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Houdek Dunes Natural Area–North of Leland

  • Bob Roberts Houdek Creek in winter
  • Down the Path Kindergardeners at Houdek
  • Houdek Dunes skier - fader
  • 36.-CraigMiller,-DickRisti-copy
  • Birch group, pretty green
  • Hiking Along the Trail
  • Houdek Dunes Arlene Heckl
  • Houdek Dunes Hike 34 20100724 Mattson v2
  • Houdek Dunes II
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  • houdek maple
  • Houdek-Dunes-Natural-Area-Roger-Craton
  • Jeff Lamb Houdek
  • Hill with Blue Sky
  • Birch Trees
  • Lady Slippers-Houdek

Houdek Dunes Natural Area–North of Leland at a Glance

Activities: Benches, Birding, Guided Tours, Hiking, Hunting by permit only, Moderate terrain, some hills, Stairs, Stream(s), Viewing Platform or Overlook, Wildflowers

Acreage: 370

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370 Acres–Open to the Public–Preserved in 1998

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Looking for a Geology Lesson? It’s Here on One of Our Largest and Most Diverse Properties

This land was owned and partially farmed by the Houdek family over a century ago. Protected by the Conservancy in 1998, the property now provides opportunities for the public to quietly recreate, learn and revel in the unique habitats of Houdek Dunes. The Houdek Dunes sand was derived from glacial sediments that were exposed about 4,000 years ago, when the ancient Lake Nippissing receded. The sand was blown to form the dunes we see today, which illustrate the various stages of ecological succession. Succession is the process of change in the plants and animals living in an ecological community over time. From the trail, you’ll see examples of active blowout dunes, woodland pockets sheltering the giant white birch trees, and mature forested backdunes. Along the dunes’ southeast boundary flows the fragile Houdek Creek, a spring-fed trout stream which is the primary tributary flowing into North Lake Leelanau.

What to Look For

•   Mature white birches

•   Ancient maple tree

•   Spring wildflowers – pink lady slippers

•  Great Lakesbarrier sand dunes

•   Fragile Houdek Creek from the platform

•   Blackburnian Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Brown Thrasher

•   Fall colors- aspen, birch, maple, tamarack

•   Animal tracks in the snow and sand

Aspens, Birches and More

Houdek Dunes’ signature is its stands of bright, healthy white birches – many over a century old. Their advanced age is highly unusual for this transition species. Woodland pockets created by dips in the dunes shelter the birches from the wind and allow them to thrive.

Note that the stands of quaking aspen at the top of the stairs near the information kiosk are clones. One of several aspen groupings throughout the property, they share a root system and identical genetic makeup. The tree takes its name from the spinning movement of its leaves. In a breeze some leaves show pastel and others expose darker green tops. The stem shape causes this flip-flopping – a design that likely evolved to limit the leaves’ sun exposure.

Along the dunes’ southeast boundary flows Houdek Creek, the largest tributary flowing into North Lake Leelanau. This creek is not accessible from the trail at this time, because disturbances along its fragile, sandy shore would compromise its health.

Dunes of All Types

But these wetlands are just a part of what’s here. A quarter mile inland from Lake Michigan, the dunes form a border between Houdek Creek and upland hardwood forest. This barrier includes active and stabilized dunes, open, pitted, and perched sand dunes. There are even blowout dunes – where all the sand is blown out around a large clump of vegetation, leaving a green island in a sea of sand.

Cottonwood, red pine, white birch, red-osier dogwood, and sand-reed grass flourish in these open spaces. Among the hardwoods, you’ll find aspen and red oak, with beech and maple in the sheltered valleys. Note the striped maple’s large leaves and white striped bark (thus its nickname, the “Michigan State” tree).

Shifting Sands

Clearcutting and constant buffeting by Lake Michigan’s wind and waves never gave these barrier dunes and their forest a chance to stabilize. Most of the sand continues to shift with the elements, much as it has since the dunes’ formation during the Lake Nipissing era.

Clues From the Past

The land was owned and partially farmed by the Houdek family over a century ago. Duneside apple trees remain from an old orchard, and fence posts indicate that the Houdeks probably grazed cattle here.

The Conservancy acquired Houdek Dunes from a developer who considered building a golf course here. With the help of many, the Conservancy was able to preserve forever these 330 acres that include a mile of frontage on scenic M-22 and 4,500 feet along Houdek Creek.

Houdek Dunes Natural Area Access

337 Acres – Open to the Public

Bob Roberts Houdek deck signAbout the Trail: 3/4 and 1- 1/2 mile loops can be covered in 2 hours. Moderate hiking includes sandy trails, stairs, and slopes. Info kiosk at trailhead, benches at ancient maple. Beautiful octagon-shaped deck and sitting area overlooking Houdek Creek, built and donated by the Houdek Family.

Visitor information: Visit on your own or call for a schedule of guided hikes: 256-9665.

Getting there: Take M-22 five miles north of Leland. One mile past CR 626, look for a Conservancy sign and parking on left.


Poison Ivy is commonly found on impacted areas. Keep an eye out for this three leafed groundcover for it can give you an itchy rash. If your skin comes in contact with ivy, wash that area with soap a.s.a.p. Stay on the trails to reduce risk of contact.


The Leelanau Conservancy allows hunting for white-tailed deer on this property to reduce an unnaturally high deer population. Too many deer threaten wildflowers and tree seedlings.

THIS AREA IS OPEN TO HUNTING with written permission from the Leelanau Conservancy from October 1st – December 30.  Please use caution when hiking during hunting season, wear orange and keep dogs on a leash.

“Whenever I reach the top of the stairs at Houdek Dunes Natural Area, I am amazed at the beauty and serenity of this special place. From the amazing vistas of the barrier dunes that make up most of the landscape to the unique hardwood forest featuring some of the largest white birch trees in northern Michigan, few will miss the wonderful message that nature provides.”–Tom Dunfee, Retired Board Chairman and Docent

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