My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Worth the wait, Ludington State Park

Regular readers of this blog know that I planned to go up to Ludington State Park yesterday, and camp in the back of my explorer. But things didn’t go as planned on Wednesday or Thursday, so I finally made it up there today, Friday November 25, 2011. It was worth the wait, it was one of the best hikes I have ever done.

Since I originally posted this, I returned to Ludington State Park for a day of kayaking, which you can read about here.

I “rediscovered” Ludington State Park back in April, when I went on an excursion to photograph some of the lighthouses on Lake Michigan. As I wrote back then, my family used to go there often when I was a kid, but I have found many places on my own since then, and haven’t been to Ludington in years. The dirty little industrial town has cleaned up its act, and now is pretty little tourist town. The state has done a lot with the park as well, adding hiking, cross-country skiing, and a canoe trail. Here’s a link to a map of the hiking trails, here’s a link to a map of the canoe trail. Ludington State Park is on a strip of land, mostly dunes, between Lake Michigan to the west and Hamlin Lake to the east. Hamlin Lake empties into Lake Michigan by the Big Sable River that flows through the park.

Map of Ludington State Park

The weather started out beautiful, bright and sunny, although the wind was pretty stiff out of the south. I made a stop at the Ludington City Park to see if the waves were crashing into the lighthouse or the breakwater, they were, a little, not enough to spend time trying to get a photo. So I continued on to the state park. I tried finding a map, but they were all gone, the park gets a lot of use, even this time of year I found out.

I started out headed north on the Island Trail, and what a cool trail it is. There are a series of bridges and boardwalks connecting some of the islands in Hamlin Lake.

Bridge to the first island

Some of the islands are large enough that they have bogs and marshes on them. I could bore you to tears with all the marsh and bog photos I took.

One of the many marshes in Ludington State Park

Another marsh in Ludington State Park

There are more islands farther out that aren’t connected to the trail system.

An island in Hamlin Lake

I was under the impression that the canoe trail weaves its way around these same islands, but I was wrong. There are even more islands south of the island trail trailhead from where I started from, and the canoe trail weaves around those islands, not the ones I hiked today. Why the state hasn’t added these islands and marshes to the canoe trail, or marked these as a second one, I have no idea. The entire time I was hiking the island trail, I couldn’t help but think what a fabulous paddle it will make.

I can’t wait to paddle these marshes!

One of my fears was confirmed though, I didn’t see a wading bird of any species today, I am pretty sure they have all flown south for the winter. I did see some trumpeter swans, geese, and mallards though.

Trumpeter swans, Canadian geese, and mallards

And a huge flock of American coots.

American coots

That’s less than 10% of the flock, I zoomed in so you can tell what they are. The place looks like a waterfowl wonderland.

More marshes

There was a lot of fresh sign that beavers are in the area.

Beavers have been chewing on this tree

You can see the sap running, it hasn’t been too long since a beaver was gnawing on this tree. And here’s a shot just because I love it, nothing special, just an old stump in a marsh.

An old stump in a marsh

Towards the north end of the island trail, you can see where the dunes from Lake Michigan are encroaching on Hamlin Lake.

Sand dunes

I got to the end of the island trail, then cut over on the connector to the ridge trail. There’s a shelter there along the way, made from field stone.

Field stone shelter on the Ludington SP trails.

Here’s the view out the front.

View from the shelter

And out the back.

A downy woodpecker behind the shelter

The woodpecker stopped by as I was taking a break and changing the batteries in my GPS unit, and I shot the picture through the back window of the shelter.

Then it was time to start the climb on the ridge trail. I almost wish I had gone the other way around, as the ridge trail seemed somewhat anti-climatic after the island trail. It s a much more typical Michigan trail through mixed forests along the top of a sand dune ridge. You do catch a glimpse of the Big Sable Point Lighthouse from time to time.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

But you have to look carefully through the trees.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

You may even see one of the reasons for the light being there.

A freighter up bound on Lake Michigan

As you can see, it was getting cloudy and hazy, and not long after these last two, the clouds really thickened up and so I didn’t take many more photos. I got back to where I started from, but wasn’t ready to leave yet, so I wandered along the Big Sable River, from the dam to a footbridge across the river just downstream a way. I took a few photos, but they aren’t worth posting here, except this one of a herring gull taking off…

Herring gull running for take off speed

This one of the sand drifting like snow in the wind…

Sand blowing in the wind

And a close up of an American coot taken from the bridge…

American coot

Other than the sun disappearing on me, the only other negative was the number of people there in the park today, it surprised me. Most people walk the first half of the island trail to the lost lake trail, or walk along the river from what I could tell, so the time I was on the north end of the island trail, and all the time on the ridge trail, I was all by myself. The ridge trail has some steep hills to climb, so I think most people avoid it. I imagine that this park is like an ant farm in the summer, with people crawling all over it. I sort of knew that already, but I didn’t think there would be crowds the day after Thanksgiving.

Anyway, the island trail is worth dealing with the crowds, it is my new all time favorite trail! The only question will be will I hike it again? Sound funny? I am thinking that the next time I go there, it will be with my kayak next spring when the waterfowl and wading birds are back. With all those islands…

Islands in Hamlin Lake

All those marshes…

A marsh along Hamlin Lake’s shore

and dozens of nooks, crannies, and coves to paddle around in, I am sure I can spend most of the day on the water in my kayak, just getting out from time to tie to stretch my legs and explore the islands that aren’t connected by bridges…

A footbridge connecting islands in Hamlin Lake

What I should do is what I planned on doing this weekend, hike one day and kayak on the other. There are still a lot of trails there I haven’t covered yet, and it looks like it will be about the perfect still water paddle. How many days til spring?

Thanks for stopping by!


8 responses

  1. Northern Narratives

    What a beautiful place to visit. Thanks for sharing the great photos.

    November 25, 2011 at 11:23 pm

  2. I so enjoy your stories and articles. I can remember all of the places that you mention. Keep ’em coming. 🙂

    November 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

  3. Beautiful indeed! I haven’t been to Luddington State Park, but I’ve seen quite a bit of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. My family is from the Grand Rapids area, where I’m moving in January. I’ll have to check out the park!

    November 26, 2011 at 11:58 am

    • Welcome, or welcome back, which ever fits. If you love the outdoors and nature, then Ludington State Park is a definite must see!

      November 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm

  4. A well-documented park trip- I feel like I was there!

    I like the variety of environments that the park contains, it looks like one could spend all day there and not run out of things to see.

    November 26, 2011 at 4:34 pm

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