Head into the woods in the spring and you can watch as nature comes alive. Winter’s blanket of snow thins, allowing yellow-green leaves their first peek at the sunshine. Celebrate the season with a walk through any of the nature preserves listed here and discover a beautiful landscape of delicate wildflowers. It’s the perfect way to welcome spring.
“Trilliums are what drew my wife, Brenda, and me to Pete’s Woods,” says Steve Begnoche of Ludington, who discovered this section of the Arcadia Dunes in 2020. As they neared Pete’s Woods via car, the couple began to notice splashes of color. But nothing prepared them for the eventual display. “It proved to be an Oh my God! experience,” Begnoche says. “(There were) trilliums unlike any I’ve encountered elsewhere.”
The 1.5-mile trail through Pete’s Woods traverses a landscape nourished by Herring Creek and tempered by Lake Michigan. A carpet of trillium emerges between late April and mid-May; thousands of the flowers’ white and pink hues change subtly as the sun’s rays shift overhead. Tucked in among the trillium grow Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, Canada mayflowers, trout lilies, and celandine, Michigan’s only native yellow poppy.
“We savored the variety and the search,” Begnoche says of the woods’ diverse display. “There may be other places with thousands of trilliums, but the walk on this little footpath is remarkable.”
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Protected from Lake Michigan’s winds by a barrier of sand dunes, the 13 miles of trails at Saugatuck Dunes State Park wind beneath a mixed deciduous and evergreen forest. Over and through ancient dunes the trails lead, bordered with a sprinkling of delicate wildflowers.
The park’s Livingston and Beach trails are especially colorful in spring. Tendrils of tiny leaves poke above ground as the snow melts, giving way to yellow trout lilies, lavender-pink spring beauties, hepatica, and finally, as spring progresses, snowy-white trillium.
The park’s real eye-catchers, though, are the pink lady’s slippers that appear in May. Rising out of the sandy floor of the dunes’ pine groves, lady’s slippers rank among the largest orchids native to North America.
The Saugatuck Dunes’ trails lead eventually to the Lake Michigan beach, where an entirely different variety of wildflowers thrives. Reveling in the fresh breeze and unfiltered sunshine, yellow hairy puccoons, milkweed, and beach peas assert their place on the windswept dunes.
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park
The showy star of this Lake Michigan state park — and the star of many of Michigan’s springtime wildflower walks — is the trillium. With its flashy white blossoms that morph pink with age and its tendency to form broad drifts of plantings, the large-leafed trillium demands to be noticed.
But if you wait until late April or May, when they’re most likely to bloom, you’ll have missed the beauty of a half-dozen other wildflowers that brighten Hoffmaster’s 10 miles of trails.
As soon as the ground thaws, hikers will spy signs of spring ephemerals — plants that grow, flower, and die within a few days’ time. The half-inch blossoms of pink- and lavender-hued hepatica and spring beauties, the yellow and purple petals of early spring violets, and the white blossoms of cut-leaved toothwort all serve as short-lived harbingers of the warm Michigan weather to come.
Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary
Part of the Michigan Nature Association, a collection of more than 180 nature preserves across the state, Dowagiac Woods draws its most ardent fans in spring, when the banks of the Dowagiac River explode with the color of trillium.
The forest preserve can be explored by following an easy 1.5-mile trail and boardwalk — the latter is a welcome addition when snowmelt and flooded riverbanks can make hiking difficult. While more than 50 wildflowers have been cited within the sanctuary, it was the park’s thousands of trilliums that first attracted retired Battle Creek teachers Frank and Jeanine Skeltis.
“We were enthralled by the serenity of the trillium carpet,” says Frank Skeltis, who along with his wife has become an avid hiker and nature-lover. “But even more delightful were the patches of rare, delicate, blue-eyed Mary,” a wildflower of the snapdragon family. “This hike has become a ‘must-do’ every year when spring returns, to lift our spirits,” he says.
Chippewa Nature Center
The Chippewa and Pine rivers cut through Midland’s Chippewa Nature Center where, as soon as the snow melts, the season’s first delicate wildflowers burst into color. Spring beauties such as bloodroot unfurl their blossoms first, followed soon after by trout lilies and fragrant cream-colored Dutchman’s breeches. As the days grow longer, more flowers appear: leafy Mayapples, golden Alexander, and crimson red columbines. They can all be enjoyed along the 19 miles of trails.
Although wildflowers can be seen at the nature center throughout the growing season, from early spring through late fall, the prevalence of blossoms changes as the trees leaf out. In early spring, when trees remain bare, ephemerals sprout along the Sugarbush and Meadow Mouse trails, eager to soak up the sun before the leafy canopy develops. In late spring, head to the Arboretum and Field trails, where patches of blue, yellow, and white flowers brighten exposed grassy fields.
Visitors should enjoy wildflowers by taking photos, not picking them. If you would like plants of your own, visit michiganmastergardener.org for information on native plants and seed suppliers.
Mark your calendar for National Wildflower Week, celebrated the first full week in May.