Alligator Hill is an often overlooked jewel in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Its nine miles of hiking trails loop their way through some of the most beautiful landscapes in northern Michigan.
Located smack in the middle of Glen Arbor, Alligator Hill has been driven past by almost every up north visitor. Driven over the Glen Lake Narrows? You’ve passed Alligator Hill. Scrambled up the Dune Climb or photographed D.H. Day Farm? You’ve passed Alligator Hill. Made the trip from Glen Arbor to Glen Haven? You’ve passed Alligator Hill.
Pyramid Point and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive are thronged with visitors, and the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail sees hundreds of cyclists every day. Yet despite its central location, Alligator Hill remains overlooked by the majority of visitors to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
This is a shame for those visitors, but it is a boon for those in the know. If you’re looking to experience the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore and escape the crowds, Alligator Hill is definitely one of the places to be. Here you can hike for hours and hardly run into another soul.
Alligator Hill’s trails consist of three interconnected loops. The loops are rated by difficulty, with an Easy Trail, an Intermediate Trail, and an Advanced Trail. While these ratings are more applicable to snowshoers and cross-country skiers in the winter time, they provide hikers an indication of the strenuousness of each trail. A brisk walk along the 2.3 mile advanced trail will definitely get the heart pumping!
Golf on Alligator Hill?
The Alligator Hill trail system exists on what was once Day Forest Estates. Area pioneer D. H. Day owned all of this land and envisaged subdividing much of it in a complex real estate development, complete with its own golf club. Sadly for Day, the Great Depression foiled those plans and the development never took off. The golf club closed in 1942.
A satellite photo of Alligator Hill showing the remnants of Day Forest Golf Club. A 1938 aerial photo is overlaid showing the golf club in its heyday. The differing angles these photos were taken on prevents them from lining up exactly.
While the development failed, its roads, driveways, and fairways now form the backbone of the Alligator Hill trail system.
The main trailhead is just off Stocking Drive near D. H. Day Farm. Pull into the small parking lot, located on what used to be the Day Forest Golf Club’s fifth hole, and it is just a short walk into the heart of this tranquil forest.
The first point of interest is a row of curious structures to the left of the trail. These are charcoal kilns, and they were installed by lumberman Pierce Stocking who purchased the land in 1948 after the demise of Day Forest Estates.
The trails begin with a T-intersection, but turning left or right is no matter, as the trails form a large loop. A left turn is the most direct route to the Easy and Intermediate trails. A right turn will give you the option to get on the Advanced trail.
The Easy trail loops around the remains of the golf course and provides a delightful hike through forest and across the old fairways. Both the Islands Lookout and the Big Glen Lookout can be reached on the Easy trail and afford visitors majestic views.
The Islands Lookout is particularly noteworthy. From this lofty vantage point, visitors can see the sweep of Sleeping Bear Bay, from Sleeping Bear Point in the west all the way to Pyramid Point in the north. Directly ahead, eight miles out across the Manitou Passage, lie South and North Manitou Islands. On clearer days, the towering sand dunes of South Fox Island, 35 miles to the north, are visible on the horizon. Alligator Hill’s Islands Lookout just might be the best view in the entire Lakeshore.
The Advanced and Intermediate trails take hikers through the heart of what was supposed to be Day Forest Estates. The trails at Alligator Hill all follow the old roads and it is impressive how quickly and completely nature – with a little help from the National Park Service – can erase the toils of man. While these trails do not feature the scenic lookouts of the Easy trail, their charm lies in the serenity of immersing oneself utterly in the forest.
Alligator Hill’s trails are a delight year round. In the winter they provide some of the best cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the area. In the warmer months, the trails are ideal for hiking, jogging, or simply walking the dog. They are also the only trails in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore where horseback riding is allowed.
Fall sees Alligator Hill at its most spectacular. The canopy of foliage overhead explodes in a rainbow of golds, reds, and oranges, and the trail underfoot is blanketed with fallen leaves.
But don’t get too picky! Alligator Hill is majestic at all times of the year. If you’ve never been, don’t make the mistake of passing by Alligator Hill again. Make sure you explore it on your next trip up north.
Update (10/30/14): We’ve heard from several people who frequently spend time up north but who have never experienced Alligator Hill. It’s great to know that we can still introduce people to something “new” in the Sleeping Bear Dunes! Here’s one comment from Facebook:
“After reading your newsletter last week my husband and I decided to check out Alligator Hill while we were vacationing ‘up north’ this past weekend. Now I’m the least athletic person in the world and not always a fan of the great outdoors. 🙂 So we took the ‘easy’ trail. After a mile and I my legs were starting to scream at me I was silently cursing you all. 😉
But once we hit the ‘yellow leaf road’ all was forgotten… it was BEAUTIFUL… and then we walked up, up, up… and the cursing started over… but then we hit the pot at the end of the rainbow… WOW! Thank you so much for the suggestion – we’ve done Pierce Stocking many times but this became our new favorite scenic path (even with the exercise added in :-))”