Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sleeping Bear Dunes--Platte Plains

Hike: Bass Lake Loop
Nearby Town: Empire, MI
Elevation (Max): 629'
Elevation Gained: ~62'
Mileage: 3.5
Difficulty: Easy
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:

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lantern Hill

Hike: Lantern Hill
Nearby Town: Ledyard, CT
Elevation (Max): 426'
Elevation Gained: ~270'
Mileage: 2.11
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trailhead: Lantern Hill is right next to Foxwoods Resort & Casino. Follow Route 2E just past Foxwoods and the intersection with Rte 214. Take the next right which is Wintechog Hill Rd. You will see a little turn off on the right pretty soon where you can park.
Web Site:

Lantern Hill is a classic short hike in southeastern Connecticut. The hike has nice vistas, cliff faces, and some steep climbs. Overall, though, the hike is short, so even though the blood will occasionally get pumping, the hike is pretty easy. You want to start the hike in the pull off from Wintechog Hill Rd., where you will usually see at least one other car parked. Unfortunately, this hike doesn't give you time to warm up, as one of the steepest sections is at the very beginning. Once you get up that hill, the hike more or less flattens out and walks through forest with some small vernal pools scattered about.

Fall colors

It won't take long before you arrive at a 4-way junction. Going right takes you to the Two Trees Inn at Foxwoods, going left takes you to the top of Lantern Hill (this is the way I had always done the hike prior to this time), and going straight will take you along the western side of Lantern Hill before climbing up the southern end of the hill to the summit. On this hike, to satisfy my curiosity, we went straight.

Tight squeeze in this section
Quarry with the ocean on the horizon

I was very pleased with our choice. Not only is it nice to get a different perspective on a very familiar hike, but this route is also less strenuous than the usual route to the top. The trail skirts the western edge of the hill with cliffs above and steep dropoffs below. The trail then comes to a point where it turns around to head to the summit, but there is a vista point here where you can pause to view the nearby quarry and Lantern Hill Pond below. Then follow the trail north up the hill to reach the rocky summit. You can enjoy views to the west (great spot for sunsets) or views to the east over low wooded hills. The cliff on the west side of the hill is a favorite of vultures for soaring on the updrafts. You can also just barely see the ocean to the south if you have a clear day. If you look north, though, the view is a bit startling. All other directions show more or less uninterrupted woods, but looking north reveals Foxwoods and it's enormous buildings. My preferred spot on the summit is looking east where there's a nice cliff to sit and enjoy the view.


Once you're done enjoying the view, follow the trail north down from the summit. This trail will eventually get you to the junction from earlier in the hike. To return to your car, go right, and you'll be there pretty quickly. On this particular hike, though, I kept up the theme of exploring new trails so I went straight toward Two Trees Inn. This part of the hike was not so enjoyable. It goes through buggy woods and eventually arrives at the Two Trees Inn parking lot. On the way, you'll cross a large path. You can go right on this path and it will take you back to Wintechog Hill Rd. where you can turn right and it's just a short walk back to the car. Lantern Hill is always good for a quick hike, and it's one of the best vistas you can get in all of southeastern Connecticut. Below is a GPS-generated map of the hike.