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This 1.5 mile-loop, located off M-109 about 2 miles north of Empire, is a lovely patchwork of lakeshore landscape that culminates in a magnificent view from a glacier-formed knoll. The twisty, undulating and tree-lined trail is best suited to intermediate or better skiers, but snowshoes make it a cinch. Keep the Windy Moraine trail map handy (available at the lakeshore visitors center or at the trailhead); it offers a point-by-point interpretive tour. The map will also help you stay on the trail, which can become obscure where it wends through fields, particularly after a good snowfall. But don't worry - you can't stray far from civilization, or your car.
Even without the map you can't help but notice the mammoth, century-old sugar maple located about a quarter-mile in. Take a seat on the bench and try to count the jungle of limbs. Sidle up to it and try to stretch your arms around the trunk - a feat only Paul Bunyan could handle. Rested? Up and at 'em through more woods to the top of a hill and an old farm field that looks out over the Glen Lakes. On a clear day you can see all the way to Lake Michigan's Sleeping Bear Bay. There's a fun geology lesson from this lofty perch: it's easy to see that the Glen Lakes were once a bay of Lake Michigan, landlocked when the lake level fell several thousand years ago. It's mostly downhill now - through the field, more hardwoods and a pine plantation. Where the pines end, look for the leg that leads through a field and back to the trailhead.
Not ready to call it a weekend? The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a stone's throw away, across M-109. While the entire 7.4-mile loop is best accessed by car in the summer, the leg that forks right is a sweet, several-mile out-and-back ski that leads over a covered bridge and out to an overlook of Big and Little Glen Lakes.
Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. email@example.com
Note: This article was first published in January 2005 and was updated for the web February 2008.