Sure, the woods are wet and muddy in early spring, but venture into them anyway because from mid-May to early June wildflowers turn them into a cornucopia for the senses. Here are my own Top 5 favorite stops:
Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary. What was a logged over, “sub-marginal” tract in 1937 was turned into a showcase of wildflowers by the U.S. Forest Service and the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan. Today Loda Lake (michigangardenclubs.org), still managed by the Garden Clubs of Michigan, is the only wildflower sanctuary in the National Forest System.
The 72-acre preserve is located north of White Cloud and features a 1.5-mile loop with 39 numbered posts, keyed to an interpretive brochure, that mark plant locations. Most are wildflowers, and the trail guide informs you what they are and when they bloom.
Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. Among the 170 sanctuaries it manages, the Michigan Nature Association (michigannature.org) calls this 384-acre preserve in Cass County its “jewel in the crown” for its infusion of wildflowers. More than 50 species can be seen in the spring along the sanctuary’s two miles of trails with the top attraction being the blue-eyed Mary. This dainty blue-and-white flower reigns supreme for six weeks beginning in April, when more than 150 beds can be seen in the woods.
Thompson’s Harbor State Park. This 5,247-acre state park north of Alpena is the largest unit on the state’s east side and includes seven and a half miles of Lake Huron shoreline and six miles of trails. But its best-known feature is the world’s largest concentration of dwarf lake iris. The smallish purple flower is a federally threatened species found only along the shores of Lake Huron and Michigan, but is easy to spot in Thompson’s Harbor (231-627-9011) because its preferred habitat are old limestone beaches, something that’s abundant here. It blooms in late May. Arrive in June and you’ll be overwhelmed by the park’s large number of lady’s slipper orchids (at left).
Seven Ponds Nature Center. Spread across this 486-acre preserve in Lapeer County is an amazing range of habitats including glacier-formed lakes, marshes, rolling woodlands and even a prairie, all laced together by five miles of trails. Thanks to this diversity, Seven Ponds (sevenponds.org) offers a wonderful variety of wildflowers in the spring ranging from trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpits to yellow lady’s slippers and blue cohosh. The center even has an enclosed Woodland Wildflower Garden to ward off deer.
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. A favorite spring bloom is the trillium, whose large, white, showy flowers can be spotted in the woods throughout Michigan. But many head for Hoffmaster State Park (231-798-3711) near Muskegon for its annual Spring Blooms Festival on the first Saturday in May. The event includes lectures and wildflower exhibits at the park’s Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center and naturalist-led trillium hikes. You can even purchase trilliums for the backyard at home.
BLUE “Top 5” columnist Jim DuFresne is a Clarkston-based travel writer and main contributor to MichiganTrailMaps.com.