This was my first backpacking adventure of the year. After living and working in Ludington for several months, I formed what I thought would be the best backpacking trip using both areas. The route is a little less than 30 miles and I completed it in ~24 hours. Backcountry camping isn't allowed in Ludington State Park except at the Jack Pine Hike-In campground so I planned to start in the southern part of the park and hike north to Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area where backcountry camping is allowed.
Route summary: from parking area off Piney Ridge Road>inland dunes near Hamlin Lake (off-trail/use trails)>Hamlin Dam>Island Lake Trail> off-trail from shelter by Hamlin Lake to dunes>dunes to Nordhouse Dunes (camp)> beach to Lake Michigan Recreation Area>out and back beach walk north to Gurnsey Creek (or turn around when desired)> Lake Michigan Recreation observation platform> Porter Creek (on both sides)>Nordhouse dunes to Nordhouse Lake>Nurnberg Trailhead>Lake Michigan>beachwalk to Big Sable River (passing lighthouse)> path on north side of Sable River>bridge over Sable River> Skyline Trail>Sable River Trail past Hamlin Dam>Follow dunes south of river>Piney Ridge.
I began the route at a road side parking area off Piney Ridge Road. There was space for about three vehicles. I don't believe a state park pass is needed to park, but I already had mine.
The trails in this area aren't marked and I went to the right toward Hamlin Lake.
In this area there were generally trails on forested ridges with views through the trees of Hamlin Lake and its many marshes, bays, and ponds. I tried to stay close to Hamlin Lake but still up on the ridge.
View of Hamlin Lake through the trees
As I neared the Big Sable River and Hamlin Lake outlet I could see across Hamlin Lake to the dunes I would traverse in a couple hours.
There was a dramatic overlook of Hamlin Lake with a bench.
From a dune near the Hamlin Dam I could see Hamlin Lake and Lost Lake.
I descended to the trail near the dam. It was still snowy in places.
I walked the beach by Hamlin Lake to connect with the Island Trail.
Island in Hamlin Lake
Looking back to the dunes across Hamlin Lake
The Island Trail has some nice bridges and boardwalks.
A scenic pond along the Island Trail
I continued north on the Island Trail from the junction with the Lost Lake Trail. The Lost Lake and Island Trails make a nice loop day hike.
In some places the trail has been rerouted more inland. I opted to explore closer to the lake for some nice views.
One of my scenic detour routes away from the official trail brought me to a view of the dunes that can't be seen from the main trail.
At the end of the Island Trail there is a shelter, but overnight camping isn't allowed.
From here I went off trail through the forest to the open dunes. From the shelter it is also possible to loop back to Lost Lake or the main park campgrounds on the Ridge Trail.
The dunes by Hamlin Lake feel remote. I tried to stay close to Hamlin Lake.
Lake Michigan from the dunes
There were also great views of Hamlin Lake from the dunes.
I could even see the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
I climbed up on a forested ridge.
Then crossed more open dunes.
Then some sandy dunes.
This was probably my favorite dune. I ascended to the ridge to the far right.
From the ridge there was a wonderful view of Hamlin Lake.
The top of the dune revealed a steep descent to the forest below.
I decided to follow the ridge up high.
While up on the ridge I noticed Keep Out signs so I descended.
Soon I crossed the wilderness boundary for Nordhouse Dunes.
I continued to follow the dunes as I neared Lake Michigan.
It was evening and there was some nice evening light on the dunes.
I heard voices down below the dune in the forest and knew I was close to one of the main trails. Soon I descended to near the beach.
I saw several tents as I made my way north.
I began to look for a place to set up camp.
I found a nice spot back behind some dunes and set up camp just before a beautiful Lake Michigan sunset.
Camping at Nordhouse Dunes
After the sun set, I could feel the temperature drop, but it wasn't very windy.
I awoke in the middle of the night and found a mouse running around the mesh inside my tent. It must have entered after had set the tent up but not zipped the door. After some time, I was able to help it exit and I drifted back to sleep.
Mouse in tent
The next morning was chilly, but I warmed up pretty quickly as I hiked.
I continued north on the beach.
Soon I came to the wilderness boundary and enter Lake Michigan Recreation Area.
I reached Porter Creek and jumped across.
I left my pack and went for a run north on the beach for ~3 miles each way.
It was a beautiful run. I did have to ford a creek.
There were houses back on the dunes.
I decided to turn around at Gurney Creek. The beach route as described in Jim Dufresne's Backpacking Michigan continues to Magoon Creek.
As I ran back to my backpack, there were stairs on the dunes.
I reached my pack and hiked over to the lookout at Lake Michigan Recreation Area.
There was a nice view from the top of the observation platform.
I followed a trail along Porter Creek for a short distance.
I crossed over Porter Creek on a bride.
Then I continued on a trail on the other side back to near Lake Michigan. Near the parking lot there was another nice view of the lake.
I joined the trail to Nordhouse Lake.
Soon I was back in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness.
I descended from the ridge to a pond and found another wilderness sign.
It was a pleasant ridgeline walk through the forest. As could see Nordhouse Lake through the trees as I approached it.
I took a break at a sandy beach on Nordhouse Lake.
I followed the trail to the Nurnberg Trailhead and then took the trail on the other side of the parking lot back to Lake Michigan.
Back at Lake Michigan
Looking north from Nordhouse Dunes
I began the beachwalk to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
There were ducks on the lake.
Lake Michigan was quite calm with barely any waves.
There were some steep dunes along the beach.
I crossed the Nordhouse Dunes boundary and entered Ludington State Park.
There were tracks from a vehicle on the beach.
Some trees that were buried were poking out of the dunes.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse
I took a break on the dune south of the lighthouse and enjoyed the view. It's probably one of my favorite lighthouses in Michigan.
Inland dunes from Big Sable Point
I continued south along the beach.
A passed another hiker going the opposite direction.
I reached the mouth of the Big Sable River.
I continued past the state park entrance station and followed a path on the north side of the river to a bridge across the river.
Big Sable River
Next I walked over to the Skyline Trail and ascended the many stairs.
The trail provided some expansive views of Lake Michigan.
I descended to the Sable River Trail and followed it parallel to the river.
There were many people on the trail by the river.
There is a boardwalk I could see Hamlin Dam.
I passed the dam and headed up the dunes.
I went off trail and followed the top of the dunes.
There are some great view from this section.
Most of the these dunes are grassy.
Most people probably don't realize the view from these dunes as they enter the park on M-116.
In the distance I could see the sand plant and even further, the Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse.
From the top of the dune I found a nice view of an inland pond.
Then I came to some sandy dunes.
Looking North, I could barely see the dunes on the other side of Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan behind them.
I reached the big dunes above Piney Ridge and my hike was almost complete.
The southern end of Hamlin Lake
an interdunal pond near the sand plant
I descended from the dunes and after a short walk in the forest, was back at my car.
This is one of my favorite weekend backpacking trips in Michigan's lower peninsula as it includes some of the most scenic trails in Ludington State Park and Nordhouse Dunes, off-trail route finding through dunes, beautiful beach walking, and one of Michigan's best lighthouses. The route can be shortened to not include the portion south of the Big Sable River or the beach walk north of Lake Michigan Recreation Area. The beach walk can also be extended north to Magoon Creek.