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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Michigan's Nordhouse Dunes

Sunny beaches, cool forests, and a birder's paradise along the shores of Lake Michigan.

by: Kevin Breen

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Contact Information:

Huron-Manistee National Forest Manistee Ranger District 412 Red Apple Rd. Manistee, MI 49660 616/723-2211

Location: The Nordhouse Dunes are located in Western Michigan, 12 miles southwest of Manistee County. The town of Manistee is about 95 miles northwest of Grand Rapids. Ludington offer more tourist possibilities just 15 miles away.

Getting There: From Grand Rapids, Michigan, take I-96 west to Muskegon. Take U.S. 31 North to the second Ludington exit (there are two). Follow signs to Manistee. (You'll bypass Scottville.) At the BP gas station, turn left onto Forest Trails Drive (also known as Road #5629). Go 5 miles to Quarterline Road and turn south. Turn west onto Nurnberg Road and park in the lot at the stop sign.

Visitors from Wisconsin can take the Lake Michigan car ferry from Manitowoc to Ludington. Call the Lake Michigan Car Ferry Service at 800/841-4243 for more information.

Seasonal Information: In the summer, temperatures range from the 70s to the 90s. Winter comes in early November with temperatures anywhere from zero to the low 30s. The warmest months are July and August while the coldest month is January. Typical rainfall is 31 inches.

During the summer months and deer hunting season the area is heavily used and the opportunity for solitude diminishes.

Wildlife: There are tracks of whitetail deer, red-tailed foxes, and weasels everywhere. Coyotes, raccoons, porcupines, squirrels, and skunks are also common. Birding is superb with plenty of waterfowl and songbirds.

Insects: Black flies and mosquitoes can be annoying, especially in August.

Plant Life: To the west the land is a blend of open sand, grassy dunes, wooded ravines, and pine stands, eventually giving way to Lake Michigan. To the east the ridge drops steeply into a forest of pines and hardwoods.

On active dunes, plants that tolerate the desert-like conditions exist. Woody patches within the active dunes are commonly populated with juniper and stunted jack pine. Dune marshes, particularly with the stabilized areas, contain a large variety of wetland plant species including hemlock and larch.

Facilities: You're on your own in the wilderness, but there are somewhat developed sites at Lake Michigan Recreation Area, adjacent to the wilderness. These sites are $10 per site per night for up to 14 days. Flush toilets, fire rings, and water are available.

Parking: Free designated parking lots are easily found by following signs. Facilities are located at Nurnberg Road and at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area.

Permits: No permits are required.


  • Motor vehicles, motorized equipment, and bicycles are prohibited in the wilderness.
  • Huron-Manistee National Forest requires that all campsites be at least 400 feet from wilderness boundaries and the Lake Michigan shoreline, and 200 feet from Nordhouse Lake.
  • Group size limit is 10.
  • Beach fires, horses, pack stock, motor vehicles, and bicycles are prohibited in the wilderness.

Hazards: There is no water source in the dunes, so water must be carried into the dunes from an outside source.

Leave No Trace:

  • Hike on the most solid areas to reduce your impact.
  • Due to the fragile nature of Nordhouse Dunes, camping and campfires are discouraged in the open sand areas.
  • Woody material from beaches and other sandy areas - driftwood, shipwreck timbers, pine knots, etc. must not be removed.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: The "Hamlin Lake" quad is available at the Manistee Ranger District for $4.

Other Trip Options: Nordhouse is sandwiched between Ludington State Park to the south and more of Huron-Manistee National Forest to the north.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is farther up the coast.

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