#MITrailsWeek: Fisherman’s Island State Park

Fisherman's IslandFisherman’s Island hasn’t been an actual island in years. Thanks to low water levels, the protected island, part of a state park encompassing more than six miles of Lake Michigan coastline just west of Charlevoix, is now a peninsula popular mostly with birds.

But while most people are drawn to the park’s signature sandy beaches and 80 rustic, drive-in campsites, I visit most often to run the trails that thread their way through diverse woodlands and forested dunes.

Fisherman’s Island State Park boasts roughly 4.5 miles of singletrack dirt trails that stretch from the park’s eastern entrance to Bell’s Bay, where most people park to access the sandy beach and namesake “island.”

As you head west on the main trail, you meander through relatively flat and open sections of mature hardwood forest (a few tree species are actually marked with identifying signage), through wet and cool cedar bogs, over creeks and through upland sections hemmed in by waist-high ferns and thick with spruce and fir.

The last mile or so offers the greatest surprise, sending the hiker or runner up and down quad-searingly steep, sandy dunes that rise more than 100 feet through maple, birch and aspen forest.

Spotted jewelweed on the beach at Fisherman’s Island.

During a visit in August, I bumped into a runner who said he lived in town and used to train his high-school cross-country teams in the park. He told me he rarely ever encounters other runners on the trails, despite having run them for years. He also said the park’s undeveloped southern section is accessible through some unmaintained dirt roads and trails that don’t appear on maps.

Overall, I highly recommend exploring Fisherman’s Island State Park by trail. The stunning beaches are their own reward, and I have on occasion found incredibly sweet, tender raspberries growing wild here in season — but I’m not saying where.

The shoreline is a haven for collecting rocks and fossils.

Photos by methyl_lives, lahvak and Ashley Halsey Hemingway 

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