Looking for a cool spot to explore by foot in northern Michigan this summer? You’ll love the winding trails in Arcadia Dunes, near Frankfort, Mich. This article originally appeared on MRG in 2013. Updated June 2016.

Tuesday’s training called for a “fun workout,” which serendipitously coincided with a planned trip to trails near Arcadia with Beth. What could be more fun that running trillium-lined single track trails deep in the woods near Lake Michigan?

Beth is the talented photographer who took some winter images of me running earlier this year. She’d asked me about taking the 45-minute drive southwest toward the lakeshore to capture more running shots, and since I’ve long wanted to explore these winding trails nestled within the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s Arcadia Dunes, I jumped at the opportunity. We also planned to make a stop near Elberta for some beach shots, and also Frankfort for lunch.

If you enjoy trail running as much as I do—or if you’ve wanted to give it a try—you’ll want to include these scenic paths on your must-run list. It’s a perfect half-day or full day trip if you are staying in the Traverse City area, and this time of year the trillium are out in full glory. Pausing for a visit to a stretch of Lake Michigan is always satisfying, no matter the time of year, and perhaps is especially sweet late May/early June when spring offers that breezy-cool promise that warmth and sunshine will indeed soon crack wide open into a sun-drenched summer.

From Traverse City, we took U.S. 31 west. You’ll travel though the small towns of Interlochen and Honor before the highway heads south and runs through the village of Benzonia. Arcadia Dunes, which contains sandy beaches, dunes, forests and grassland, is located between the village of Arcadia, to the south, and tiny Elberta, to the north, along the shores of Lake Michigan. It encompasses some 3,600 acres in both Manistee and Benzie counties. Adjacent working farms have been permanently protected, and there’s a total of 15 miles of trails for hiking and biking.

We took Joyfield Road off U.S. 31, a route that takes you west toward Lake Michigan. Searching for just the right spot to stop and take in the blooming-white trillium in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve, we come across this expansive field, a gorgeous lush green following recent rain.

As we drove past this open field, we knew we had to stop.
As we drove past this open field, we knew we had to stop.


After taking a few pictures here, we kept going in search of trillium patches. We stopped at the St. Pierre Trailhead, where a group of older women were meeting up for their weekly trail hike. We met up with them later on the trail, and they suggested a few other spots to explore. We ended up finding a gorgeous hillside of trillium a short drive away in the preserve.

So pretty.
So pretty.


Beth, hiking the trail and scoping out the scene for just the right lighting and backdrop for photos.
Beth, hiking the trail and scoping out the scene for just the right lighting and backdrop for photos.

I can’t wait to go back to these trails–Beth and I decided it’d make a perfect girls’ day of running–and explore these trails further. The terrain is hilly, but not overly challenging, at least the portions we saw. I can only imagine how beautiful it is here at the peak of summer, in all of its lushness, and also come fall with the vibrant changing colors.

Running the trails.
Running the trails.

After awhile we decided to head toward the water. We found a route to the lakeshore within the Dunes’ Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve. Much of this preserve includes steep bluffs at the shoreline, but there is a portion with stairs to the beach. A parking lot sits about a half mile from that point, so we parked and hiked down to the water. (It’s a decent climb back up, which we agreed was an extra little workout.) The route is part gravel two-track road, part wooded trail.

Trail ending at the beach stairs.
Trail ending at the beach stairs.

Ahh, a sight for sore eyes…I can never get enough of this view.

Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan.
Dune grass, beach sand, happy Michigan runner.
Dune grass, beach sand, happy Michigan runner.

We stayed at the beach for awhile, running a stretch of it and taking photos. It was a not-too-chilly, slightly overcast afternoon. Is there any better sound than fresh water waves crashing?

Breathing easier...
Breathing easier…

I could have stayed at the beach the rest of the day, but we were getting hungry. We decided to head to Frankfort, a 10-minute drive north. This is a quaint beachside town that I predict will only continue to gain loyal visitors–a photographer friend of ours is opening the village’s first craft brewery this summer, a place called Stormcloud Brewing Company that you’re going to want to check out, and the town has happening spots like the Pan-Asian cuisine restaurant The Fusion and local moviehouse The Garden.

A good sandwich sounded good, so we stopped at L’chayim Delicatessen, 325 Main St. This is one of two locations (the other is in Beulah), and the bagels are amazing. Their bagels are made with organic ingredients, with flavors including harvest grain, sesame, cinnamon raisin, everything, plain, poppy seed, parmesean, cheddar herb, salt & honey wheat. I opted for a veggie toasted cheddar herb bagel sandwich–the Golda Meir, which has a so-so-good cream cheese-Stilton blue cheese spread with cucumbers, lettuce, tomato and red onion–while Beth had the Tel Aviv, which has roast turkey and pepper jack with roasted red peppers, lettuce and honey mustard.

L'chayim Delicatessen in downtown Frankfort.
L’chayim Delicatessen in downtown Frankfort.

We’d left Traverse City early in the day, around 8:30 a.m. and after exploring trails, spending time at the lakeshore and grabbing lunch in downtown Frankfort, we started back for home around 2 p.m. We took some back roads–Beth knows her way around this part of northern Michigan, thanks in no small part to her work on a Lake Michigan surfing story she worked on within the past year–and I think it’s safe to say we both felt refreshed after a trip to this incredibly beautiful area. I really look forward to getting back out there and running again soon.

Have you run Arcadia Dunes trails? Visited Frankfort? What do you love most about this area of northern Michigan?


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