Through the Forest
After running east along Crystal Lake’s north shore, M-22 turns north, passes the small but scenic Long Lake, and then enters the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The next thirty-five miles of shoreline through the Sleeping Bear Dunes is among the most beautiful in the world, and M-22 is the main artery connecting all that it has to offer.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is an amazingly diverse ecosystem, featuring dunes, inland lakes, rivers, swamps, bogs, forests, and all kinds of wildlife. Nowhere is this natural diversity more apparent than along M-22’s first few miles after entering Sleeping Bear Dunes. The road weaves through some of the lakeshore’s lowest lying and densely forested land and passes swamps, bogs, and the scenic Loon Lake. This stretch of M-22 is particularly scenic in the fall, when the native maple and birch trees are blazing with color.
Sleeping Bear Dunes has more than 100 miles of hiking trails, including thirteen separate trails accessible from M-22. Old Indian Trail is the first of these trails. It begins just a few hundred feet inside the lakeshore’s south entrance along M-22. It is a 2.5 mile loop through the forest to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Although its lower elevation fails to yield the breathtaking views available further north in the Dunes, Old Indian Trail compensates with its variety of natural attractions. It begins in a thick forest of evergreens and hardwoods, and ends along windswept dunes on Lake Michigan’s shore.
The Platte River
M-22 continues north past Loon Lake to the Platte River. Loon Lake is a small inland lake formed by the Platte River and surrounded by hardwoods and evergreens. It is accessible via a boat launch along M-22 or by navigating the river to the lake. Loon Lake is popular among fisherman, especially during the fall salmon and steelhead runs.
The Platte River is marked along M-22 by Riverside Canoe Trips, the only private business that exists within the boundaries of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Riverside has been offering canoes for rental since the 1950s, when it existed as Carter’s Texaco Station. Today, Riverside is a popular destination, featuring a large general store, grill, ice cream shop, and nightly bonfire during the summer. Riverside caters to all levels of adventurers, offering leisurely tube floats down the Platte River to Lake Michigan, or longer canoe and kayak trips on the more rugged upper Platte River.
From M-22, the Platte River runs approximately one mile through woods, past dunes, and across Loon Lake before emptying into Lake Michigan. One can access the river from the bridge at M-22, or can turn left on to Lake Michigan Road and access the river at numerous points along the way. Lake Michigan Road runs for approximately one mile before running into the Lake Michigan shoreline at the mouth of the Platte River. The area was one of the first to be designated as a public park, when Benzie County created Benzie State Park in 1923. It remains one of the most popular areas in the dunes for summer visitors, whether canoeing the river, rafting the river, or heading directly to the Lake Michigan beach. The river is a mecca for fisherman during salmon and steelhead runs, and has a significant place in the history of fisheries management.
The mouth of the river was the site of Michigan’s effort to repopulate Lake Michigan with Coho Salmon in 1964. After invasive sea lamprey decimated native lake trout populations, the State of Michigan was desperate to restore its sport fishery. Howard Tanner, the new Director of State Fisheries, was given no direction other than to “do something spectacular.” Mr. Tanner learned of a surplus of coho salmon eggs in the Western United States. He obtained the eggs, ordered the Department of Natural Resources to raise the hatchlings in a nearby hatchery, and in 1964 released 650,000 one and a half year old Coho Salmon into the Platte River. When the salmon returned in the fall of 1967 to spawn, it was a frenzy. More than a thousand fishing boats crowded around the mouth of the river daily. The salmon had grown so quickly on the feeder fish left behind by the declining and extinct populations of other sport fish, that they averaged fourteen pounds, compared to the west coast average of nine pounds. Word spread so quickly that Sports Illustrated ran a feature article in its October 9, 1967 issue, proclaiming, “Now the cohos are running, and now the conservation department experts held in disdain for years because of the decline in Great Lakes’ fishing, are heroes.” The salmon still return each fall to the Platte and nearby Betsie Rivers, attracting thousands of fishermen in what is known by locals as the “Benzie Frenzy.”
Platte Plains Trail
Just north of the Platte River, M-22 runs past the Platte Plains Trail System, the second of the dunes’ thirteen hiking trails accessible from M-22. The Platte Plains Trail System consists of numerous loops of trails 14.7 miles long over a five square mile area. The trails are mostly flat with some rolling hills, and wind through forests and meadows, along small lakes, and past three elevated vistas overlooking Lake Michigan. M-22 continues north through the Platte Plains area surrounded by thick forests of evergreen, maple, oak, birch, and conifer trees.