PORT AUSTIN, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – The Wilderness Arboretum in Port Austin, Michigan is a place where the natural environment is protected for scientific and educational purposes.

Back in the day, local kids called it “The Woods” where they could explore dry forests and wetlands. The Arboretum is home to all manner of native Michigan plants and animals, birds and wildflowers protected by shallow wetlands, and sandy ridges extending to the nearby beach. This beautiful nature center has several easy to walk, well maintained trails, including handicapped access trails. The wilderness arboretum encompasses more than 100 acres of natural beauty, convenience facilities and a Visitor Center.

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The paved handicapped accessible trail is a walk into the giant oak trees and an amazing variety of wildflowers. The trail leads to one of the few dry swales found in this region, a forested ridge, and eventually, onto a boardwalk that leads to an interdunal wetland. The longer trails are mostly improved with wood chips and will take hikers to that same dry swale and a wooded ridge habitat. These trails will also wind through moist woods and wetlands, as well as stands of hardwoods. Boardwalks are provided in particularly wet areas. There are benches along the way where nature lovers can rest, or simply pause, to drink in the pure forest air. This type of wooded environment once covered the entire Thumb.

If all this weren’t enough, the Wilderness Arboretum is home to a Lady Slipper Festival every Memorial Day weekend. In years past, the high point of the festival was the discovery of more than 100 of the rare Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid.

Directions – For the Wilderness Arboretum, from Port Austin, go west on M-25 to Oak Beach and turn south on Oak Beach Road. Loosemore Road will be on your left, turn down Loosemore and the Nature Center will be on the left about 1/4 mile.