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Shark Enterprises
Joan H. Young
861 W. US 10
Scottville, MI 49454
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this page updated 10/8/12

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Stories containing:
wilderness
Nordhouse Dunes
Manistee National Forest

at Nordhouse Dunes

Nordhouse Dunes
Beach Trail Ridge Trail North Angle Trail

Nordhouse Dunes


Nordhouse Dunes is a National Wilderness Area within the Manistee National Forest. Although only 3450 acres, it is a unique ecosystem, and is the only designated Wilderness in the Lower Peninsula. The trails are minimally signed if at all, in keeping with the ambience of wilderness. With the
Lake Michigan Recreation Area to the North and the Ludington State Park to the south, a long beach hike is a possibility. It gets a lot of use, some say too much- due to the fragile nature of the vegetation on sandy soil. There are about 20 miles of foot trails. Lots of shoreline with no sight of man-made structures.

The trails marked in magenta and yellow on the map are approximate- copied from the Manistee National Forest Map.


Beach Trail

The trails in Nordhouse Dunes are not named. I have simply designated them by a descriptive phrase. This route angles toward Lake Michigan along an old road on wide and damaged trail, then skirts the back side of the foredune, and then follows a contour of the foredune north, with views of Lake Michigan, to the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. Description is from south to north.

Leave the Nurnberg Road Trailhead by the southernmost trail behind the Piping Plover interpretive sign through mixed deciduous and pine forest. 0.125 mile- Reach a fork by a large white oak, take the left branch, trail is mostly level over gently rolling terrain. 0.25 mile- begin to see more hemlocks in the woods. 0.375 mile- come over top of rise and there is a wetland (about 1 acre) below on the right. Standing water in spring, leatherleaf. 0.5 mile- begin climbing a gradual but significant hill in loose sand. Descend into a valley with hemlock and beech, and climb out gradually. 0.6 mile- single track trail angles back to the right (haven't explored this yet) 0.8 mile- pass a small wetland on your left, may be dry in summer; trail is mostly level winding between small rolling hills. Another single-track trail goes to the left. 0.875 mile- Reach a fork and take the right branch. The left branch is a former path which now dead-ends in a wetland just on the other side of the small hill you see. Pass the wetland on the right fork. 1.0 mile- Reach the top of the ridge beyond the wetland and begin descending gradually 1.05 miles- Reach a fork and take the right hand branch. The trail is now not quite so wide and damaged.

1.125 miles- You have now come to the back side of the open dunes. If you look at the top of the hill you will see grass at the tops and open sky beyond. (If you want to scramble up here and follow the dune you might as well use this obviously well-climbed route rather than damage another route. At the top of the dune turn right, and follow an obvious trail along the sandy ridge. It heads toward the lake and eventually descends to meet the rest of the description at mile 1.6) The actual trail continues at the foot of the hill.

1.25 miles- you will see some white cedar now in the woods, curve around more to the north, continuing on the level.

1.6 miles- Reach a broad valley with potential campsites which continues through a narrow opening to Lake Michigan. There are several well-used campsites here, and oddly enough, a sign that says "no horses." Also find a Michigan Benchmark survey marker .

1.65 miles- Continue to the narrow opening to the beach. (The alternate route over the dune comes in here from the south.) Climb the steep and eroded ridge between the beach and the valley you just walked through and stay on top of this ridge. The trail continues on this contour. Pass a hump with a volunteer trails to the top. These steep side trails are badly eroded and it would be much better for the stability of the soil if people avoided climbing them. You could alternatively have gone down to the beach and walked the water's edge to the north, and another volunteer trail has been made at the base of the bluff at beach level but away from the water. In any case, go north. 1.8 miles- climb gently to moderately with views of the lake through hemlock and white cedar on your left and a hemlock/ beech/ maple valley to your right. 2.0 miles- reach the top of a steep climb through loose sand to the top of a hump with great views all the way around.

2.1 miles - Reach the bottom of the next dip through loose sand and the remains of some steps placed there at one time. Begin to climb moderately up the next hump. 2.15 miles- Reach the top of that hump where there is one of the more open views of the lake with fewer trees on the west. Descend and climb again, as you begin to descend there is a small wetland on the inland side- probably dry in summer, but very pretty in spring. The trail curves inland slightly along a narrrow, sandy eroded valley and descends some steps. 2.3 miles- Reach the head of this valley.

2.3 miles- Junction with the North Angle Trail. There are potential campsites here. The valley extends to the beach for easy access. In very wet times there may be a small creek flowing in the valley, but doubtful in summer. The trail continues north along the bluff edge, now more level than it has been to this point. Now there are more white birch and cottonwood on the lake side. The topography on the inland side now rolls gently away more or less on the level of the trail.

2.4 miles- Another side trail goes up a steep hump on the inland side, main trail stays on the contour and rejoins the hump trail in a tenth of a mile. 2.6 miles- Pass by another hump with steep eroded side trail to its top which rejoins in main trail in another tenth mile. 2.8 miles- Climb and descend a small hump.

2.9 miles- Pass the sign indicating the border of the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness. The trail continues to the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. You have now technically left Nordhouse, but the trail description continues to the parking area. The trail continues on the level at the top of the lake bluff.

3.13 miles - Approach a steep hump and pass the two trails that lead up to the top. This trail is the bottom of the Arrowhead Trail described in the Lake Michigan Recreation Area page.

3.25 miles- Pass relatively new steps which angle to the north down to beach level. To prevent erosion it would be wise to descend here if you want to go down to the beach rather than scramble down some other place. Pass a bench and some snow fencing. There is trail both left and right of the fencing; take either pathway. Climb gently.

3.38 miles- You are just below the south observation tower of the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. You can climb to the tower and descend on stairs, or continue along the trail on the contour.

3.48 miles- Reach the bottom of the steps to the observation tower and reach the parking area at 3.5 miles.

Access- parking for a number of cars at the end of dirt Nurnberg Road, or enter from the north at the south side of the Lake Michigan Recreation Area
Restrictions- no vehicles, no wheeled conveyances of any kind, no horses, no bikes, pets must be leashed; campsites must be more than 400 feet from Lake Michigan waterline and more than 200 feet from the Nordhouse Lake waterline. Campsites must be more than 400 feet from roads at Wilderness boundaries, no beach fires. Do not remove any woody material from sandy areas (driftwood, shipwreck timbers, etc). All National Forest regulations apply. Nordhouse is a Recreation Fee Site, which means you need a sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). Current fee schedule
Distance and time- about 3.5 miles, 2 hours
Trail Markers- none
Treadway- mostly old road from the trailhead to the beach, unstable footing in places- the mineral soil has been disturbed so that the trail is often 10-15 feet wide and filled with loose sand; along the shoreline single-track trail on sandy forest soil with some areas of loose sand; or you can walk along the beach itself
Grades- level to gradual to moderately steep
Ecosystem- xeric mixed deciduous forest with white pine, cedar, hemlock. Open dunes near the beach, Lake Michigan Shoreline, high forested dunes above the beach
Other points of interest- Ludington State Park to the south; Lake Michigan Recreation Area to the north
Most recent date this info personally checked on foot- May 2007
Back to map

Ridge Trail

The trails in Nordhouse Dunes are not named. I have simply designated them by a descriptive phrase. This trail follows the ridge of an inner dune from the Nurnberg Road parking area to the Arrowhead Trail in the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. It is a single-track trail; this is one of the least road-like walks. It passes by Nordhouse Lake, and although there are no open dune views and is generally closed in by woods, I like the feel of the ridgetop. Description is from south to north.

Take the trail that leaves the north edge of the parking area behind the latrine. This quickly divides in two; take the right hand (eastern) trail. The left fork is the North Angle Trail. Immediately climb a moderately steep hill and descend into a dip across three broad water-bar type steps. Climb again to the top of the ridge, and you are looking steeply down to red pines on the right and less steeply into mixed woods on the left.

0.1 mile - Cross a trail that is dim coming from the left but more used as it descends off the ridge to the right. This is the connection with the Peters Grade. Continue to climb gently.

0.25 mile - You have now climbed to the top of the ridge, and will continue along its top with a certain amount of undulations for the remainder of this walk.

0.5 mile - You can see Nordhouse Lake through the trees on your right, and less than another 0.1 mile you reach the sandy beach of the lake which drops fairly steeply to your right to the water. The trail angles away from the lake and ascends gently.

0.6 mile - The trail forks. Take the right hand path, continuing along the lake but high above it. Pass the north end of the lake in another 0.1 mile.

1.25 miles - Cross another trail in a small dip which looks like a deer trail to the left, but has been clearly used by humans descending much too steeply to the right, causing erosion. Please refrain from scrambling up or down these side paths. Climb again, and soon you cross an open area near the top of this hill. There is a nice view of wooded hills off to the southeast.

1.5 miles - Cross another trail that descends to the right, again much too steep and badly eroded. Cross several more small open areas, but there are no views in the summer.

1.8 miles - The trail leaves the absolute top of the ridge and cuts around to the west side just below the ridgetop, then descend off the toe of this highest ridge to the top of the next level. You will soon see below and to the right a flat open area that is probably covered with water in the spring.

2.0 miles - Reach a definite trail crossing. The wide left turn is the North Angle Trail. The right turn descends to the Peters Grade. Continue straight.

2.1 miles - Reach the sign marking the northern boundary of the Wilderness area; enter the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. You have now technically left Nordhouse, but the trail description continues to the Arrowhead Trail.

2.25 miles - Pass another too-steep trail descending off the ridge to the right.

2.37 miles - Cross the hilltop in a broad open area that used to contain the water tank for the campgrounds. Continue just a few more feet to the Arrowhead Trail in the Lake Michigan Recreation Area.

To reach the Peters Grade continue on the Arrowhead Trail for another 0.1 mile until you can descend on steps to the Oak campground loop.

Access- parking for a number of cars at the end of dirt Nurnberg Road, or enter from the north at the south side of the Lake Michigan Recreation Area
Fees- Nordhouse Dunes requires a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). Current fee schedule
Restrictions- no vehicles, no wheeled conveyances of any kind, no horses, no bikes, pets must be leashed; campsites must be more than 400 feet from Lake Michigan waterline and more than 200 feet from the Nordhouse Lake waterline. Campsites must be more than 400 feet from roads at Wilderness boundaries, no beach fires. Do not remove any woody material from sandy areas (driftwood, shipwreck timbers, etc)
Distance and time- about 2.5 miles, 1 hour
Trail Markers- none
Treadway- single track pathway, natural surface, fairly stable footing
Grades- moderate climbs and descents, undulations following ridgetop
Ecosystem- forested ridge with xeric mixed trees- white pine, oak, maple
Other points of interest- Ludington State Park to the south; Lake Michigan Recreation Area to the north
Most recent date this info personally checked on foot- April 2010
Back to map

North Angle Trail

This trail has an extensive section which is closed and impassible since a large windstorm in 2008, but by following the beach trail for a distance the route is still possible. The trails in Nordhouse Dunes are not named. I have simply designated them by a descriptive phrase. This trail makes an angle from the Nurnberg Road parking area northwest to the beach, and then back northeast to the Ridge Trail. The southern leg is a partially grown in road that follows the inland side of the foredune. The northern leg cuts across the lower inland dunes. Description is from north to south. You can make about a 2 hour loop by going north on the Ridge Trail and returning south via this trail.

Leave the Ridge Trail by a wider trail which angles southwest. (This point is about 0.1 mile south of the Nordhouse Dunes sign if you entered from the north.) It soon narrows to a single-track, and descends gently into a dip and then climbs gently again and begins a long gradual descent.

0.2 mile - Reach the bottom and make a short, gentle climb. Pass a research plot on your left with orange 1's painted on several trees.

0.5 mile - The trail becomes wider and flatter and angles to the right, then passes through a section that is clearly under water in spring. soon you will see open sky through the trees. Pass a small wet meadow on your left. Pass through an area where the trampled vegetation suggests that it is often used for campsites.

0.7 mile - Reach the junction with the Beach Trail at the head of a short valley with an intermittent stream that flows into Lake Michigan. This trail used to turn sharply southeast (left) to follow the inland side at the bottom of the foredune. However, the remains of this trail will disappear into a tangled mess of blowndown trees in about 0.2 mile. Instead, follow the bluff and climb away from the camping area along the edge.

1.7 miles - Reach a junction with a trail that branches off to the left. Continue straight on the wider path, and soon you begin to gently descend.

2.25 miles - Climb a short hill with three broad pegged-in steps, and descend immediately to the junction with the Ridge Trail just north of the Nurnberg Road parking area.

2.35 miles - Reach the parking area.

Access- both ends of this trail connect with the Ridge Trail.
Fees- Nordhouse Dunes requires a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). Current fee schedule
Restrictions- no vehicles, no wheeled conveyances of any kind, no horses, no bikes, pets must be leashed; campsites must be more than 400 feet from Lake Michigan waterline and more than 200 feet from the Nordhouse Lake waterline. Campsites must be more than 400 feet from roads at Wilderness boundaries, no beach fires. Do not remove any woody material from sandy areas (driftwood, shipwreck timbers, etc)
Distance and time- about 2.5 miles, 1 hour
Trail Markers- none
Treadway- single track pathway mostly on old grown in road, natural surface, stable footing
Grades- mostly flat with some gentle undulations on the northern leg
Ecosystem- forested with mixed trees- white pine, oak, maple; some wetland areas on the southern leg
Other points of interest- Ludington State Park to the south; Lake Michigan Recreation Area to the north
Most recent date this info personally checked on foot- June 2007
Back to map

R.J. Peters Grade

The trails in Nordhouse Dunes are not named. However, this trail is named by its historic use as it leaves the Lake Michigan Recreation Area, and I have simply extended that name to include the entire route. It parallels the Ridge Trail, but is located in the valley to the east of the ridge, and directly below it. You can make about a 2 hour loop by going north on the Ridge Trail and returning south via this trail.

The description is from north to south, and actually begins in the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. In the Oak Campground Loop, find the Multi-Use Trail on the west edge of the loop at the base of the dune. There is an interpretive sign about the Peters Grade. The trail stretches straight south, looking very much like what it is... an old railroad grade.

0.14 mile- cross another trail which goes to the camping loop, and also winds along the base of the dune. There is a bench. Continue straight, and pass three steep, eroded trails coming down from the Ridge Trail, all signed to not use them.

0.3 mile - The multi-use trail turns to the left to continue around the perimeter of the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. A 4x4 post marks this corner. There is an interpretive sign about the dunes. Continue straight.

0.4 mile - Enter Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness. The rail grade continues straight across a wetland area. This may not be passable in wet times, but you can skirt it to the right by going slightly up the edge of the dune. In fact, there is a fairly obvious trail where people have done this. You can't possibly get lost; just follow the ridge, and you can get around the wet area in another 0.1 mile, and join the rail grade again.

1.0 mile - Reach a wide, steep trail coming down from the Ridge Trail. At this point the trail becomes less like a rail grade. It still seems to be an old road, but there are some low rolling grades that would not be consistent with a railroad. It moves slightly away from the bottom of the dune ridge, but not far, through maple- beech forest with some oaks. Then it veers back to the base of the ridge

1.5 miles - Cross another trail, which is an road going left, and a trail up to the Ridge Trail to the right. Continue straight. In another 0.1 mile you will be able to see Nordhouse Lake through the trees.

When you reach the Lake, the trail becomes braided. There is a "volunteer" trail part way up the bank. Just keep the lake on your left and the hill on your right.

1.8 miles - Come to the beach where this trail more or less joins with the Ridge Trail. From here southward, this Peters Grade Trail is more of a bushwhack than a trail, so you can leave here if you wish, or you can continue along the base of the ridge. The walking is not difficult.

Continue around the lake at the base of the dune. At 2.0 miles you will notice a small saddle in the ridge to your right with a small valley coming out toward you. Simply continue along the base of the ridge.

2.25 miles - Reach a large open field at the base of the dune. There is a steep trail going to the ridge, but there is a better choice just ahead. Continue across the field, less than 0.1 mile, and you will see an old road angling up the ridge. Use this to join the Ridge Trail. Turn left.

2.4 miles - Reach the parking lot.

Access- south end of this trail connects with the Ridge Trail. The north end is accessed from the Multi-Use Trail of the Lake Michigan Recreation Area
Fees- Nordhouse Dunes requires a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). Current fee schedule
Restrictions- no vehicles, no wheeled conveyances of any kind, no horses, no bikes, pets must be leashed; campsites must be more than 400 feet from Lake Michigan waterline and more than 200 feet from the Nordhouse Lake waterline. Campsites must be more than 400 feet from roads at Wilderness boundaries, no beach fires. Do not remove any woody material from sandy areas (driftwood, shipwreck timbers, etc)
Distance and time- about 2.5 miles, 1 hour
Trail Markers- none
Treadway- single track pathway mostly on old railroad grade or road, natural surface, stable footing
Grades- mostly flat with some gentle undulations
Ecosystem- forested with mixed trees- white pine, oak, maple; some wetland areas on the northern end
Other points of interest- Lake Michigan Recreation Area to the north
Most recent date this info personally checked on foot- April 2010
Back to map

Camping-
Dispersed camping is permitted with the following restrictions: campsites must be more than 400 feet from Lake Michigan waterline and more than 200 feet from the Nordhouse Lake waterline. Campsites must be more than 400 feet from roads at Wilderness boundaries, no beach fires.

There are unofficial campsites along Green Road, just outside the wilderness boundary. Green road is sand, very rough, but these sites are well-used by small RV's and trailers. No facilities of any kind.

Handicap Accessibility- latrine is accessible but must be reached on natural surfaces. The interface with the cement slab is a bit rough.

Rest Rooms- accessible latrine
Potable Water- none

Access- sand Forest Road 5540 off dirt Nurnberg Rd.
Fees- Nordhouse Dunes requires a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). Current fee schedule
Restrictions- no vehicles, no wheeled conveyances of any kind, no horses, no bikes, pets must be leashed; campsites must be more than 400 feet from Lake Michigan waterline and more than 200 feet from the Nordhouse Lake waterline. Campsites must be more than 400 feet from roads at Wilderness boundaries, no beach fires. Do not remove any woody material from sandy areas (driftwood, shipwreck timbers, etc)
Seasonality- wind off the lake can be brutal in winter, but the area is open
Ecosystem- Lake Michigan shoreline, through perched dune wetlands, open sand blowouts, wooded dunes
Other points of interest- Ludington State Park to the south; Lake Michigan Recreation Area to the north
most recent date this info personally checked- May 2007
Additional Facilities- accessible latrine, bear-proof trash cans, one picnic table
Maintained by- Huron-Manistee National Forest , call 231-723-2211
More- In lieu of the Forest Service parking fee, Interagency passes are also accepted. Display on your dashboard when you park.

Nordhouse Dunes at Wilderness.net

Huron-Manistee National Forest info on the dunes

Here's what GORP has to say about the area.

Comment by liz, Aug 6, 2008. anyone that has hiked north out of the nurenburg parking lot on what you call the north angle trail must go do it again! the destruction from the june 08 storm will absolutly overwhelm you. an entire valley of trees has been wiped out. you have to climb to the ridge path to get through as the path at the foot of the dune is completely obliterated in a tangle of downed trees. when you get to the top of the ridge and look out over valley it is shocking to see that not one decent sized tree has been spared. Oh, just go see for yourself. All of you.

Comment by Stef, July 31, 2008. My husband & I just returned from a camping excursion at Nordhouse Dunes. According to the Ranger, a tornado passed through the area in June 2008. We had to take an alternate driving route to the wilderness area due to multiple road closures. The trail itself is in good condition, though there are several groups of trees that have fallen near the trail. The established campsites were easy to find and the beach was glorious.
Thank you very much for this informative site - we used your description of the "Beach Trail" to navigate to the beach and it was very accurate and easy to follow.
The Piping Plover interpretive sign is located near the rest rooms - the Nordhouse Dunes informational sign is now near the Beach Trail trailhead. I'm not sure whether these have been rearranged since you last visited... Thanks again!

Comment by Tim Hower, July 29, 2007. We hiked the entire loop July 21-22. We hiked from the south trail head to the north trail head along the ridge trail and then 3/4 of the way back down the beach trail to where we set camp and then hiked the rest of the way out the next day. The weather was beautiful but cold in the morning. There were a spattering of other hikers on the trail including a group from camp pretty lake. One of whom had to be taken out on a backboard by the coast guard after an accident while playing football on the beach.

Trail Condition Report, by Heather Boivin, August 14, 2006. My husband and I backpacked into the Nordhouse Dunes for the first time July 14-16, 2006. The trail was wide and very well maintained. For this we were grateful, as we hiked in at dusk. There are no trail markings because this is a designated wilderness area. We did use our GPS since we were unfamiliar with the area, and it did become dark before we could pitch our tent. You are free to pitch your tent along the dune ridge as long as you remain 400 feet off from Lake Michigan and 100 feet off the main trail. There are many nice camping spots where other backpackers have stayed previously. If you are looking for beauty and seclusion, you will certainly find it here.

Comment, April 28, 2004. Some land is private to the south, and not all state park

Trail Condition Report, by Marie, July 1, 2002. Just backpacked in this past weekend! The foot trail from Nurnberg Road to the beach front is in excellent condition. Some of the bigger hills are very loose, but all else is still pretty hard-packed from the spring moisture. Some grooming might be in order - overhanging branches get caught on the pack! - but overall looks good! We had an excellent trip.

Trail Condition Report, by Tim, July 30, 2007. We hiked the entire loop July 21-22. We hiked from the south trail head to the north trail head along the ridge trail and then 3/4 of the way back down the beach trail to where we set camp and then hiked the rest of the way out the next day. The weather was beautiful but cold in the morning. There were a spattering of other hikers on the trail including a group from camp pretty lake. One of whom had to be taken out on a backboard by the coast guard after an accident while playing football on the beach.

[Counties] Lake County Manistee County Mason County Oceana County

To reach the Nordhouse parking area you must find Nurnburg Road. This is a turn to the west off the "back way" from Manistee to Ludington/Scottville. From US 10-31 between Ludington and Scottville, turn north on Stiles Rd. This will make one jog to the east and back north and become Quarterline Rd. Nurnburg Rd. is 2 miles north of this jog. Turn west (left) and drive 6 miles to the end of this dirt road.

From Manistee, drive south out of town on Maple Street. This will make one jog to the west and back south and become Quarterline Rd. Nurnburg Rd. is 4.5 miles south of this jog

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