Windy Moraine Trail

Wooden bench along side the wooded trail
Sit and take a moment to look up.

NPS credit

Quick Facts

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Trailhead

This family-friendly trail is especially beautiful in the fall. The 1.5-mile loop ascends steadily up to the scenic overlook of Glen Lake and descends rapidly afterward. The trail runs through meadows and thick forests and the moraine left by the glaciers that dredged Glen Lake. Windy Moraine is an ideal trail for exercise, seclusion, and a nice view.

Windy Moraine Trail is self-guided with a biodiversity theme. As the trail follows a modest incline up a moraine left 10,000 years ago from the last glacier from farm fields through a beech-maple forest, you'll see evidence of the connection between landscape features and the web of life, learn about the "edge effect" where forest meets field, find signs of early settlers, and understand how nature reclaims a landscape. Exhibits will illustrate Michigan's state soil that some call "loamy gold;" compare a natural plant community to a pine plantation; and reveal the wide variety of different life forms that make up a healthy natural community.
Watch for poison ivy, especially as you enter the forest after the old orchard.

Pets are NOT allowed on trail from December 1 to March 31.

Windy Moraine Self-guided tour

1. The Edge Effect
Where the forest meets the field, we find an especially rich variety of plant and animal life. This is called the "edge effect." The edge zone provides good habitat for robins, bluebirds, deer, and rabbits because both food and cover are available here. The wide variety of different life forms found here indicates a healthy natural community.

2. The Apple Tree
The apple tree on the left is an old variety called Duchess of Oldenburg, brought to this country from Russia in 1835 and once widely grown. Look at the trunk: it is riddled with sapsucker holes. The original habitat for this member of the woodpecker family was forests with clearings, but it has come to favor orchards as well.

Apple trees may have originated in Asia Minor or in the mountains of Caucasia. They were brought to the New World by European settlers, and today cultivation of apples and other fruits is an important industry in northern Michigan.

Occasionally, cultivated plants suffer from disease, insects and drought. Scientists then turn to old varieties or their wild cousins to seek types that are resistant. Wild plants or old cultivated varieties are a reservoir of genetic diversity, and for this reason it is important to preserve them. Throughout history, many different kinds of plants have proven useful to people. Even today, almost half of prescription medicines contain drugs of natural origin. Unfortunately, we are destroying natural habitat worldwide so rapidly that many species are going extinct before they can be studied to determine potential uses and their role in the natural community.

3. The Old Field
This former farm field has been lying fallow for many years since the National Lakeshore purchased the land. Gradually, the natural process of plant succession is occurring. The first plants to colonize an old field can include raspberries and other bushes. Common juniper is often the first large plant to grow. The first trees to enter the old field are those that do well in sunlight, such as poplar, white birch and black cherry. Eventually they will produce so much shade that only the seedlings of other more tolerant species such as maple, oak, and ash can survive. Barring natural disaster or human interference, the mature hardwood forests will eventually again dominate the former field.

4. The Young Trees
Did you notice that all the trees for several feet on both sides of the trail are relatively young? The trail follows an old roadbed that was obviously fairly wide. After vehicles no longer used it, tree seedlings began to grow. Now they are relatively crowded, but as time goes on many will die from insufficient sunlight and nourishment and only a few widely spaced and hardy survivors will remain.
Did you know that Michigan has an official state soil? Be sure to stop at the wayside exhibit down the trail a little way and learn why "It's More Than Just Dirt!"

5. The Big Maple
This giant sugar maple was at least a century old before it died; perhaps even much older. Why do you suppose it was spared when all the other surrounding trees were cut for lumber or to clear the area for farming? Pause here for a moment and think about the changes that have happened on the land since this tree was a seedling. If you feel a sense of awe, then you understand another reason for preserving biological diversity. Every time the world loses a species, we lose the opportunity to experience its unique beauty and wonder.

6. Wildlife
Can you see any signs of animal life around this hollow tree? Old beech trees often develop internal rot and the holes become ideal homes for porcupines, squirrels, and raccoons. Beech trees also produce large crops of edible nuts. The outside is spiny and splits into four parts, releasing the triangular nut inside. These are favorite food of the many birds and mammals.
While the park provides habitat for about forty different species of mammals, we should also give a moment's thought to the ones that are rare and absent. At one time bears roamed this area, but now they are seldom seen. Wolves once inhabited most of North America, but now they are limited to just a few locations. The park is not large enough to provide habitat for the large, far-ranging mammals. In order to preserve biological diversity, large tracts of wilderness are necessary.

7. Glen Lake Overlook
Over the tops of the trees down the trail you can glimpse a portion of Glen Lake, originally called Bear Lake by early settlers. The lake is actually a remnant of a bay from a few thousand years ago when Lake Michigan was much higher that it is now. As the level of Lake Michigan fell, waves and currents along the shore deposited a sandbar across the bay mouth, leaving Glen Lake landlocked. The village of Glen Arbor now sits atop that old sandbar.

A variety of habitats exist in the park: sand dunes, lakes, rivers, bogs, forests, fields. When we attempt to preserve biological diversity, we must preserve all of the various habitats that support that diversity as well.

In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act to assure that a growing population and expanding settlement did not eliminate all lands existing in their natural condition.

Portions of this park have been designated as Wilderness and are managed as wilderness. Wilderness is important as a recreational resource as well as an area where natural diversity can flourish.

8. Woodpecker Holes
Have you ever wondered, "What good is an old, dead tree?" Infested trees are a valuable source of food for woodpeckers. The elongated holes are made by the pileated woodpecker. This crow-sized bird with a red crest lives in mature forests, but it has become scarce in places where logging has destroyed its natural habitat. It usually makes a new nesting hole each year, and other birds often nest in the old holes. About 85 different kinds of North American birds including bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, and owls make their nests in old, hollow tress. When these old trees are removed, many different kinds of birds are affected.
There are many complex interrelationships in the web of life. When we damage one strand, we weaken the entire web.

9. The Pine Plantation
After loggers cleared the native forest, pine trees were planted. You can recognize pine plantations because they lack variety. Because most of the trees are of the same species and age, they are susceptible to the same diseases and insect infestations. The planting of large tracts of a single plant is known as monoculture. Other examples of monoculture are cornfields and vegetable farms. A natural plant community is healthier because the greater variety of plant life makes for milder effects of insects or disease.

It is just a short way back to the trailhead. We hope you have enjoyed the beauty of the natural surroundings and have gained a better understanding of the importance of biological diversity. If this subject has touched you, perhaps you will work through community groups and environmental organizations to assure the continuation of natural, diverse communities on our plant Earth.

Take the Trail Trekker Challenge

Do you think you can hike all of the trails in one year? Want to explore the landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, exercise, and have fun all at the same time? Join the Trail Trekker Challenge! Earn a prize and bragging rights by successfully completing each of the 13 mainland trails in the National Lakeshore. Hiking is a great way to get daily physical exercise and promote health while also discovering the beauty of the area. What better way to get your muscles warm, your heart pumping, and your senses savoring the views!

Pick up a copy of the Trail Trekker Challenge brochure/logbook at the visitor center in Empire.

Hike Safely

Before you take off down the trail, take time to prepare for a successful hike. Make sure the trail is appropriate for your ability, and travel with a companion and notify someone of your route and expected return time.
Take plenty of drinking water, bring sunscreen, wear a hat, and be prepared for mosquitoes.
Be careful of your footing-trails have uneven ground, exposed roots, etc.

Sand slide danger is always present on steep dunes. Stay off steep bluffs to avoid falls and dislodging rocks that can injure people below. Because of heavy treefall, avoid forested trails on windy days.

Remember, deer rifle season is November 15-30. Other hunting seasons occur throughout the year. Wear bright-colored clothing to be seen and safe in the woods.

And please stay on designated trails and help prevent erosion and damage to vegetation. Off-trail hikers can quickly produce paths that take years to revegetate. Threatened and endangered species occur in the park, avoid disturbing plants and animals.

Poison Ivy: leaves of three, leave it be!
Poison ivy grows plentifully in many areas of the Lakeshore as a vine or low shrub. The leaves are red in early spring, shiny green in summer, and an attractive red or orange in the fall. Each leaf consists of three leaflets. Most people are sensitive in varying degrees to the sap of this plant, which makes the skin itch, blister, and swell.
Avoid contact with all parts of the plant. Avoid plants with three leaflets.
If exposed, wash the affected skin with soap and water as soon as possible.

Don't get ticked!: protect yourself from tick bites
Avoid ticks by walking in the center of trails and avoiding contact with vegetation.
Use a repellent (on skin or clothing) and wear close-toed shoes, long sleeves, long pants, and socks. Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to easily spot ticks.
Check your clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks. Avoid sitting directly on the ground, fallen logs, or stone walls.

After being outdoors
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, and remove any ticks you find.
Check your clothing for ticks. Place clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least an hour.
Shower soon after being outdoors; it may reduce your risk of being bitten.
Check these parts of your body and your child's body for ticks:
Under the arm, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around hair, between the legs, around the waist.
If you are bitten by a tick
Remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it. Using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and then slowly, but firmly, pull it straight out. Immediately wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water, then apply an antiseptic to the bite wound.
Watch for signs of illness.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Last updated: February 7, 2024