WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
“Bald Mountain Recreation Area has some of the steepest hills and most rugged terrain in southeastern Michigan.” The Michigan Department of Natural Resources uses that sentence to describe the 4,637 acre multi-use wildland gem they manage in northeastern Oakland County. Bald Mountain is split into three large parcels, and without question it is a four-season “walk on the wilder side” that attracts avid hikers, mountain bikers, birders, solitude seekers, and before very long, cross-country skiers that don’t mind navigating around glacial boulders deposited during the last ice age. The terrain has rapid elevation changes and can be challenging for hikers who are usually accustomed to level or crushed gravel terrain.
Trails at Bald Mountain have reached peak color and keen-eyed hikers may spot autumn mushrooms, including edible giant puffballs and shaggy manes, along with toxic Amanita species amidst the fallen leaves. Unless you are a pro on fungi – leave all mushrooms alone. When taking to the trails, a bit of situational awareness is always in order too. Hunting is permitted in much of the state recreation area so dressing in orange or other bright colors is advisable. If you bring a dog, it must be leashed. Being respectful of the multi-use function of the trail is also a must. Mountain bikers enjoy the steep hills and bends of the trail as much as slow paced nature-embracing hikers do. Stay alert, and step aside at the approach of a bike.
Adventure seekers wishing a good workout for their lungs and legs tend to hit the trails of the western section of the North Unit. That’s where this end of October trail tale begins, in the Heart Lake parking lot at the corner of Harmon and Predmore Road. The North Unit has a total of 8 miles of trails for your enjoyment. For first time explorers that want a hilly adventure, I suggest combining the 2.1 White Trail, with the 1.7 mile Blue Trail and heading counterclockwise starting at Heart Lake. The trail junctions have excellent colorful maps. At the top of each trail marker key post is a number showing the present location and beneath the map is the number to the next location and direction of travel to the next intersection. Pay attention, for straying off trail can get a hiker lost.
My route last week took me from #1 to #6 and then on to #5. If you have a compass, and know how to use it, bring it. It will reassure you of direction of travel. The embedded map from the DNR is accurate, but leaves out fine details and casually created trails that are not part of the route and may cause confusion. When I reached the western most point heading between #6 and #5 I took a narrow diversion due west towards Chamberlain Lake. A three minute stroll down the path takes hikers between that lake and a bog. The bog is on the north side and has pitcher plants (a carnivorous species) and poison sumac, both species now dressed in reddish hues.
I turned around, rejoined the main trail, and headed to trail maker #5, where I diverted to the southwest on the Blue Trail and headed for #4. Hiking with a friend or two is great, but hiking alone and practicing the ‘art’ of walking slowly, stopping often and listening brings extra rewards. Pileated Woodpeckers, the largest woodpecker species of North America frequent these woods. When they pound on a tree in search of insects, you know it! Gusts of wind created cascades of falling leaves and those conditions will continue for another week, creating colorful photo opportunities. The yellow spider-like blossoms of witch hazel are now at peak bloom as well.
The Blue Loop reconnects with the White Loop at junction #3 and then it’s about a one half mile walk back to the starting point. The final section passes very near two rustic cabins that can be rented, and then wraps around the south and east shore of Heart Lake. Walk to the lake for a final look at the beauty of October, and then call it a day on the wilder side of Oakland County.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.