Hiking in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area


nordhouse wilderness sign Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is a small area of about 3,450 acres of federally protected dunes and forest located in between Manistee and Ludington in Michigan. This area is managed by the Forest Service and has special rules and regulations that are enforced to protect the wild character of the Wilderness.

Terrain Features: Open dunes, forested dunes, interdunal wetlands, undeveloped shoreline

Fees: Day Use fees are $5.00 per day or $15.00 per week

Forest Regulations:

  • Campsites must be 400 feet away from Lake Michigan and at least 250 feet away from trails and Nordhouse Lake.
  • Group size limit is 10 people max
  • Motorized vehicles, non-motorized mechanized equipment (bikes, wheelbarrows, etc), and horses are prohibited.
  • Woody material (driftwood, shipwreck timbers, pine knots, etc) must not be removed from the beach or dune areas.
  • No beach fires or fireworks
  • It is illegal to cut or damage live vegetation (shrubs, trees, etc) for any reason.

Land Manager: Cadillac Manistee Ranger District, USFS - (231) 723-2211

Recommended Skills:

Endangered Species: Piping Plover, Pitcher's Thistle

Nordhouse Dunes Trailhead

trailhead restroom

Pit toilet at Nordhouse trailhead

fee station

Trailhead fee station

There are actually two trailheads at the Nordhouse Dunes parking area. One is left of the fee station and the other is just to the left of the restroom. Both directions will get you to the beach. There are no paper maps or water at the trailhead.

Nordhouse Wilderness Rules and Regulations

Regulations are in place to protect the Wilderness and the wilderness experience. Don't be the one that gets a ticket for lighting off fireworks on the beach. Be sure to practice all the leave no trace camping methods.

Endangered Species at Nordhouse Dunes

Piping Plover

There are only about 32 breeding pairs of piping plovers around the Great Lakes. Their habitat is flat, open, wide, sandy beaches. Plovers arrive from mid-March thru mid-May and remain for 3 to 4 months per year. If disturbed they may abandon their nest. Care must be taken on the Nordhouse Dunes beaches until about August 15th.

Pitcher's Thistle

The Pitcher�s thistle is a rare plant (currently a threatened species) that grows for 5 to 8 years before flowering. It may grow up to 3 feet tall and can be located on open sand dunes and low open beach ridges. It only blooms and sets seed once during its lifetime, which happens from June to September. Tread lightly around dune vegetation to protect this unique plant.

Hiking around Nordhouse Dunes

I liked the north angle trail the best. It wasn't a blown out "highway" like the sandy trail / old road at the west end of the parking lot. Besides my preference of backpacking on trails that don't have a loose sandy tread, I found the north angle trail to be more scenic and it actually included a few overlooks as well.

ridge route trail N angle trail North angle overlook ridge route trail cutover trail Lake overlook ridge trail old road pond dead tree dead trees

Exploring the Beach

shore birds footprints in sand sandy beach sunset shoreline beach rocks driftwood shipwreck hull shipwreck timbers nordhouse beach

Nordhouse Lake

Nordhouse Lake is very shallow and the water levels fluctuate depending on the season. As far as the number of feet to camp away from Nordhouse Lake, on the wilderness map from the ranger station it says camp at least 200 feet away, but on the USDA site it says camping is permitted 250 feet away.

The 2008 Nordhouse Tornado

A tornado hit the Nordhouse Dunes beach at 9:26 PM on June 12th 2008. It was rated an EF1 and left a track about 1.3 miles long. The damage can be seen pretty good along the north angle trail.

Dayhike Ideas

If you limit yourself to the beach you aren't seeing all the dunes have to offer.

Rec Area map
Just a short distance north along the Nordhouse Dunes beach is the Lake Michigan Recreation Area which has multiple scenic attractions. The Arrowhead trail and the Porter Creek trail are good scenic hikes and there are also two observation platforms that will address your need for spectacular views of the lakeshore. The Recreation Area campground has almost 100 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings and water is available at spigots. Full restrooms are also available.

big sable point lighthouse
The Big Sable Point Lighthouse is about 6 miles from the Recreation Area and about 4.75 miles from the middle of section 27. If you plan to go see the lighthouse just keep in mind the roundtrip distance. Your best bet would be to get an early start. Or from Ludington State Park it is only about a 1.6 mile hike.

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