The Ward Hills Snowmobile Trail

This is one of my favorite snowmobile trails and this area was at one time owned by Camp Martin Johnson before the entire camp was sold off back in the late 1970’s. Apparently, old Santa might be missing one of his reindeer before his big run tomorrow night? My guess would be Blitzen.

This is a great trail within the confines of the Manistee National Forest and a great run for snowmobile enthusiasts. There is great scenery here with the occassional run in with some of natures best creatures. How many of you have been on this trail? If you have, leave some of your experiences by way of a comment. I am sure Ed Hawks has visited this area on more than one occassion.

The area is about seven miles north of mighty Branch, Michigan, off of US 10. Dress warm as you sure won’t be passing many McDonald’s on this route and their great coffee. But if you swerve off the main trail you just might find Larry Bender’s Na-Tah-Ka for a warm mug of something or other along the way.

Then try this trail at night sometimes as the thrills increase by the moment. Oh, yes, and watch out for those trees!

Ward Hills Ski Area Going Both Ways

This is a wonderous picture looking south on Hamilton Road in Sauble, Michigan, whose one time most famous resident was the Ward Hills Ski Area. Now the area is known as the Ward Hills Lodge but I’m not certain if it is still open for business. It was a place for summer volleyball and winter sledding. Plus parties, movies, and dancing were to take place in the Lodge itself which also had an enormous deck.

You can easily make out the breathtaking ski runs in this photograph which was taken by the website “My Quality Day“. However, in this post I also wanted to provide you with the opposite view looking north up Hamilton Road from atop those ski runs.

Relocating the Martin Johnson Home to Irons, Michigan

The home of Martin Johnson himself was moved to the site in Irons from Martin Johnson Point back in the early 1980s to preserve something from the camp. Inside the structure, in the main living space, is a glass case with various objects, and different artifacts, including the original sign from the Camp Store. There is also a table on which certain documents are for sale: a history of the area (no doubt by Anne Louise Chase), postcards dating back to the early part of the century, a local area cookbook; and the green covered Martin Johnson autobiography.

Off to the right was Johnson’s room, containing a bed covered by an army blanket and also two plaques: one seems to be the plaque from the CMJ Dining Hall, the other is the plaque removed from the grave stone, kept in the house. The grave stone is still where it was, now behind a private home. Without a plaque, though, it just looks like a big boulder.

In the kitchen, there are all sorts of artifacts that have been donated. In the kitchen cupboard, under the stairs, they have retained the original grouting of the walls to show the construction as it had been done by Johnson himself. Upstairs, in the studio, there are several of his paintings. The wonderful roof window had to be replaced with a modern window structure. Yet, the floor in the studio is the original flooring, and the light from the new skylight, although not the same as on the point, makes this a very luminous room.

There is a green camp jacket hanging on a hook upstairs, and there is a camp Canoe Paddle. When the camp was closed, the property itself was wide open to the public, i.e. to anyone who wanted to go traipsing through the villages and cabins, buildings.

As I have detailed in another post, the four cabins on Four Winds Island have been preserved by the current owner who wants everything left as it once had been. Along the side of one cabin was a sign that indicated that the Ward Hills Ski Area was twenty miles in some direction. The camp had earlier purchased that property to be used fo winter activities.

Next time you are in Irons, Michigan, you might want to stop by and view the original house of Martin Johnson. It is a unique piece of history from the Big Bass Lake area.

It is disturbing learning that Martin Johnson’s house has been dislodged from the property on Big Bass Lake that he loved so much but also comforting to know that Irons, Michigan, thought enough of his legacy to allow his house to come to their town. Now it has become a tourist attraction and rightly so. I cannot imagine how former campers can even stand to look at their former camp site as it has been altered beyond belief.

Yet now all his paintings are on display for the public to see. And CMJ campers still have a place to call home that may have a new location but the same old feel that it always had. Johnson’s gravesite still exists at the old camp which can be found elsewhere on BBL and Beyond. Check the Camp Martin Johnson category for more.

Aubert Lodge Near Ward Hill

How about a fancy place to stay near Ward Hill ski area.

You can sleep in a genuine log bed made by the Amish. You will sleep like a baby.

A great place to stay with the Manistee Forest on all four sides of the lodge.

Even the turkeys like this area which might give you an idea about what time of year to visit. What about Thanksgiving? Gobble gobble! Save me a drumstick.

Ward Hills Outhouse

Someone just emailed me this from the Ward Hills area where they used to ski in the winter time. This looks like an old outhouse and was probably there when it first opened. It was just off the property but I wonder how many times it was used in the beginning of the ski area? It would be hard to navigate with skis on almost impossible. Does anyone else know about this outhouse? Whoever took this picture I hope they didn’t get caught on private property.

Ward Hills Ski Slope

I received a picture by email from an anonymous source that states that this at one time was is a ski slope at Ward Hills in Sauble, Michigan, back in the 1960s. At that time the ski resort was in full operation. How many of our readers actually skied at this location? Leave us a comment with your experience at Ward Hills. I was curious as to how many years it was in operation? How many slopes did it have and did they do cross country skiing there?

Where Is Sauble, Michigan?- Part Two

In 1974, Ward Hills added a snow making machine. Howard Reese original owner of Ward Hills, sold the ski area in September 1960 to Camp Martin Johnson who allowed open skiing for some time to the public. 7 slopes, of which five were lighted and six tow ropes.

Ward Hills area operated from the mid 1950′s until the 1970′s. There were several rope tows and many runs. Some were named and some were numbered.

In The Cass City Chronicle for Friday, November 9, 1956, in the “Michigan Mirror” column, Ward Hills near Cadillac is listed among the rapidly developing ski areas of Michigan. According to a Consumers Power brochure from 1959, Ward Hills was 6.5 miles north of Branch, midway between Ludington and Baldwin via US-10 and Co-669. By the way, that now provides you with the geographical location of Sauble, Michigan. They had 4 slopes (1 novice run) 1 tow, instruction, and a warming shelter with a lounge serving snacks.

The Cass City Chronicle printed the 1968 AAA Michigan Guide to Winter Sports Fun on January 4. 1968. It listed Ward Hills as having 8 lighted ski runs, trails, and rope tows. They listed both a Michigan and a Chicago phone number for the resort, no doubt since they were then affiliated with Camp Martin Johnson

Apparently the Ward Hill Ski Area was purchased by the Chicago YMCA and added to their nearby Camp Martin Johnson, listed as being near Irons. Camp Martin Johnson was run by the Hyde Park YMCA from 1926 until 1980. They may have continued to run the tows for winter campers or other users (local school groups) until they closed the camp in 1980 and sold the property, reportedly to Ted Nugent, the “Motor City Mad Man.” It has been sold several times since, the last being to the Ward Hills Lodge. Again, it is now under private ownership.

Where is Sauble, Michigan?- Part One

Sauble, Michigan, is noticeable only to the wildlife that visit it daily. There is no actual town sign there and the only business that has ever been there, to my knowledge, was the Ward Hill Ski Area and even more recently The Ward Hills Lodge. Now that area has reverted back to private ownership.

The Big Sauble River is found in this vicinity.   It is a hidden gem in North Western lower Michigan. It remains relatively unknown sitting between its more well known brother the Little Manistee and the Pere Marquette.

Its headwaters are at the confluence of the Sauble Lakes(a chain of four lakes) and Bloody-Run Creek The headwaters are easily waded and this tends to be brookie territory, although browns and brookies share most of the river. Continuing into Mason County the river flows into some public land with access available via the labyrinth of two tracks that wander through the area. There is good cover and lots of holes available to fish.

Further downstream the holes get deep enough to float your hat and the wading becomes increasingly difficult as you near US-31. The tradeoff is that this is where you will find the bigger fish. Good fishing can be found all the way to downstream of US-31.

Thus Sauble, Michigan, can boast of the ski resort and river.  Tomorrow I will have more on the Ward Hills Ski Area.

Ward Hills Sledding Hill

For a time, Ward Hills Ski Area became Ward Hills Sledding / Saucer Area. At the time, the Kennedy brothers owned this area. They converted the lodge into a nightclub.

Atop this hill was an indoors warming station that was also new. The hill itself had been cycled and mowed in the fall to get it for the winter. There were a couple of small trees to avoid. I wonder if they ever tried tubing with inner tubes on this hill?

Remnants of Ward Hills Ski Area

These are historical reminders of what used to be the Ward Hills Ski Area just south of Big Bass Lake. This was the engine room and tower which used to haul skiers up to the high hills where they could find trails to ski down. Presently, the new owners have established the Ward Hills Lodge which is going to have sledding hills and summer activities such as volleyball.

The area abounds with both hiking trails and snowmobile trails. Here is a photograph of the course that these ski lines took up the hills.

For a time this land was owned by former Camp Martin Johnson as an extension area for their activities.

One has to wonder if the new owners are going to have any ski activities as part of their winter sports program? It would be a shame not to include skiing in this wonderful natural setting among the Manistee National Forest as it was once intended to be.

Did any of our readership ever ski this area? If you have, please leave us a comment as to your experiences at Ward Hills. Or if you have been here for other purposes let us know that too. This area just has to have plenty of stories to share.

As part of our commitment to the greater Big Bass Lake area, the Ward Hills Ski Area will always be in the hearts and minds of those who have lived in this area.

I look forward to having you share your experiences with us here at BBL and Beyond! An update as of September 7th 2018. The lodge is no longer open and the new owners now want their privacy.

Memories of Ward Hill

Can you hear it? The sound of skiers ever so long ago. Now you can only hear the sounds of sqirrels running about but in those days long ago, the sound of laughter and even the groans of machinery could be heard. An occassional skier would whoosh right by me. How many of you remember the good old days at Ward Hills? Tell us your experience of the slopes and even where you stayed. Start the conversation with a comment.

The Ward Hill Ski Area


Back when I was a kid in the 1950’s, the Ward Hills Ski Area was operating each winter with ski lifts and hills galore. Later, Camp Martin Johnson purchased the area to enhance its winter programs. Now its largely overgrown.

I always liked coming down that road as it curve around the ski area. It was a wide curve and each way I glanced out the car window to take in the magnificent site. Does anyone know when Camp Martin Johnson purchased it?

What kind of winter programs, outside of skiing, took place there when the camp owned it? Did they utilize it during other times of the year? I would think, that to purchase this area, and then later lose the camp, there must have been some operating money in the budget to save the camp itself.

Maybe former campers can fill in the blanks? Another good question might be to ask, just who was Ward Hills?