and other wildflowers in the spring. Just down the trail is post No. 2 and by heading east (right) you reach post No. 3 at Mile 0.5, marking a junction with a short spur to a second trailhead on M-22.
At this point the loop heads west (left), climbs a bit and then at Mile 1.5 descends to the first of two spurs that head north to the open dunes. Both merge at post No. 5 where a set of cable steps climb steeply out of the woods to the open dune that is Old Baldy.
Old Baldy is a perched dune, the type that is composed by wind blowing sand off the face of a bluff, not from the beach below, to the top of a glacial moraine. In Michigan, perched dunes are found along the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior west of Grand Marais and often are bluffs that rise 90 to more than 400 feet above the water.
There is no beach access from the dune nor anywhere in the preserve because of the towering bluffs. But there are magnificent views. A sandy trail heads due north and at Mile 1.8 reaches the 940-foot crown of Old Baldy. From this lofty “peak” you can spot the Frankfort Lighthouse along the Lake Michigan coastline and a portion of Lower Herring Lake, a panoramic view that rivals anything to the north in Sleeping Bear Dunes. Along the way a second trail heads west through a distinctive notch to an overlook of the lake and the perched dunes stretching to the south.
The return to the trailhead begins by backtracking and descending the cable steps to post No. 5 and then continuing due south to post No. 6, reached at Mile 2.2. Heading south and west at the four-way junction are two of the old gravel roads put in for a subdivision development that failed. Lucky us. Head west (right) on one of the former roads and with a few hundred yards it will swing south to follow the edge of the bluff. At Mile 2.7 you reach post No. 7, marking a short spur to a break in the forest and another viewing area.
In the final leg of the loop the trail swings east, reaches post No. 8 at Mile 3 and then pops out at the entrance road to the trail head.
At the trailhead there is parking and an information kiosk but no toilets or drinking water.
There is are no vehicle entry fees at Arcadia Dunes. The nature preserve is open year-round.
Baldy Trailhead is posted along M-22, 8 miles south of Elberta or 2.7 miles north of Arcadia. If heading south, the trailhead entrance is on the west side of the state highway, 0.7 miles south of Joyfield Road.
Contact the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy at (231) 929-7911 or online at www.gtrlc.org.
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