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The sunsets are legendary up on Empire Bluffs, 400 feet above Lake Michigan, where trees grow nearly sideways out of the dunes. Those hardy enough to trek there in the winter see nature's colors washed clear and bright by the cold air. Time this trail right, and you can get yourself safely down by nightfall. Anytime you go, however, Empire Bluffs has a dramatic payoff. Novice skiers will want to swap their skis for snowshoes; this 1.5 mile up-and-back trail rocks, rolls and twists.
To find the trailhead, take M-22 south from Empire's blinking yellow light about 1.5 miles, turn right on Wilco Road and follow to the trailhead. Park and follow the trail up the bluff through the mostly hardwood forest.
On your way, try to spot the rusted, old mowing machine - a McCormick Deering No. 7 - in the woods. It's the only remnant of the farm that once graced this hillside.
Your rest is on a bench near the top of the bluff. From here, you can look down to South Bar Lake, out at the Sleeping Bear Point and seven miles across the lake to South Manitou Island (squint to find the white-dot that is South Manitou Lighthouse on the island).
The final quarter-mile to the top is even more rolling. A sign warning you to stay on the trail to prevent sand slides (take it seriously) means you're near trail's end. The wind off the lake almost guarantees a face full of snow and sand - but it's worth the look down the bare bluff and out at the magnificent view.