Quick, what are your top-5 hikes in the Keweenaw? If Black Creek Nature Sanctuary isn’t on your list, you probably haven’t been there yet! This beautiful place, owned by the Michigan Nature Association (MNA) since the early-1990s, protects 242 acres of forests and a quarter-mile of Lake Superior shoreline. It’s one of my favorite hikes in the Copper Country and is gorgeous no matter the season. Interested in going for a wonderful afternoon adventure? Here’s what you need to know!
Why Explore the Black Creek Nature Sanctuary?
The Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, on the western shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula, protects a wide variety of habitats, from lakeshore dunes to wetlands to river valleys and everything in between. This diversity makes for an ever-changing hike, ensuring you’ll never be bored along the way. The round-trip hike is about four miles if you only visit the beach, although there are opportunities to lengthen your hike by another mile or so if you take an extra spur trail.
Best of all, the trail is beginner to intermediate in difficulty, with only a handful of small hills to contend with. Although there are roots throughout that could be a tripping hazard, most of the trail surface is sand or hard-packed dirt on gradually rolling terrain. Benches are placed throughout the trail to take breaks at, not to mention the beautiful beach serves as a great place to rest at the halfway point. The trail is narrow at points but otherwise is traversable by anyone with moderate hiking abilities. Even occasional hikers will be able to enjoy this place.
Like nearly all Michigan Nature Association sanctuaries, Black Creek is open for non-motorized users on foot. That includes hiking, trail running, snowshoeing, and backcountry skiing. Mountain bikers and horses are not permitted. Overnight camping isn’t allowed here either, but if you bring a headlamp for the return trip this is an excellent place to watch the sunset or northern lights over the lake.
Let’s begin! The Dune Ridge Trail begins at the parking area where a few informational signs will give you an idea of what’s to come. Stick to the trail for the first half a mile or so, as the sanctuary is narrow here and it’s easy to stray onto spur trails leading to private property. The trail is marked well and easy to follow through the sandy dune landscape. These dunes are not as tall as the ones near Great Sand Bay, although there are a few short climbs/descents that can be a little loose so watch your footing.
You’ll quickly enter a more mature forest of mixed northern hardwoods and various conifers, ranging from dense spruce thickets to giant white pines. The trail gradually rises and falls along the rolling landscape. During the summer thick ferns may encroach on the trail, so keep an eye out for guide blazes on trees to keep yourself on track. Every turn brings something new to see, including an abundance of wildlife if you’re quiet enough.
A couple of mini overlooks along the way give you a great view of Black Creek and Hills Creek. At times you’re right at the water’s level, while in other areas you’re high above it. There are a few small bridges along the trail that cross narrow drainages or streams. Nothing to worry about if you have decent balance!
The trail splits in two about two-thirds of the way in. One spur will take you to the inside of the lagoon, where both creeks combine to create a large pond and wetland complex next to the lake. You won’t be able to cross the lagoon safely to access Lake Superior though. If that’s your goal, take the other Superior Beach Trail and continue on through the scenic red pine forest. A map is located at this point to help with your decision making. Whatever your destination, you’re nearly there!
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Reaching Lake Superior
As you traverse the Superior Beach Trail, keep your ears tuned for the sound of crashing waves. That could only mean one thing: you made it! Lake Superior opens up before you for a magnificent view in all directions. The wide beach stretches off into the distance to the north and south. It’s a mix of cobbles and sand, with plenty of places to kick back and relax in the sunshine. Or do like I do, and start searching for flat stones to skip. Break out the picnic supplies because there is no better spot to hang out in the sun away from the crowds.
One unique feature of this special place is the lagoon that forms just to the north of where the trail ends at the beach. Here both Black and Hill Creeks meet and are dammed up by the dune along Lake Superior, creating a calm area for wildlife to congregate and enjoy the warmer waters. This is in direct comparison to chilly Lake Superior just a few dozen feet away. Depending on recent storms and erosion patterns (not to mention exuberant beach terraformers), the lagoon’s depth can change quite a bit between visits.
As enticing as it may be to hike up and down the beach admiring the view, don’t forget that you have ~2 miles left to hike back to your vehicle via the sanctuary's trails – more if you choose to hike the Lagoon Trail too. If you’re not on a schedule, hiking about a mile to the north will take you to the Gratiot River County Park. Land south of the Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is private for a long way. As always, please do not enter private property.
Getting There & Additional Information
The sanctuary area is located about twelve minutes (7 miles) from the Visit Keweenaw visitor center in Calumet. From M-203, head north on Tamarack Waterworks Road for 2.8 miles. Turn right onto Cedar Bay Road, then look for a big MNA sign on the right-hand side of the road after about 2.5 miles. The parking lot can accommodate 6-8 vehicles, but if it is full you can easily park along the side of the road too. Traffic is light here but do your best to stay off to the side as much as you can. Most of the neighborhood is private, so respect other landowners and be sure to not block their driveways.
As this is a bit of a longer hike, be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and other things you may need into a day bag. Bug spray will be helpful along the creeks, and sunscreen a must if you plan to stick around on the beach for a while. Consider bringing your swimsuit if you are feeling adventurous and don’t mind the chill! An extra layer may be helpful if you get cold easily, as it’s always cooler near the water compared to the warmer forest more inland. A map or compass, camera, and a beach towel also will make your day complete. Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and recreate responsibly while out on the trail so that we can all continue to enjoy this special place.