With so much to do around one of Michigan’s favorite getaway towns, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Whether you’re looking for wilderness camping in a massive dune system, wildlife viewing from the seat of a kayak or canoe on an inland lake, beginner-friendly mountain biking, a mellow stroll to a historic lighthouse, or open water paddling on one of the Great Lakes, Ludington has it all. And that doesn’t even take into account the thriving community of restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and accommodations that support outdoor lovers from all over.
If you must limit yourself to only a handful of adventures, be sure to include these five on your list.
The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area offers roughly 10 miles of hiking trails through a 3,450-acre national forest of jackpine, juniper, hemlock and sand dunes that formed 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Backpackers can camp anywhere in the wilderness area as long as they are 400 feet from Lake Michigan and 250 feet from the nearest trail. The dunes are most often accessed via the Nurnberg Road, but the Lake Michigan Recreation Area also provides access as well as a picnic area and observation deck.
The Ludington Canoe Trail provides spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities along Hamlin Lake. Deer, kingfishers, great blue herons, and bald eagles are all common sights. Meandering through coves and small ponds, the canoe trail requires a few portages, but offers a more protected paddling experience than a trip on Lake Michigan during windy days. The trail is about 4 miles, but it can be shortened.
The Cartier Bike Park Bike Path offers something for everyone, with a paved path through the center of the park and 3.5 miles of singletrack varying in difficulty from beginner to advanced intermediate. Best of all, the bike path is a five minute ride from downtown Ludington. The trail divides between easier and harder routes, allowing riders to tailor fit their experience. Several access points to different segments of trail can cause some confusion at first, but make it easy to lap specific sections of trail.
Ludington State Park has 18 miles of trails that traverse dunes, meander through jack pine and juniper forests, and parallel lakesides large and small. Several trails, including the Big Sable Point Lighthouse Trail and the Big Sable River Trail, are bike friendly. Highlights include the boardwalks and lake views along the Lost Lake and Island Trails, the historic Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and the Skyline Trail, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. In the winter, the trails on the south end of the park provide great shelter from the ever-present wind, making them popular with snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
If the weather allows, there is nothing quite like paddling on Lake Michigan. The second largest Great Lake has endless paddling opportunities, but the 4-mile trip from the Ludington State Park Beach House to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse and back is one of the best. After leaving the broad and sandy beach, the lighthouse comes almost immediately into view. Even a light breeze can generate large swells, so a sit-on-top or kayak with a spray skirt is recommended. From the water, paddlers get a greater sense for the scale of the Ludington dunes. Paddlers can even stop for a tour of the lighthouse before returning the way they came.