NORTHERN MICHIGAN AT ITS FINEST

Empire Bluffs Trail offers a can’t miss scenic adventure

By Robert Myers
Pioneer News Network

EMPIRE — You can easily hike the Empire Bluffs Trail in an hour, but there’s a good chance you’ll want the experience to last all day.

Considered one of the most beautiful places in America, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is home to countless picturesque overlooks and scenic trails. The Dune Climb Trail may be the face of the park, but the Empire Bluffs Trail, located just south of the Village of Empire consistently draws rave reviews.

The Empire Bluffs Trail is rated the top trail in the national lake shore by AllTrails.com, with the average hiker giving it 4.7 out of 5 stars, and it is easy to see why.

The trailhead parking lot is well marked off Wilco Road, less than a half-mile south of Empire. There, hikers can park their cars, brush of their shoes to prevent the spread of invasive species, and begin the slow uphill climb through the woods to the bluff.

Though there is an elevation gain with the trail of a couple hundred feet, it is an easy hike. The only significant incline comes at stairs near the end. Otherwise, it is a gentle .75-mile slope winding through a deciduous forest. For a time, the canopy of leaves block any panoramas of the surrounding landscape, but within them lie peaceful woodland views.

As hikers near the overlook, they are suddenly greeted with a teaser of the views to come as the trail bursts into a small clearing providing a view of the Lake Michigan shoreline and South Bar Lake to the north.

The trail briefly returns to the forest, but then it comes out to the bluff where a boardwalk trail leads a short ways south along the bluff to an overlook platform, complete with benches to sit down and savor the incredible views of land and lakes.

Whether to take photos, enjoy a picnic, explore the bluff or just relax, this can be the perfect place to spend an hour or two.

The Empire Bluff Trail officially ends at the overlook, however, many adventurous spirits have extended the trail south along the bluff. There are no official markings, but the trail is easy to follow and provides great views of the Lake Michigan shoreline and the plants and animals that make the air their home, whether wildflowers growing in the sand, a bald eagle flying high in the sky or deer running through the woods.

This trail can be somewhat more challenging at times, as it covers sandy and sometimes steep terrain and is not maintained. After a while, the trail meets the Treat Farm Trail. Beyond that point any trails still heading south become rather faint, making hiking to the Otter Creek trail system at Esch Road possible but difficult.

Dogs must be leashed but are welcome to accompany their owners on the hike. For more information about the trail, visit nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/trailempirebluff.htm.

 

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