HAMLIN TOWNSHIP, MI – A trek that starts along a shoreline and then gives way to a forest ridge is a peaceful escape into nature at this Up North state park.
The Island to Ridge trail route at Ludington State Park is about 3.5 miles long and offers views of Hamlin Lake, Lost Lake, ponds, picturesque forests and even a glimpse of Lake Michigan from afar.
If you’re looking for a looped trail that offers a bit of a workout (but not too strenuous), low traffic and the serene sounds of nature, this is one for you.
This route traverses along the edge of Hamlin Lake and its surrounding wetlands then atop a forested ridge to the far north edge of the park before looping back around.
Despite the popularity of this park, hikers will likely only see a couple other groups on this path, especially once they reach Ridge Trail.
For day-users, the Hamlin Beach parking lot is the starting point for this hike. The lot is at the end of the park’s main road. It’s a popular area, featuring an inland lake beach with restrooms, concessions, water rentals, a playground, Hamlin Dam, and boat and kayak launches.
Because Ludington State Park is one of the most popular in the Lower Peninsula, the parking lot could fill up on busy days. There’s additional parking along the main road and paved trails on either side.
Pack a small backpack with your essentials: water, a camera, snacks (especially if you’re bringing a little one). Bicycles are not allowed on Island Trail, and strollers, wagons and other mobility devices would be impractical over the hills, tree roots and narrow pathways. Wear comfortable shoes. Leashed dogs are welcome.
For the exact hike this group completed, start at marker 15 (or marker 14 to 15) north of the Hamlin Lake day-use area, which is the south entrance to Island Trail.
Island Trail begins at marker 15 with a short boardwalk over water and wetlands to reach the island that separates Hamlin and Lost lakes. This section of the trail is known for its views of the lakes to the east and west. It doesn’t so much weave through as flow with the forest. The path is well-worn and includes benches for hikers to stop and take in the views.
At the first fork in trail, marker 16, continue straight (north) on Island Trail (a left will take you to Lost Lake Trail). Much of this narrow section is situated between steep hills and water with some of it being wooden walkways. This section offers views of lily-pad covered water and overhanging trees. As the trail continues north, it hugs the shoreline of Hamlin Lake, at one point opening up at the top of a dune where one could run down into the water, but the climb back up would be challenging.
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The next point of significance is marker 17. There’s no fork in the trail here but there is a warming shelter with a view of Hamlin Lake through the trees. This is a good spot to rest as you close in on Ridge Trail.
Shortly after the marker, a sign marks the start of Ridge Trail at the bottom of a hill. Here, you begin climbing the ridge. At the top of the first climb, the trail continues to the left, but take a turn to the right and continue the climb to reach the top of a dune. Here there are views to the east and south of Hamlin Lake and the forest canopy.
Ridge Trail then continues northwest through the woods. Most of the trail has steep drop offs on one or both sides. It’s shaded, quite and peaceful with little traffic. When the path reaches the northern edge of the park, it turns sharply to head southwest. Keep an eye out for views of Lake Michigan through the trees.
The trail next comes to marker 18 where there is a flight of stairs going down. At the bottom, the trail is gravel and has a wooden border on either side. This leads to marker 19.
To return to the Hamlin Lake beach area, take the boardwalk south along the west shoreline of Lost Lake, then continue south to marker 15, then marker 14.
The 4,800-acre Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan.
Situated between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, it’s known for its seven miles of sandy Lake Michigan beachfront, an iconic lighthouse and a one-mile stretch of Big Sable River that’s popular for fishing, paddling and tubing. The park also features 21 miles of marked trails through wetlands, marshes, dunes and forests. Hamlin Lake is popular for recreation, including boating, paddling and swimming.
The park, 8800 M-116 north of Ludington, is especially in demand for camping. It has three campgrounds with 352 campsites.