The Nordhouse Dunes Dilemma

This is a tough one. Darlene asked me recently about where exactly the Nordhouse Dunes are. This has been a dilemma for me for years. Some say it is part of the Hamlin Dam/Ludington State Park area and then again, some do not!  This could well be at the northern tip of the State Park area.  But is there a marking to tell us where one ends and the other begins?

Then there’s the Lake Michigan Recreation Area dilemma for many of th trails that lead to Nordhouse Dunes commence from there.  Again the question begs as to where the Recreation Area begins and ends in connection with the Nordhouse Dunes?  This might be a good question for Jeopardy?

Then, since the State Park and Recreation Area each have dunes also, just where do the Nordhouse Dunes begin and end?  How do we tell the difference between a Nordhouse Dune and a recreation one, not to mention a State Park one?  After all, they all have sand to them. 

Yes, I do see the sign in this picture telling me about Nordhouse Dunes but it is not on the beach.  The safer bet is to say that all three are part of the Manistee National Forest.  Then again, I’m not sure if the State Park is or not?  You could go crazy thinking about all of this! 

Now the Nordhouse Dunes are said to end at the southern most part of the Recreation Area so it might be safe to say that, imaginary lines aside, that the Nordhouse Dunes is that area between the Ludington State Park and the Lake Michigan Recreation Area.  And after all this, the latter may be the place to go to recreate oneself!

Oh, by the way, does anyone know what Nordhouse stands for besides dunes?  Seriously, though,  after northwestern Michigan was heavily logged in the 19th century and early 20th century, the U.S. Congress re-designated much of the cutover land as the Manistee National Forest in 1938. Congress listed the Nordhouse Dunes as a wilderness in 1987.

As a wilderness, the Nordhouse Dunes is not penetrated by road. Two parking lots, Lake Michigan Recreation Area on the wilderness’s northern edge and Nurnberg Road at its southeastern corner, provide space for persons seeking to hike into the wilderness itself. While the wilderness nominally enjoys free admission, drivers of vehicles using the parking lots are requested to purchase a vehicle pass for display on the windshield of the vehicle.

Both parking lots are located relatively close to U.S. Highway 31, the primary road serving the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Ludington.

5 thoughts on “The Nordhouse Dunes Dilemma

  1. Nordhouse was the topic of my newspaper column in April 2011. Here’s what I found out about the name. The name, Nordhouse, has two possible sources. One early settler’s name was Nordhausen, or it may have been named for a lumberman and banker who lived in the area around 1900.

    The Nordhouse Dunes (legally) is part of the Manistee National Forest. It is the only designated wilderness in the Lower Peninsula. It is managed by the National Forest Service (Manistee District). Ludington State Park is owned by the State of MI and is managed by the DNR.


  2. Many parts of the Lake Michigan Recreaion Area are rather prmitive as well. The beach has no active lifeguard program as such it is swim at your own risk. Aside from the main campground it is near wilderness as well. And, of course, it is part of the Manistee National Forest. Thank you for your thoughts on Nordhouse.


  3. Yes, some of the Rec Area seems primitive, but I’m referring to the legal definition of “Wilderness” as defined by the Forest Service. That designation brings a tougher set of regulations into play which protect the area more and restrict uses within the boundaries. The fact that all three of those areas connect creates what I believe to be the longest stretch of continuous public shoreline on Lake Michigan.


  4. Yup… the three are Lake MI Rec Area, Nordhouse Dunes, Ludington State Park. So this stretches from north of Porter Creek all the way to south of “First Curve” on M116.


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