Access this Spectacular Wilderness Hike via Treat Farm Trail
Venture off the beaten path in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to find a hidden gem that also happens to be the prettiest trail in the park.
And, it serves an alternative pathway to the popular Empire Bluff scenic overlook.
Go on this walk if you’d like to explore a glorious, nameless hidden treasure that promises epic bluff-top views of Lake Michigan’s vivid turquoise waters.
Access to this hike is via Treat Farm Trail, a secret in itself.
Stay close, we’re going to tell you how to get there and how to experience it for yourself.
[show table of contents]
Finding the Trailhead for Treat Farm Trail
The first challenge of this hike is locating the trailhead for Treat Farm Trail (south 49630, 6748 S Dune Hwy, Empire, MI 49630).
Look for the distinct red barn at the bend in Norconk Road.
Park across the road from the red barn – you should see a gate – this is where Treat Farm Trail begins.
Several cars can park along the roadside here. (Note that you do need a National Park Service pass to park here.)
There’s no signage for this unofficial trail, making the starting point itself a part of the adventure.
Behind the gate, you’ll find the trailhead marked subtly with the National Park Service (NPS) logo.
Treat Farm Trail Has You Strolling Through History
Treat Farm Trail, though unmarked, is still maintained by the Park Service. Pleasantly quiet, it offers a peaceful hike through old forest and farm fields.
Follow the Treat Farm Trail from the trailhead through the woods for about ½ mile until you reach the old Treat Farm homestead.
The first sight greeting you is the barn and root cellar, parts of which have been rebuilt on the original foundation.
Walk a little further, up a small hill, to find the Treat home.
You’re invited to linger at the picnic table on the porch at the historic farmstead and soak up this glimpse into Northern Michigan’s past.
Hiking to Old Baldy Dune
From the old homestead, walk along the edge of the field for another half-mile.
The Treat Farm Trail re-enter the woods just before it reaches Old Baldy, the high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.
The view from Old Baldy isn’t apparent until you reach the top. Peer over the edge of the cliff and drink up the spectacular panoramic vista – this is Lake Michigan in all of its glory.
Looking down, it’s easy to see that some hikers have climbed down the dunes to the lake from the bluffs. Know that it’s a steep descent not to be undertaken lightly. The climb down will be tough; the return climb even harder.
We did not climb down the bluff. Instead, we opted to travel along the side of lakeshore bluffs on the No Name Trail and were treated to the best hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes.
MAP: Hiking the No Name Trail
Treat Farm Trail lies south of the Empire Bluff Trail, and it’s possible to hike through the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness between the two.
Leaving Old Baldy is where the real adventure begins – and the unnamed wilderness trail starts.
Segment 1: Treat Farm Trail. Just over a mile long. Hard-packed dirt trail through the woods and open fields. Ends at Old Baldy, overlooking Lake Michigan
Segment 2: No Name Trail. Connects Old Baldy Dune with Empire Bluff Trail and scenic lookout. Sandy single-track footpath on the side of a dune. Some grassy and wooded areas but mostly open. Approximately 1 mile from Old Baldy to the Empire Bluff boardwalk.
Segment 3: Empire Bluff Trail. Well-marked and beloved trail with boardwalk and epic Lake Michigan bluff-top views.
Segment 4 & 5: Walk along the roadside. Segment 4 along Wilco road is paved and slightly downhill. It’s not typically a busy road. Segment 5 is a on a flat dirt road. Note, Google Maps shows the road name as Norconk Rd but the actual road sign shows the name to be Stormer Road.
(If you want to return to the Treat Farm Trailhead, Old Baldy would be your turnaround point. Treat Farm Trail to Old Baldy and back is just shy of 2 miles.)
PHOTOS: Walking the Lakeshore Bluff to Empire Bluff Trail
Walking along the duneside to Empire Bluff Trail, the sandy path flirts with a steep drop-off at times.
I’m glad we didn’t have children along on this hike. (Treat Farm Trail and Empire Bluff Trail are great options for kids, though.)
Narrow and breathtaking all at once, the views from your perch on the side of the bluff are unparalleled.
Especially in the late spring, when the wildflowers are in full bloom, this trail offers one of the most beautiful walks in Michigan.
Return to the Treat Farm Trailhead
From the Empire Bluff Trailhead, you’ll walk one mile along (mostly) quiet roads to return to your vehicle.
Otherwise, consider a two-car strategy: leave one at the Empire Bluff trailhead and start your hike at Treat Farm trail.
Will You Visit this Hiker’s Hidden Paradise?
All in all, this Treat Farm Trail to Empire Bluff loop is a delightful place to visit in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
If you’re searching for an adventurous escape into nature and history, a hike along this gorgeous no-name trail is a perfect choice.
The trail’s quiet beauty, panoramic lake views, and historical farmstead make it a not-to-be-missed gem in the heart of the park.
Let us know if you’re planning to visit or have already hiked this jewel!