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Whaleback Natural Area–Leland

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Whaleback Natural Area–Leland at a Glance

Activities: bench, birding, challenging terrain, uphill climbs, guided tours, hiking, lake frontage, viewing platform or overlook, wildflowers

Acreage: 40

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40 Acres–Open to the Public–Preserved in 1996

An Ice Age Legacy

The dictionary defines a moraine as an accumulation of earth and stones carried and finally deposited by a glacier. This 10,000-year old geologic wonder has all the attributes that made its preservation a must – spectacular views from its towering bluffs above Lake Michigan, varied terrain which hosts unusual communities of plants and wildlife, and a location within easy walking distance of the village of Leland.

This is a very pretty hike with a gradual ascent through hardwoods that in the fall provide an excellent color tour hike. In the spring, sweet woodruff crowds the understory. This pretty, sweet-smelling plant is an invasive species that gives the woodland an almost fairy-like appearance; unfortunately it chokes out all but the hardiest natives, such as baneberry, jack-in-the-pulpit and squirrel corn. Conservancy naturalists are working to create a more balanced environment.

As you walk north along the top of the bluffs, look left for a patch of thimbleberries (their leaves resemble those of the maple). A very common plant near Lake Superior, thimble berries only grow in this one stretch of the natural area, and they are extremely uncommon in Leelanau County.

Before reaching the overlook, notice how tall hemlocks and hardwoods create a cathedralesque canopy. These trees shelter bald eagles: look for them flying above the observation deck as well as out over the water.

A Delicate Dune

From the viewing platform, you’ll see just how fragile this bluff is. On its western- most face, erosion has caused plants to lose their footing. Here, gravel and sand rumble down the bluffs into the lake. If vegetation does maintain a roothold in these exposed areas, what grows is usually ash, birch, pine, and hemlock. Don’t guess these trees’ age from their size. Poor soil on steep slopes has stunted the growth of some real old-timers!

Whaleback Access

40 Acres – Open to the Public

Hike this bluff and claim your reward: a spectacular Lake Michigan view that brings visitors back again and again.

About the Trail: When you visit, please realize that the land on both sides of the access trail is private and is not open to the public. 1.5 hours, challenging hike, steep access trail to flat 3/4 mile hilltop loop. Info kiosk at trailhead, benches along steep trail.

Spring Specialties: thimble berries, bird-watching

Summer Surprises: monarchs on milkweed

Fall Fun: brilliant colors

Winter Wonders: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing

Related Articles:

A Personal Account of Whaleback – Anna Pentuik