Nearby Town: Empire, MI
Elevation (Max): 629'
Elevation Gained: ~62'
Trailhead: Go west on Trail's End Rd from M-22 just north of Platte Lake and south of Empire. Follow Trail's End Rd to the parking lot at Bass Lake.
Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/trailplatteplains.htm
Bass Lake at the start
This is a pretty easy hike on the coast of Lake Michigan in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Since it's a loop hike, you have two options for the hike, counter-clockwise or clockwise. When I did this hike with my family, we went clockwise which means starting along Bass Lake and returning via the trail by the vault toilet, but looking back I would recommend doing it counter-clockwise since I believe it's always best to leave the best scenery for the end of a hike. Another very important tip I have for this hike is to be prepared for bugs. If at all possible, avoid doing the hike in the evening (which is when my family did it). This hike tied with my hike of Mount Monadnock for the worst bug experience I can remember. Despite that, though, this hike transports you to beautiful pine forest and can truly be enjoyable if you're prepared.
Dad walking along the lake
In terms of bug preparedness, if you insist on doing the hike in the evening (which actually is a beautiful time to do it and lends itself to more wildlife sighting opportunities), I would recommend bringing bug spray with you and wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt with a hood. My family did this hike in the middle of summer, but still I resorted to wearing a jacket with the hood up and cinched around my head. We started the hike along Bass Lake which was a beautiful aqua green color at that time of the evening. The hike is in pretty dense pine forest and is mostly flat aside from the occasional ups and downs. Not long into the hike while we were still going at a pretty relaxed pace, the bugs had yet to get under our skin, I spotted an animal I had never seen before just off the trail--a porcupine! The light in the woods was low and the porcupine was on the move so the pictures didn't turn out great, but it was definitely neat to see. We all paused to look at the porcupine, which may have been our undoing because I'm pretty sure that brief time we stood still was all the bugs needed to hone in on us and they didn't relent for the remainder of our hike.
From there on, our hiking crew split into two groups. My Dad and aunts went at a more leisurely pace probably because they were all wearing more clothing, and my sisters, Mom and I broke off into a faster group that seemed to make a quick exit from the woods our main goal. The trail is pretty obvious for most of the hike except two junctions. There is one point on the out portion of the hike where you need to turn right to remain on the loop (if my memory serves me, there is a sign at this junction that will direct you). Later in the hike there is a T that surprised us because it's not on the trail map, but you want to go left at this junction and you will soon be back to the parking lot.
Most of the hike from the porcupine sighting to the end is a blur in my memory. This is for two reasons. First, whenever my group came to any downhill portion, we would break into a jog to speed up our escape from the bugs. And, as you can see in the photos, this meant that my memory is not that only thing that is blurred. Also, I'm pretty sure part of my coping mechanism was to try to separate my mind from my body so as to not go insane from the bug attack. I remember lots of pine trees, soft ground under foot, and rich green vegetation all around. When we finally got back to Bass Lake the bugs dissipated greatly, and we walked onto the small dock and took in the scenery of the dark woods surrounding the emerald lake with the late evening sun setting the tops of the trees on the far shore ablaze in golden light.
In case you've never been to northern Michigan, I feel I should just comment here that you haven't seen much of a sunset until you've seen one there. Not only are they colorful and set against intensely beautiful natural backdrops like towering sand dunes or lakes, but also given the high latitude and location on the western edge of the eastern time zone, the sun doesn't set until about 9:30 and the sky doesn't go completely dark until around 10:30. And as long as I'm bragging about the Sleeping Bear Dunes area (check out an earlier post I did here), I might as well mention that Good Morning America named it the Most Beautiful Place in America earlier this year. You can watch their segment on it here. Check out the GPS-generated map of the hike below.
Bass Lake at sunset
Beautiful green water