On Saturday Jim DuFresne’s long awaited hiking guide to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, 50 Hikes in Michigan
, will be unveiled during the Hiking & Backpacking Day at Jay’s Sporting Goods
at 8800 S Clare Ave. near Clare. 50 Hikes in Michigan
is the first four-color guidebook to the state’s hiking trails and the first to be in internet-intergraded with all the book's maps available to download from MichiganTrailMaps.com. Jim will be speaking at 11 a.m. on Isle Royale National Park and at 3 p.m. on Michigan’s best backpacking treks. You can now order the new guidebook from the MichiganTrialMaps.com eshop
In honor of the new wilderness and the new book this month’s newsletter is reprinting a section for the 50 Hikes in Michigan
covering the Platte Plains Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
A Backcountry Site in Platte Plains
By Jim DuFresne
Until the proposed Bay-to-Bay Trail is completed across Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are two walk-in campgrounds within the mainland portion of the park. Valley View is a lightly used facility north of Glen Arbor with neither dunes nor Lake Michigan nearby. The other is White Pine Campground, reached on foot from the Platte Plains Trail. This backcountry campground is a gem.
Located in a ravine between two forested dunes, White Pine is an escape from the noise and bustle of the park’s busy tourist season in midsummer; yet the campground still lies near the three main attractions of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Within a short walk of your tent are windblown dunes, panoramas of the rugged shoreline and the Manitou Islands, and isolated stretches of Lake Michigan beach.
Platte Plains Trail is actually a 15-mile network of trails with four trailheads. The shortest route to White Pine Campground is a 1.2-mile walk that begins at the end of Peterson Road. But the most scenic route is the 7.2-mile walk described here which begins at Platte River Campground and is commonly referred to as the Lasso Loop.
With its easy hiking and ban on mountain bikes, Platte Plains is one of the best destinations in the Lower Peninsula for anybody’s first overnight adventure in which all that’s needed is strapped to their back. Surprisingly, for a park as overrun as Sleeping Bear Dunes can be in the summer, the demand for campsites at White Pine is moderately light. Often when there is a line of campers waiting for an opening at popular Platte River Campground, walk-in sites at White Pine are still available.
Click on the map to the right to view a larger version or print.
From the Walk-in Camp Area of Platte River Campground, the trail breaks out of the trees in less than half mile and enters the low dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline where many discover how tiring hiking on soft sand can be. Straight ahead are the cool breezes off the Great Lake and a scenic view of the beach.
To the east is the soft, sandy path to post No. 9 and the junction with the Railroad Grade Trail. You hike over open dunes and through patches of beach grass. The views are excellent here and at post No. 9 the trail merges into an old railroad grade. You don’t have to be a train buff to envision a line running along the wide and level path. The narrow-gauge line was built in the 19th century between a logging town on the west end of Platte Lake called Edgewater to docks on Lake Michigan, where ships carried the cut lumber to cities like Chicago.
Those planning to spend the night at White Pine Campground head east at post No. 9 where in the next you enter a forest that provides more solid footing than the dunes but remains a level walk. Eventually you break out into a grassy clearing and arrive at Peterson Road at
Mile 1.6. Northeast of Peterson Road, the trail remains in the lightly forested area for almost a half mile. You then move into a thicker stand of oak and pine until reaching post No. 7 at Mile 2.6, the junction with another access spur to Lake Michigan. The views along the spur are stunning as you can see the entire bay along with the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes to the north and South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan. The main trail swings east and at Mile 2.8 arrives at White Pine Campground.
White Pine is located in a narrow ravine, with wooded ridges running along both sides of the secluded sites. The campground offers a vault toilet, a community fire ring, and only six sites, which explains why this area is a quiet section of the park even during the busiest weekend of the summer. There is no view of the lake from the campground, but a path wanders west and quickly breaks out into an area of windblown dunes. From the high perch of the dunes, you are rewarded with an immense view of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and South Manitou Island. The Lake Michigan beach, with its clear waters and sandy bottom, is just a dune or two away.
For those spending the night at White Pine, the second day involves a 4.4-mile trek. In other words, there is no reason not to spend the morning on the beach. From the campground, the loop continues due east. The triangles change color, from green (easy) to black (advanced). It’s rated primarily for skiers, but hikers will also notice that the walking is a little more strenuous. The approaching ridges and hills are ancient shoreline sand dunes that mark the position of Lake Michigan after each glacial ice melt. At Mile 3.6 you arrive at post No. 5 and the junction with Bass Lake Loop.
Lasso Loop continues south along a level stretch and at Mile 4.6 reaches Post No. 14. Heads right and within a third of a mile you breakout at Lasso Road at post No. 13 and follow the two-track briefly before veering off to the west at post No. 12. The trail begins skirting more of those ancient lakeshore sand dunes and at one point, there are forested ridges towering over you on both sides of the path. After swinging so close to M-22 that on a busy summer weekend you can hear the traffic, the trail climbs a ridge and skirts more marshy areas.
The open wetlands and meadows remain visible until you drop back down into the forest and cross Peterson Road for the second time at Mile 6. On the other side of the road, the trail swings north and eventually merges with the Railroad Grade Trail. Turn right here and follow the old line. Spurs to the campground quickly appear to the various loops.
Platte River Campground features 179 sites, including those with hook-ups for recreational vehicles and 25 walk-in sites that are secluded in the woods at the west end. There are also a picnic area, water, showers, rest rooms, and a ranger contact station with information. You can reserve a site through Recreation.gov (1-877-444-6777).
From the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire, head south on M-22 and in 9.5 miles you reach Platte River Campground. There are actually several places in the campground to enter the trail system. At the back of loops 1–4 are short spurs that connect to the Railroad Grade Trail. This hike begins from the walk-in camp area, where a trail leads directly to Lake Michigan.
Alternative trailheads to the Platte Plains include the west end of Peterson Road, Otter Creek, reached 4 miles south of Empire and west on Esch Road, and Otter Lake Trailhead, 6 miles south of Empire at the west end of Trail’s End Road.
You need to obtain a backcountry camping permit either at the park headquarters or the ranger contact station at the Platte River Campground to stay at White Pine. The permits are handed out on a first-come-first-serve basis and allow up to two tents and four persons per site. There is a nightly fee to stay at the six walk-in sites that is above and beyond the vehicle fee required to enter the national lakeshore.
For more information contact the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center (231-326-5134).