Forget your watch. If you want a way to make your exercise routine last for more than 20 minutes, a fall hike on Alligator Hill—without a timepiece—is the way to go. Sticking to the groomed paths is a good way to lose yourself in the woods without getting lost.
Alligator Hill is one of the hidden highlights of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—a scenic destination you have to hike to enjoy. A simple stroll there offers a cardiovascular challenge right off the bat—you meet the first of many steep stretches within the first five minutes or so. The National Park Service broke down Alligator’s 9 miles into three distinct loops, giving you the option to bail at several points. Still, it’s easy to extend a 4-mile hike into a 6-miler when there’s so much to observe along the way.
Two moths. One wild turkey. Zero people, besides myself. It feels good to schlep over butter-colored sand in the middle of a shedding forest. The hills are huffers and puffers, but luckily the sun isn’t intense through the canopy of beech-maple.
You’ll hit your first reward after 1.3 miles—a lookout with an impressive view of Lake Michigan, including the Sleeping Bear coastline and the Manitou islands. The second comes less than a mile later, a restful overlook of Big Glen Lake and the forest behind it. Five miles, three stops, two dirty ankles and who-knows-how-many minutes later, we guarantee you’ll feel tired yet inspired.
Alligator Hill’s hilly trails are marked easy, intermediate and advanced. All are “one-way;” just follow the arrows. Dogs are allowed on leashes 6 feet or less. Alligator is also an equestrian trail, so look out for horses—and their leavings. Maps are available at the trailhead.
From Glen Arbor, take M-109 to Stocking Road, turn left. The trailhead entrance is on your left. It begins with the green “Easy Loop.”
For more on Alligator Hill or all things Sleeping Bear Dunes, call the National Lakeshore Headquarters in Empire 231-326-5134.
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