To reach the trailhead at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area, drive through the campground to a parking lot at the end that features an information display and a boardwalk. One end of the boardwalk heads to the beach, the other towards the shoreline bluff to the south (left). The trail slides the bluff, gradually ascending the top of it. Within a quarter mile you pass a log stairway to the beach below and at Mile 0.35 arrive at the posted junction with the Arrowhead Trail that heads inland (left). Head southwest (right) to officially enter the federal wilderness.
The trail continues along a dune ridge high above the shoreline and is surprisingly level and easy walking for the first mile. On one side are dunes forested in hardwoods, pines, and an occasional paper birch. On the other side is a steep drop, a strip of white, sandy beach, and the blue horizon of Lake Michigan. The forest is composed mostly of northern hardwoods such as maple, beech, and white and red oaks, with hemlock and red and white pines mixed in. At Mile 1, however, you pass through a scenic stand of paper birch, and pass the second crossover trail which is not posted and can easily be missed. This spur is a 0.7-mile walk to the return trail of this hike.
The shoreline trail continues south (right) and immediately ascend along an embankment stairway that quickly passes the third junction of the day. You climb several more humps along the shoreline dunes before making a long descent to the fourth junction, reached at Mile 1.8. This area is the most popular for backpackers to set up camp, thus the maze of social trails here that lead to the beach or further into the woods. Though not posted, the crossover trail is a former two-track that heads south (left) and is easier to distinguish than the others.
If you continued southwest (right) the shoreline trail would lead you out of the woods to an impressive blowout of open sand. The southern half of the Nordhouse Dunes is trailless, but adventurous hikers can continue southwest by following the beach. In a little over 2 miles, you would leave the federal tract and enter Ludington State Park’s Wilderness Natural Area, a 1,699-acre extension of this undeveloped segment of Lake Michigan shoreline and end up at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
This trail description, however, follows the old two-track south. The trail is wide and easy to follow, passing another former two-track that heads northwest (left) at Mile 2.4. Continue south and at Mile 2.6 will pass yet another old road that crosses the trail and climbs steeply up a hill. This junction can be a bit confusing but head left and then right to remain on the described route, a wide, sandy path that makes its own long ascent. You follow with an equally long descent, after which the trail curves around a large marsh with an open pond in the middle.
The main trail then swings noticeably to the east, passes another old road and at Mile 3.6 descends gently to the trailhead and parking area off Nurnberg Road. The trailhead features vault toilets and an information display but no source of drinking water.
Pick up the next segment by crossing the parking area to the north to the path marked by a no motorized vehicles sign. This path is the main route back to the Lake Michigan Recreation Area and is a scenic hike as you straddle the crest of a series of wooded dunes almost all the way back to the campground. You immediately pass a junction with one of the crossover spurs that heads northwest (left) and then within a few hundred yards a trail that heads northeast (right) for Nordhouse Lake. Stay on the main trail, a wide, easy to follow path, and at Mile 4.3 will arrive at a clear view of the lake with a short spur dropping to its shoreline.
Just beyond the lake is a junction with a crossover spur to the west (left). The main trail resumes following the edge of the bluff, passing another crossover spur to the west (left) at Mile 5.7. Less than a quartermile later, a spur that drops sharply off the bluff to the campground below. The main trail begins climbing steadily, reaching an open highpoint of 713 feet, where a watertower once stood. The Arrowhead Trail departs to west (left) here. Stay right and follow the main trail as it skirts a narrow ridgeline. You descend the bluff from this spot along one of two trails, both are steep and caution needs to be used, especially if you’re hiking with young children. You bottom out at a trail and then the boardwalk that leads back to the trailhead parking area, reached at Mile 6.5.