Cool Hikes

This fall, try some trails off the beaten path

Sanctuary Woods
Hanging out at Sanctuary Woods
Photo: Jim Hayden / Laketown Township

Open space is a true joy, and West Michigan is blessed with lots of it. On hot September and October days when summer’s hanging on, sunny beaches and dunes can feel too open. Into each life a little shade should fall.

You may have explored the lakeshore’s stellar large parks, traversing shaded trails in Hoffmaster State Park, Saugatuck Dunes State Park and the like.

Here, we’ll introduce you to six of their diminutive cousins. Scattered around the lakeshore in small towns are municipal and county parks where huge trees shade trails, cool rivers flow, or trails atop dunes get hikers up into the breeze-off-the-big-lake stratosphere. You may know of others. Talk them up and invite your friends! These refreshing retreats deserve just as much love as their big-name counterparts.

Some trails described below are in communities too small for a post office, so USPS street addresses use an adjacent town’s name. The “GPS address” will get you there.

To autumn hikers, a reminder channeling our moms and dads: remember to wear bright colors! Deer hunting season starts October 1. On the brighter side, summer parking fees ended with Labor Day weekend.

North Ottowa Dunes
North Ottowa Dunes
Photo: Courtesy of Ottowa County Parks

North Ottawa Dunes, Ferrysburg

Enter and park at Coast Guard Park,
18161 North Shore Rd.
Easy to strenuous hiking

South of Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, what looks on a Google map like a tiny blip is actually close to 600 acres of massive, forested dunes. They stretch for a third of a mile along Lake Michigan. A 10-mile trail network links the peaceful, secluded wilderness to Hoffmaster and, to the south, Ottawa Sands Park. Some of the packed trails are a workout, but many are easy to conquer.  

Park: 593 acres

Trails: 10 miles. The trailhead’s off the Coast Guard Park parking lot. 

Parking: paved | ample

Trail surface: natural

Elevation change: 185 feet

Modern restrooms (during warm months) in Coast Guard Park

Picnic tables

Leashed dogs allowed on trails, but not on dune stairs. 

miottawa.org/parks/dunes.htm

Rosy Mound
Rosy Mound
Photo: Carmel Brown / DeVries Photography

Rosy Mound Natural Area, Grand Haven

Rosy Mound
Follow the trail at Rosy Mound
Photo: Carmel Brown / DeVries Photography

13925 Lakeshore Dr.
Easy to moderate hiking

Rosy Mound has a split personality. It’s a favorite spot of ambitious hikers who happily scale staircase after staircase over its tree-covered high dunes to reach the beach or a trail loop that hooks north. But there’s another option: where the handicap accessible main trail divides about a quarter mile from the parking lot, the Acorn Trail offers an accessible path through ground level pine forest. Signage at trail marker 2 guides the way. 

Park: 164 acres

Trails: dune trail to the beach, 2.2 miles | Acorn Trail, .75 mile

Parking: paved, ample

Trail surface: natural

Elevation change: main trail, 171 feet | Acorn Trail, minimal

Modern restrooms near parking | rustic toilets at beach

Picnic tables & grills

No dogs (except leader dogs for people with disabilities).

miottawa.org/Parks/rosymound.htm

Pigeon Creek
Pigeon Creek
Photo courtesy of Ottowa County Parks / Jim Hayden / Laketown Township

Pigeon Creek Park, Olive Township

GPS address: 12524 Stanton St., West Olive 
Easy to moderate hiking

Winter sports are the claim to fame of this county park east of US-31. But its 10 miles of cross-country ski trails welcome hikers spring, summer, and fall. (Two maps are posted online, for skiers and off-season hikers.) Deciduous trees shade many trails, along with aged pines dating from the site’s lumbering days. Stanton Street bisects the park, so leave your car at a lot in the middle and choose a southern or northern trail loop. Major ones range from 1.7 to 2.8 miles. 

Park: 282-acre park + 130 adjacent acres of open space

Trails: 10 miles 

Parking: gravel, ample

Trail surface: natural

Elevation change: 72’ 

Pit toilets | modern restrooms in park lodge 

Picnic tables & grills

Leashed dogs allowed, except during cross-country skiing season

miottawa.org/parks/pigeoncreek.htm 

Sanctuary Woods
Sanctuary Woods
Photo courtesy of Ottowa County Parks / Jim Hayden / Laketown Township

Sanctuary Woods Preserve, Laketown Township

GPS address:  4750 66th St, Holland
Moderate hiking

Dense tree cover keeps air cool in Sanctuary Woods. We cannot promise, though, that you’ll feel spring fresh after climbing 170 wooden steps to the top of the nature preserve’s dunes. Once leaves begin to fall, views open up of Lake Michigan and Holland’s Lake Macatawa. Dirt trails laced with exposed roots meander around the top of the dunes to overlook points. Easier trails at ground level pass a collapsed 1914 Interurban Railway bridge. 

Park: 40 acres

Trail: .9 mile 

Parking: unpaved | sparse. This lot fills up quickly.

Trail surface: lower level, paved | upper level, natural

Elevation change: estimated 160 feet 

Port-a-potty

No dogs

laketowntwp.org/sanctuary-woods

Wolters Woods
Wolters Woods
Photo courtesy of Ottowa County Parks

Wolters Woods, Laketown Township

GPS address: 6281 147th Ave., Holland
Easy hiking

This completely shaded municipal park near Laketown’s north boundary is perfect for warm weather walking. The .7-mile trail is especially dark and cool where it passes under thick tree canopy by a ravine. On hot days, locals duck in for an 8-minute run that won’t make them wilt. With young kids, it can be a 45-minute ramble. The few small hills slope so gently that even someone using a walker can navigate the trail comfortably.

Park: 37 acres 

Trail: .7 mile 

Parking: paved | ample

Trail surface: crushed stone on dirt

Elevation change: minimal

Pit toilet

Playground | picnic pavilion | horseshoe pit

No dogs

alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/wolters-woods-park-loop

River Bluff Park, Saugatuck Township

River Bluff
River Bluff
Photo courtesy of Ottowa County Parks

Off Old Allegan Rd. just east of I-196
Easy hiking

Out-of-towners commonly encounter the Kalamazoo River in downtown Saugatuck or at the bridge park in Manlius Township to the east. But surprise: midway between them, where the river widens into Tyler Bayou, a crescent of land tucked between I-196 and the water offers cool trails and 1200 feet of town-owned river frontage. Huge hemlocks, oaks, and beech trees shade River Bluff Park’s point-to-point trail to the river; from there, an upper trail loops over an inland dune. 

Park: 27 acres

Trail: .7 miles (not counting upper loop)

Parking: unpaved | ample

Trail surface: natural, with a boardwalk over wetlands 

Elevation change: minimal 

Port-a-potty

Benches along trail | picnic tables | swings

Leashed dogs allowed 

alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/river-bluff-park

Take a Hike

map of West Michigan hiking locations

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