Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Lake Michigan

The 3,500 acre Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is a beautiful and complex feature along Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline, in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, located between Ludington and Manistee. It is popular for hiking, primitive and dispersed camping, beach combing, hunting, picnicking, nature study and wildlife viewing, also offering approximately 10-miles of trails accessed from two developed trailheads:  Nurnberg Road and Lake Michigan Recreation Area.  The designated Wilderness area is a protected natural space, an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

Our Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Story has more information on what is being done to protect this special place and how you can help. 

At a Glance

Area Amenities: Interpretive Site,Tent camping,Fee charged for some activities,Toilets,Parking

Day Use Fees

Day use fees are required at Nurnberg Trailhead and Lake Michigan Recreation Area for single day use and dispersed overnight camping access. 
  • Day - $5.00
  • Week -  $15.00
An automated self-service pay station is located at Nurnberg Trailhead.
Permit Info: No commercial, event or large group (75 people or more) permits are issued in the wilderness area.


  • Nonmotorized/nonmechanized equipment use
  • Pets, on-leash


  • Mechanized, motorized and over-snow vehicles/equipment
  • Pack, saddle and other livestock
  • Camping 400’ from shoreline, 100’ from trails and 200' from Nordhouse Lake
  • Collecting woody material from beaches/shoreline
  • Parking in violation of posted instructions
  • Bonfires/campfires on the beach.
General Topic orders apply across the Forests.
Closest Towns: Manistee and Ludington, Michigan 
Passes: Annual and short-term passes are available and apply to day-use fees at Nurnberg Trailhead and Lake Michigan Recreation Area.
Information Center: Cadillac/Manistee Ranger Station

General Information


Nurnberg Trailhead/Day Use parking area has a 24 vehicle capacity; Lake Michigan Rec Area Trailhead/Day Use has a 60 vehicle capacity.  As a designated Wilderness area, the parking areas are limited to 5 parking spaces per 1,000 acres of Wilderness.

General Notes:

Downloadable Maps and Resources

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Visitor Information and Map

Visiting Nordhouse Dunes

Nurnberg Road Trailhead offers day use and dispersed overnight camping access. A day use fee is required, please see the instructions posted at the respective trailheads for instructions on how to pay or get a pass ahead of time. Next to Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is Lake Michigan Recreation Area, a 102 site campground and day use area. Visit to plan your trip to Lake Michigan Recreation Area.

Protect This Special Place

Nordhouse is one of two federally Designated Wilderness Areas in Michigan’s lower peninsula.  Congress conserved this land in 1987 as part of the larger 1964 Wilderness ActAs a Designated Wilderness there are use restrictions to protect the area – see restrictions above for full list. We encourage visitors to practice Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly principles.

The Dunes is part of the Big Sable Dunes Complex, of which includes the Lake Michigan Recreation Area and the Ludington Dunes Ecosystem. Formed 3,500-4,000 years ago, some dunes stand up to 140 feet high.  This collective complex area is the largest area of freshwater interdunal ponds in the world, with dune grass providing habitat and refuge for wildlife.  The area is also home to the federally endangered Pitcher’s Thistle, and Piping Plover (a shoreline bird).

Seasonal Information

Lake Michigan Recreation Area is gated in the off season.


Day use trailhead parking is available at the Nurnberg Road Trailhead and Lake Michigan Recreation Area.  Details of parking lot size are available in their listings on this site.

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Beaches & Dunes

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Camping & Cabins

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Nature Viewing

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Outdoor Learning

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Water Activities

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Winter Sports

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Interpretive Site
Tent camping in the wilderness
Fee charged for some activities day use fee for parking
Parking Nurnberg - 24 vehicle capacity; Lake Michigan Rec Area - 60 vehicle capacity
Toilets vault toilet