Trail Trekker Challenge, Report #6: Good Harbor Bay Trail

6 January 2017

Good Harbor is known for its beaches and a popular brand of Leelanau County wine. But the “bay area” is also home to one of the best, beginner cross-country ski paths in the entire Lakeshore. So how does it play as a summer hiking path? Read on.


[source: nps.gov] 

One of the most often asked questions from friends who learned our family was trying to tackle all 13 mainland trails in Sleeping Bear was this:

How did we choose the order of the trails we hiked?

Come to think of it, I think only one person asked that. Or maybe I just made it up.

But the question is still a good one, because there was some strategy involved. If my wife and I were doing the Trail Trekker Challenge without a nine and 13-year-old in tow, we could easily have nocked off the entire thing in a couple easy weekends. We might have drawn the names of the trails from a hat. Or, as I’m sure someone will try someday, do all of them on the list in single day. Turn the Trail Trekker Challenge into a marathon-style endurance race. 

Remember, you heard it here first.

This time around, however, tackling all 13 hikes was supposed to provide some good, family fun. So we came upon a very unambitious plan—hike two trails per month.

We started back in April with Empire Bluffs Trail, which was easy walking (even in snow), very short and very scenic. Windy Moraine Trail, another shorty, came next. We would start slowly and build the kids’ stamina for hiking over the summer and fall, then scrabble like hell to complete the thing by November, usually the month when the first winter snow hits.

If we had to hike in early winter, we also wanted the trails to be short. So after a breaking-in period with Empire Bluffs and Windy Moraine, we started looking at check a few longer excursions off the list. In Sleeping Bear, a long trail is around 2.5 miles. Good Harbor Bay Trail is 2.8 miles and is designated “easy” owning to its proximity to the coast—a flat area of shoreline where dunes and hardwood forest meet, smack dab between Little Traverse Lake and Lake Michigan.

As was becoming routine, and even though it was a Saturday, we found no cars in the trailhead parking lot and no people on the trail. The day was hot and sunny, but under the shady canopy of pine and oaks trees the temperature was almost cool.

Just like the guidebook said it would, Good Harbor Bay Trail passed first through an area of low coastal dunes before turning south into more dense forest dotted with swampy low spots alive with tiny frogs. Downed trees, presumably from the August 2nd windstorm in 2015, were also numerous and provided lots of opportunities for climbing.

I was looking forward to a picture of everyone posing on the first footbridge crossing over Shalda Creek. But as was also becoming habit on these walks, the kids were always racing well up ahead of the wife and me—trying to best one another on who could be first to find the next big, fallen tree to climb. They were having a good time, so we forgot about pictures and just let them go. 

Because its passes through sand dunes, hardwoods forests, pines and a swamp, Good Harbor Bay Trail has a reputation for being one of the best “birding trails” in the Lakeshore. But, as I no doubt pointed out in previous posts, if you’re looking to see songbirds and other wild creatures when hiking in Sleeping Bear it’s probably better to leave the kids at home. Aside from the occasional flash of a chipmunk darting out of sight under the leaf litter, the only wildlife we happened upon was a little, black rigor mortised moth my daughter found lying belly-up on a stump.

I read a trail report somewhere that described Good Harbor Bay Trail as so lacking in scenery that it was a “mundane choice” at best for hiking when compared to the other Lakeshore trails. It’s certainly the flattest trail we so far encountered in Sleeping Bear—a trail I’d like to revisit in winter with some cross-country skis.


[source: nps.gov]

We finished the entire hike in well under an hour. We didn’t get turned around (the trail is very well marked and easy to follow). All the downed tress and watery spots kept the kids interested and engaged. Had we thought ahead just a little, there’s Good Harbor Beach for swimming and picnic just a short walk through the trees at the trailhead. Maybe next time.