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Sleeping Bear Dunes: Kettles Trail

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Trail Details

N 44° 49' 17.04"
W 085° 55' 12.36"
3.4 miles
Trail Type
Kettles and bogs
Nearest City or Town
Glen Arbor
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The Kettles Trail officially opened in 2019 as a 3.4 miles trek through an intriguing and rugged area with numerous kettles along with a jumbled array of ridges, mounds and potholes.
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There is a spot along the Kettles Trail wherefrom the narrow crest of a ridge you can look into the sharp conical depression of a kettle left behind by glaciers thousands of years ago. On the other side of the ridge the slope is so steep you can’t see the bottom.  And if it’s November or later rising all around, you will be the grayish silhouettes of even higher ridges.

It looks all the world like a slice of the western Upper Peninsula, but it’s not. You’re in the heart of the Leelanau Peninsula, hiking in the Bow Lakes area of Sleeping Bear Dunes Natural Lakeshore, a park known for sand dunes and beaches.

Who would have guessed that in this region of vineyards and farm stands and quaint little towns, there was a place so rugged and so remote? And so full of kettles.

A kettle is a fluvioglacial landform, the result of blocks of ice calving from the front of a receding glacier and then buried by glacial outwash. When the ice melts a sharp-sided hole appears.  An area with numerous kettles results in rugged topography, a jumbled array of ridges, mounds and potholes.

There are at least a dozen kettles in the area that the Kettles Trail traverses, a 500-acre tract that lies 5 miles southeast of Glen Lake. Other then three isolated kettles on North Manitou Island, this is the only place in Sleeping Bear Dunes Natural Lakeshore where kettles, pothole lakes and kettle bogs exist.

The geographical oddities are so rare that the park’s boundary was revised in 1982 to include the Bow Lakes area, and in 2009 a proposed trail was included in the park’s General Management Plan. The Kettles Trail officially opened in 2019.

The new trail is 3 miles long, and the first 1,000 feet leading to an overlook of a kettle is fully accessible via a compacted stone surface. The remainder of the trail often utilizes old two-tracks that climb the slopes and ridges of the kettle topography, some with a more than 20 percent grade.

Because some backtracking is required, Kettles Trail is a hike of 3.4 miles with the southern portion moderate in difficulty and the northern half more challenging. The old two-tracks make Kettles Trail an excellent destination in the winter for snowshoers or backcountry skiers.
Amenities & Services
Difficulty - Moderate
Foot Path
Dog Friendly
Trail Guide

From the trailhead on Baatz Road, the Kettles Trail begins as a universally accessible path that leads 300 yards through an open field to an observation area providing a view – best in late or winter – into a kettle. Within a third of a mile you descend into the woods and arrive at the junction with the bog access spur at Mile 0.5. The 0.3-mile spur begins with a steady climb, topping off at a junction with an old two-track heading south. You are surrounded by views of kettles here with the kettle bog to the east and two small wooded kettles to the west before descending to Bog Edge Overlook reached at Mile 0.8.

A kettle becomes a bog when the standing water turns acidic due to decomposing organic plant matter. Kettle bogs are closed ecosystems – they have no water source other than precipitation – and serve as important ecological niches for a variety of flora and fauna species, ranging from spongy sphagnum moss and Labrador tea to bog cranberries and insect-eating sundews and pitcher plants.

Backtrack to the main Kettles Trail and head north (right). At Mile 1.5, the loop at the north end is reached. There are climbs no matter which way you choose. Following the loop in a counter-clockwise direction (right), an old two-track takes you past a kettle with a small pond and then at a well-posted junction a true footpath leaves the old road and climbs around a larger kettle. This is interesting terrain, especially in the winter.

At Mile 2.1, the footpath arrives at another old two-track, and a signpost points left on it. If you head right, you will reach the east end of Lanham Road within 200 yards. It’s a steady descent along the two-track back to the loop junction at Mile 2.5 and then less than a mile backtracking to the trailhead on Baatz Road.


At the trailhead off Baatz Road there is a toilet, parking and a information display.

Hours & Fees

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 for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore if they arrive on foot, bicycle or motorcycle. Passes can be purchased from the Philip Hart Visitor Center in Empire.


From M-22 on the south side of Glen Lake, follow MacFarlane Road east around the lake and continue east on County Road 675. Within 4 miles of M-22, in the hamlet of Burdickville, turn south on Bow Road. After a mile, Bow Road swings east and arrives at Fritz Road. Head south on Fritz Road and in 1.4 miles is the intersection of Fritz and Baatz Roads. The trailhead is just east on Baatz Road.

From M-72, head north on County Road 669 and in 2 miles turn west on Baatz Road. The trailhead is reached in 2.2 miles on the north side of the road.


For park passes or more information contact the Philip Hart Visitor Center (231-326-5134) on the corner of M-72 and M-22 in Empire.

Geo-referenced maps from MichiganTrailMaps.com range from $1.99 to $2.99 each.

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