Arcadia is a tiny, charming gateway town at the edge of the Sleeping Bear Dunes – and there’s something endearing about the name of its most popular hiking trail, like a favorite uncle: Old Baldy.
The trail is a bit of everything: shaded and sunny, challenging and relaxing, wide-open-windy wonder, and tucked-in-trees quiet. Bring the whole family and do a shorter hike on the 1-mile roundtrip accessible trail to the first Lake Michigan Overlook, or keep going another mile on the more challenging stretch to the namesake: Old Baldy Dune.
The first overlook
This half-mile stretch of trail is a wider gravel/dirt path and perfect for groups to walk together and those with a slower gait to make their way along. There are pretty turns of boardwalk through the forest area as you approach the overlook. Stop at benches along the way to rest or let the kids run ahead of you, knowing they won’t get too far away. There is some elevation gain but the boardwalk switchbacks make it easier. The reward? A stunning overlook at 0.5 miles in that proves why the dunes have become famous all over America.
The second overlook
Keep going another mile and you’ll find the most challenging section of the trail. If you are coming from the first overlook, stay left at trail markers No. 6 and then 5 – and you’ll find a wooden stairway wedged into a steep dune. It’s go time! Head on up for a once-in-a-lifetime hike. At the top, the trail winds around a deep bowl in the dunes, then out to an incredible open-faced dune overlooking Lake Michigan. Old Baldy Dune is officially there, somewhere. There are so many bluffs, it’s hard to say which is “the” one!
Regardless, you’ve arrived! Along the way, look for windswept sand caves carved into the face of the bluffs and look out over Lake Michigan as far as the eye can see. (Note: This is over 300 feet above the lake and too steep to hike down, or should I say, up!)
After leaving the beauty of the water, this trail then outdoes itself by offering a completely different route back to the parking area. Trace your steps back down the wooden stairs and follow the trail markers from No. 4 to 3 to 2. Here, you’ll dive into the forests of Northern Michigan. Look for a crazy beech tree that has become a landmark along the trail. You’ll know it when you see it! The entire trail system is around 3 miles. Expect it to take about 90 minutes (or more for photo ops!).
You can enjoy this trail year-round, but there’s something spectacular in the spring: the wildflowers (Trilliums! Lady Slippers! Dutchman's Breeches! May Flowers! Trout Lilies!).
Arcadia Dunes is also part of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail. Warblers and hawks are readily seen in the spring as they migrate along the coast and rest on the islands in their flight across Lake Michigan. The Trail is also home to the Piping Plover, a very rare, endangered shorebird that needs vast stretches of undisturbed beach. Watch for signs to stay out of nesting areas – the piping plover is strongly protected (and loved!) at the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Read more tips here: https://www.sleepingbeardunes.com/things-to-do/outdoor-recreation/birding/.
Park at the Baldy Dune trailhead along M-22, 8 miles south of Elberta or 2.7 miles north of Arcadia. Other great resources to check out: https://www.michigantrailmaps.com/member-detail/arcadia-dunes-baldy-trails/ and https://www.gtrlc.org/recreation-events/preserve/arcadia-dunes/.