Ludington State Park is comprised of scenic sand dunes, a shoreline vista, ponds, marshlands and forests. It is situated between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan with several miles of shoreline and beaches on both bodies of water. There are three modern campgrounds; Pines, Cedar and Beechwood. Be sure to visit the Great Lakes Visitor Center, located within the park.
Great hike, but on a hot day take more water than you think you need! Much of this trail is sand and dunes, so wear appropriate shoes. Very nice payoff at the end with the beach and Big Sable lighthouse. We camped at Pines and hiked from there - was just under 4 miles round trip...Take a camera!
Using stairs to see dunes feels like cheating, so we added a two part loop hike through the dunes (out to marker 29 and back) to earn the views.
The boardwalk is nice & easy, so a little more high traffic. Didn't see a soul on the actual dune trails, but it was raining while we were out. The dam was pretty cool. And we saw a lot of deer among the dune scrub.
Overall, very enjoyable!
This is a great trail for kids, and also for those who aren't quite up for the park's Ridge Trail but want to get a taste of the deep, densely forested dune valleys gracing Ludington SP. Good views of Lake Michigan and the foredunes, too. You'll need to climb a long staircase to access the trail, but once you're up there it's an easy boardwalk through the treetops. This trail makes a nice combination with the Sable River Trail--park in the Hamlin Dam lot, cross the dam bridge and follow the easy, flat Sable River Trail to the Skyline Trail access stairs, adding about a mile to your hike (see the park's trail map: http://www.michigandnr.com/Publications/PDFS/RecreationCamping/ludington_hiking.pdf). Or, if you're feeling more ambitious, the staircase running down to the dunes from the Skyline Trail's south side brings you to the northernmost point of the ski trails, three stacked loops through interdunal scrub and wetlands adding anywhere from 1-6 miles to your hike, as well as likely sightings of deer, birds and butterflies. (See the park's ski trail map: http://www.michigandnr.com/Publications/PDFS/RecreationCamping/ludington_ski_trails.pdf; note that the Jack Pine Loop no longer exists, nor does the Visitor Center.)
The map on this page is misleading--it shows the dirt road running between Pines Campground and the lighthouse (called the Lighthouse Road), not the actual Lighthouse Trail, which runs between Lost Lake and the lighthouse. You can indeed easily walk (or bike) the Lighthouse Road, starting from either Pines Campground or the Lake Michigan Beach House just southwest of it, but it's a far prettier and more satisfying hike to take the Lighthouse Trail, where you can enjoy the succession from beach to foredunes to interdunal wetlands to dune forest that makes Ludington SP special. (See the park's trail map here: http://www.michigandnr.com/Publications/PDFS/RecreationCamping/ludington_hiking.pdf.) Our favorite route is to start at Hamlin Beach, from which the Lost Lake Trail takes you to the Lighthouse Trail, then return after visiting the lighthouse (restrooms, gift shop, tour) by walking about a mile down the Lighthouse Road to the Coast Guard Trail, which takes you through some lovely dune forest back to Hamlin Beach (the Coast Guard Trail ends at Beechwood Campground; just cut across the campground to pick up the Lost Lake Trail taking you back to Hamlin Beach). This adds up to about 5 miles of moderate hiking, with around a quarter of it involving soft sand and/or climbing. Good chances of seeing deer, birds, butterflies and dune wildflowers.
Our family has hiked this trail at least a half dozen times. We have always begun at the Ludington State Park beach house and walked up the beach to the lighthouse and then back to the parking lot on the trail/road. Walking on sand can be uncomfortable if you have never done it before. We try to spend as much time as possible on the harder, wet sand. After a short while you will be able to see the lighthouse in the distance, but seeing it does it not make it actually close. We usually go up to the top of the lighthouse for spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding forested sand dunes. A beautiful trip every time.
We spent a really nice early fall afternoon out on Hamlin Lake. The temperature was perfect and the bugs were gone. A few years ago we did this in early July and bug spray was a must.
The trail took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete. I would plan on at least a couple hours for this trip. We paddled at a fairly good pace and didn't take any breaks along the way. The conditions were also perfect without any wind to slow us down in either direction.
There are more pictures and info on our blog: http://www.mymichigantrips.com/more-MI-travel-info/day_trips/ludington-canoe-trail.html