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Kehl Lake Natural Area–North of Northport

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Kehl Lake Natural Area–North of Northport at a Glance

Activities: Birding, Boardwalk over wetlands, Canoeing, Easy, flat terrain, Fishing, Guided Tours, Hiking, Hunting by permit only, Kayaking, Lake frontage, Stream(s), Viewing Platform or Overlook, Wildflowers

Acreage: 279

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279 Acres–Open to the Public–Preserved in 1990

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A Wealth of Nature Protecting Nearly Three-Quarters of Kehl Lake’s Shoreline

A tip-of-the-peninsula jewel, Kehl Lake Natural Area combines the best of Leelanau, with everything from shoreline to towering mixed forest to important wetland habitat. Near the lakeshore, a majestic white pine and red maple forest covers the sandy ridge. Beyond, the land gently slopes to wetter areas dominated first by an old-growth pine-hemlock forest, followed by birch, poplar and cedar marsh. These wetlands provide food and cover for wildlife, particularly birds, and contribute to the lake’s pristine water quality.

Smallmouth bass and northern pike thrive in the lake. Along the property’s 1,800 feet of undeveloped lakeshore, you might see herons, kingfishers, and loons; over 100 species of birds have been spotted here.

Before you slip into the woods, note the broad, stunted white pines dotting the field. These trees are victims of the white pine weevil.

A Landscape in Flux

A closer look around the open field reveals the Kehl family’s farming footprint: juniper, blueberries, honeysuckle strawberries, and remnants of a pear orchard.

The trail leads into virgin forest, historically unaltered by human activity. The trees are not giants, though. Fluctuating water conditions never allowed any one species to dominate the landscape long term. Nonetheless, some of the eastern white pines you see from the trail are thought to be over 200 years old. White pine adapt to a variety of growing conditions and soil types, which is why the species has existed since the days of the dinosaurs.

Don’t Miss the Viewing Platform!

At the far end of the trail loop is a viewing platform that keeps you dry and suspended over a dynamic wetland ecosystem. You may see waterfowl during the right seasons. Water levels fluctuate by the season.

Native Roots

Thousands of years ago, KehlLake’s trail was 20 feet underneath the great Lake Nipissing. The waters receded to formKehlLake. Ojibway called it “Midassaigan,” meaning “LeggingLake,” perhaps because the lake used to be shaped like an Indian leg covering. Or perhaps deer skins used to make such leggings were soaked in Kehl’s calm waters.

Marker Tree a Clue to the Past

Native Americans also buried their dead here and gathered medicinal herbs from the wetlands. An ancient campsite sits right off the trail. Notice the “Marker Tree” off to the right of the trail near the lakeshore (see photo above). When this white pine was a sapling, it was manipulated to grow with its distinctive kink, creating a striking landmark. Since 1990, thanks to hundreds of donors who care about this area, the Kehl Lake Natural Area has grown from 100 to 279 acres, adding protection to this fragile portion of the tip of our peninsula.

Plants at Kehl Lake

Click below to see a list of High Quality Plant Species at Kehl Lake Natural Area along with a summary and description of the Floristic Quality Assessment outlining all plant species found on the property: Kehl Lake FQA and Summary

Kehl Lake Natural Area Access

279 Acres – Open to the Public

About the Trail: 2 loops totaling 2 miles, 1.5 hours to cover both, easy hiking

Spring Specialties: wildflowers, birding

Summer Surprises: sparkling lake, wildflowers

Fall Fun: mushrooms, cardinal flowers

Winter Wonders: cross-country skiing. Snowshoeing


Visit on your own or call for a schedule of guided hikes: 256-9665. No boat access from KLNA, public access is on north side of lake at end of Kehl Road. Motorless boats only, please!

Getting there: Take M-201 1.5 miles north of Northport. After 2.5 miles, 201 becomes Co. Rd. 640. Stay on Co Rd. 640 (Woolsey Lake Rd). Go left on Snyder Road.Snyder Road“T”s at Sugar Bush Road. Go right on Sugarbush Road.Sugar Bush Road takes a sharp left turn to the North and becomes Kehl Rd.  Stay on Kehl. .2 mi after you pass Ottis Road on your right, see the  Conservancy sign for Kehl Lake Natural Area and parking area on left.

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