Some call it “sprinter” — the tumultuous transition from winter to spring, when Mother Nature can’t seem to make up her mind. Gorgeous weather one day, a dusting of snow the next. I’m loving the touch-and-go “sprinting,” though, because after a long winter up north, I feel obliged to savor every phase of spring and not rush it.

By Paul Baumbusch | Trail Genius

“Come Slowly - Eden!” goes the poem by Emily Dickinson. And I say “Come slowly, Spring!” The year sprints by so fast. Let’s relish each delight — from the arrival of the sandhill cranes and red-winged blackbirds and robins, to the popping of the crocuses, to the warm rains, to the ultimate signal that spring is here: the peeping of the peepers.

To hunt for early spring, I drove south on M-22 from M-204 and visited three quick spots along the way. Swanson Preserve, Good Harbor Beach, and the Bay View Trail.

Little Traverse LakeSwanson, a Leelanau Conservancy natural area, is the perfect relaxing respite between Leland and Glen Arbor. No inclines, no arduousness. Just a cedar forest, boardwalks, verdant streams, and a lovely contemplative view of Little Traverse Lake. You can do the whole loop in 20 minutes, or you can linger and meditate.

Spring met me quickly at Swanson; insect larvae were dancing in a pool, in the sunlight, near the trailhead. Too soon we’ll be begrudging these pools as “standing water” breeding mosquitos. But now, with snow still dappling the forest, any signs of returning life are thrilling. These little squiggly guys will nourish what’s coming.

Pause for a moment — or forever — at the boardwalk over the first stream you cross and and admire the aquatic plants. Then proceed to the lake lookout. Seeing the white ice-covered lake was jarring, as though I had traveled three weeks back in time. But the ice was cracking, thank goodness.

Then venture a little further on the trail, and you may reach some fallen branches in a stream flush with snowmelt, producing a “babbling brook” melody. That inimitable sound! That burbling lyricism, recalling birdsong, has inspired poets immemorial. Stop. Listen.

Good Harbor BeachAfter Swanson, I paid an impulsive visit to Good Harbor Beach, expecting various formations of ice on the shore of Lake Michigan. What I saw instead startled me. No ice. Open water! Turquoise waves, roiled by the wind, crashed upon a beach spangled with a beautiful array of stones. Memories of summer beach walks flooded back to me, and memories of frozen lakes suddenly seemed far away. I wanted to peruse all the stones. And I wanted to swim…But I’m not that impulsive.

To top off my day, I was craving a jaunt to the top of the world. The Bay View Trail, lesser known than Empire Bluffs and Pyramid Point, is a friend who never disappoints. While I adore those other two hikes — I will of course be spotlighting them in upcoming Trail Genius posts, so stay tuned — the great thing about Bay View is you can do a satisfying loop. And who doesn’t love a loop? Here’s what I recommend…

Bay View Trail EntranceFrom M-22, turn onto Thoreson Rd. (By the way, be sure to keep an eye and ear out for a pair of pterodactyl-like sandhill cranes on that stretch of M-22. They always return to that area this time of year.) You’ll cross over the Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail, and you’ll come to the parking lot for one of Bay View’s trailheads; the other may be accessed from The Homestead. But here’s the trick — here’s where the trail genius comes in! The loop you want to take isn’t marked clearly. You need to walk a little further on Thoreson, and on your right, you’ll simply see a No-Vehicles No-Snowmobiles No-Bicycles advisory, and a dirt path. 

Take that path. Then, after a fairly easy incline, go right toward Lookout Point and the Ridge Trail. Were you to go straight, you’d be descending to the Farm Trail, which has it’s own charm. But it’s early spring, and your spirits are buoyed, so today you’re needing an elevated perch from which to survey your kingdom.

The view from the picnic table of Lookout Point is, in my opinion, one of the most glorious in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. That 360-degree panoroma of glimmering waters, tawny fields, and inviting forests beguiles you. “Wow,” I whispered to myself the first time I experienced it. I swear, one of these days I’ll finally realize my dream of picnicking up there with some Leelanau Raclette and Chateau Fontaine Dry Riesling, and then my life will be complete.   Olsen Barn

  If you must depart that spot, then decompress by strolling along the Ridge Trail, with glimpses of the Big Lake through the trees. You’ll come to a sign that says “Wrong Way, Steep Curving Hill, Skiers Ascending.” But this is early spring — saying that never gets old! — so no need to worry. Descend the hill and meet up with the Heritage Trail, which takes you past the impressive red barn of Olsen Farm and ultimately leads you to the trailhead parking lot. 

Along that stretch, I passed by a field full of chattering robins, and I was thrilled to see “velvet” on the new branches of aptly-named staghorn sumac. Aha! So spring found me on my third adventure of the day, too. That rascal. If I may riff for a moment…

Fact is, spring will always find you. There is no repressing spring, no stopping it. It is a promise that is always kept. It is a wish that always comes true. How many things in life are like that?

I pondered that question, and much more, during a bonus stop at a beach in Leland that evening. Because why not linger outdoors a while longer? Whereas during winter it can be hard to go outside, we’re approaching the time of year when it can be hard to go inside.

Babbling Brook  Sumac Velvet  Bay View Trail Vista  Bay View Trail Lookout Point  Insect Larvae Aquatic Plants