Hiking the golden years: short and sweet hikes for seniors


End of the boardwalk at Lime Lake

By Linda Beaty
Sun contributor

Growing older is not for the faint of heart. If you’ve always loved to hike, it can be discouraging, post age 65, to find that reduced padding due to wear and tear on your joints, back and feet can cause stiffness and pain during long-distance hikes. Reduced muscle strength and flexibility make hiking on uneven terrain more difficult.

But you don’t need to give up your love of trekking through the countryside. In fact, you shouldn’t give it up—because walking is one of the best things that you can do to preserve strength and maintain health. You will need to modify your activity somewhat, by consistently doing pre-hike warmups, wearing supportive shoes and comfortable clothing, and choosing the right hikes that offer reasonably flat terrain and shorter distances. Here are six “short and sweet” hikes suggested by Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and Becky Hill, natural areas and preserves manager at the Leelanau Conservancy.

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Stretching nearly 22 miles between Empire and Bohemian Road, the Heritage Trail is a hard-surfaced, non-motorized multi-use trail where you can get up close and personal with the attractions of the National Lakeshore. Multiple trailheads allow you to choose short sections to explore, and the terrain is doable, according to Ulrich. “The only steep parts are between the Dune Climb and Empire, and a little bit just north of The Homestead resort,” said Ulrich. “Other than that it is flat, wide, firm and very manageable.”

Ulrich suggested two boardwalk sections (one by Narada Lake and the other between the Crystal River and The Homestead) as being particularly beautiful. Find a trail map, tips for trail etiquette, and detailed descriptions for each segment of the trail here.

Good Harbor Bay Trail

This 2.8-mile, mostly flat loop trail through the woods “really shows plant succession, from more open pine forest near the lake through Cedar/Hemlock wet forest, to mixed northern hardwoods to the south,” said Ulrich. Pack a lunch and enjoy a swim afterwards at the picnic area on Lake Michigan at the trailhead. See a trail map at Nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/trailgoodharbor.

Platte Plains Trail, Bass Lake Loop

There are several loops in this 15-mile trail system, with the Bass Lake Loop a “very pretty hike along lakes, with varied plant life and mostly flat,” said Ulrich. The entire loop is 3.5 miles, he added, “or just a one mile round trip down and back on the west shore of Bass Lake.” (There is a trailhead at trail junction post 4 on the map; follow it to point 15, then head back. For a detailed map of Platte Plains Trail, click here.

DeYoung Natural Area

This Leelanau Conservancy natural area is 145 acres and combines an historic farmstead with a mile of shoreline on Cedar Lake. It has 2 miles of mostly flat terrain hiking; one an official Universal Access Trail complete with a handicapped parking spot, which takes you 0.1 mile to Cedar Lake. “It has a really cool fishing pier with benches, spots to put your fishing pole, and lower sides perfect for viewing from a wheelchair,” said Hill. And if you’re up for more hiking, you can do a loop on the Cedar Forest Trail. “There is even a bench halfway to stop and take a rest.” For more information about this natural area and a trail map, visit LeelanauConservancy.org.

Swanson Preserve

According to the Leelanau Conservancy website, this 96-acre preserve protects 2,000 feet of shoreline on Little Traverse Lake and its two distinct wetland communities critical to wildlife and the health of the lake. Here, you’ll enjoy an 0.7-mile loop trail with “some great boardwalk sections over the wetlands,” said Hill. The most recently completed section of the trail runs along the lakeshore. The Swanson Preserve is the Conservancy’s most ecologically diverse, with 207 documented plant species found there. For detailed information and a map, visit LeelanauConservancy.org.

Teichner Preserve

This 43-acre preserve includes 200 feet of natural shoreline on Lime Lake, framed by mature cedars. Here, there’s a short (0.2 mile) trail leading to Lime Lake, with a boardwalk over the wetlands. The initial portion of the trail from the parking spot down to the trail may be difficult to negotiate, but there are plans to install a staircase there this fall. “We just got our permit lined up, and I’m hoping to have that complete by sometime in October at the latest,” Hill said. For directions and a trail map, visit LeelanauConservancy.org.