Located in Northern Michigan on the Lower Peninsula, sits the quiet town of Empire. Blink and you’ll miss it, it rests on the side of M-22, a spectacular ~120 mile drive that hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline and encompasses the Leelanau Peninsula.
It is in Empire that you will find the remnants of our last ice age and the effect the glaciers had on the local landscape. Towering high above the blue waters of Lake Michigan are the Lake Michigan Bluffs. They offer hours and days of endless hiking, water activities, winter activities and beautiful views. The largest and most well known park and trails can be found at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore but there are many other beaches and trails to discover.
The trail where the image above was taken can be found just as you are entering Empire on northbound M-22. You’ll need to turn left on Aylsworth St. Follow this to the stop sign and turn left onto Wilco Rd. This will lead you right to the trail head for the Empire Bluffs trail. From the trail head, it is a leisurely 20-30 minute walk through the woods where you’ll be treated by great views such as the image below. Continue on the trail and you’ll emerge from the forest with a grand panorama view of the Lake Michigan Bluffs and coastline.
The bluffs themselves plummet 500+ feet into the lake below and other inland lakes and sand dunes can be seen in the distance. Faintly visible in the featured image above is South Manitou Island. The Native Americans of the area often tell The Legend of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, which give an ancient insight as to how the dunes and islands were created.
All the trails along the Lake Michigan Bluffs are great morning, noon or evening activities. Take the family, pets or loved ones and enjoy a day out and about on this beautiful stretch of coastline. With the sun setting over the water, these locations are ideally located on the western side of the state and offer some prime time photography opportunities.
Other Places to See in the Area
Located 15 miles south of Empire is the town of Frankfort (7 miles from where I grew up as a child). Enjoy a day at the beach, grab lunch and ice cream downtown and walk out to the lighthouse on the pier. This is a great spot to spend the day with friends and family.
A great place to do local, Northern Michigan shopping. 13 miles north of Empire, it’s a quaint town that offers great dining and shopping. A must stop on any M-22 road trip.
Another pretty town on the coastline. This time nestled in it’s own bay, there is a great beach to lounge at and the water is slightly warmer and calmer than the rest of Lake Michigan. Suttons Bay also has a fantastic downtown area with local shops and restaurants.