Sleeping Bear Dunes: Alligator Hill Trail
The best cross-country ski area in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is Alligator Hill, whose 8.3-mile trail system offers skiers three loops that range from easy to advance and feature plenty of long downhill runs and equally long climbs. But during the rest of the year Alligator Hill can be a destination for anybody looking for a walk in the woods – amid a hilly one - that includes the kind of sweeping Lake Michigan panorama this national park is famous for.
The hill picks up its name from a long ridge and bluff at its southeast corner that resembles the silhouette of an alligator’s snout, best seen from the top of the Dune Climb. Alligator Hill is the result of glacial activity when two lobes of ice that gouged out Big Glen Lake and Little Glen Lake dumped their load of sand and rock between them. An ancient Lake Michigan, that was much higher than today’s Great Lake, went on to erode bluffs and cut terraces and notches on the flank of the hill, including the alligator’s snout.
The most unusual aspect of Alligator Hill is the remains of an 18-hole golf course on its north side. The course dates back to the 1920s when David Henry Day, a prominent lumber baron who was responsible for the company town of Glen Haven, developed an elaborate resort that included golfing. The venture failed during the Great Depression but you can still see the outlines of fairways today from aerial and satellite photos such as those found on Google Earth.
The trails that wind up and down Alligator Hill are wide, well-marked paths that are used by Nordic skiers, day hikers and equestrians as this is the only area of the lakeshore where horses are allowed. Mountain bikes are not allowed on the trails, however.
Other than to increase the mileage, the Advanced Loop and Intermediate Loop hold little interest to most hikers. Thus the walk described is the Easy Loop along with the spur to Big Glen Lookout for a 4.3-mile day. Although the trek is rated moderate, be prepared for a steady uphill climb in the first half.
|Difficulty - Moderate|