Bring your field guide - Wilderness State Park's diverse terrain is an eco-identifier's heaven. Wilderness's (903 Wilderness Park Drive, 231-436-5381) is a mix of thriving forest, meandering creeks, wildflower meadows and gorgeous shoreline - a true Northern paradise. Elevated boardwalks that make meandering through wet meadows a cinch.The best way to take it all in? Start with a stop at the visitors center - it's on your right as you enter the park via the shore-hugging Wilderness Park Drive. Pick up a map and head to Big Stone Trail, an easy hike that wends beneath a canopy of red and white pines, cedars, hemlocks, white birch, sugar maple and beech trees.
At trail's end is a quiet pond where great blue herons wade, pied bill grebes dive and monarchs dance among the milkweed. Broaden your nature knowledge by circling the pond's interpretive trail, then head back to the trailhead. If you're looking for more legwork, veer off to the 1 1/4-mile Red Pine Trail, which links up with several additional trails.
Eventually, you'll want to get back in the car to continue your cruise toward the western edge of the park. Wilderness Park Drive turns into Waugoshance Point Road. Where it ends, park, then hit the beach. If you've got a picnic and the time, consider strolling the shore to its western end at Waugoshance Point; from there you can see the Waugoshance Lighthouse, one of the first lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
Before dusk, drive east to Big Stone Bay - a great spot to watch the sun set from the beach. (Got a kayak or a metal detector? You might want to get here earlier; Big Stone Bay is also the place to launch your boat and search for hidden treasures in the sand.)
Try planning your trip in advance so you can fit in an overnight stay. Six rustic but cozy log cabins and three rustic bunkhouses - some on the water, some in the woods - are available for rental at Wilderness, as well as 250 modern campsites. Just be warned: This paradise is a popular one, especially in summer, so advance reservations are always necessary for overnighters (800-447-2757, mdnrreservations.com).
Lynda Twardowski is travel editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in June 2006, and was updated for the web February 2008.