Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Area Status: 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

Current Conditions: Nurnberg Trailhead
  • Open. Annual maintenance and amenity services all-year round. No camping in the parking lot/trailhead. Please practice Leave No Trace principles.
Lake Michigan Recreation Area
  • Closed. Opens April 1st – December 1st.
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. If dispersed camping in the Wilderness Area, a day use pass much be purchased per day.
  • Day - $5.00 (6AM - 10PM)
  • Week - $15.00
Credit/Debit cards are accepted at an automated self-service pay station located at Nurnberg Trailhead.
Permit Info: No commercial outfitting/guiding, recreation event, or large group (75 or more) permits are issued in the wilderness area. The maximum group size in the wilderness is 10 people.
Open Season: January 1 - December 31


  • Non-motorized/non-mechanized use
  • Pets, on-leash (per Michigan law)
  • Dispersed camping more than 400 ft from Lake Michigan Shoreline, more than 100 ft from designated trails, and more than 200 ft from Nordhouse Lake
  • Wheelchairs and mobility devices for use by a person with a disability that requires its use.


  • Mechanized, motorized, and over-snow vehicles/equipment including wagons, carts, bicycles, and coolers
  • Bonfires/campfires on the beach
  • Pack, saddle, and other livestock
  • Possession of glass containers
  • Collecting woody material from beaches/shoreline
  • Use of polystyrene style coolers
  • Parking in violation of posted instructions
General Topic orders apply across the Forests.
Closest Towns: Manistee, Ludington
Passes: Day use passes can be purchased electronically on or from any Huron-Manistee office. Fee envelopes are located at the trailhead.
Information Center:

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.


Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information



Collecting woody material from beaches or other sandy areas is prohibited. Woody material includes, but is not limited to: driftwood, shipwreck timbers and pine knots

Areas for Beachcombing at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Sand Play

To find out the water temperature in Lake Michigan visit the Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System

Areas for Sand Play at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Campground Camping

Nordhouse Dunes is open for dispersed camping, however no camping is permitted within 400 feet of the Lake Michigan shoreline, 100 feet from trail, 200 feet from Nordhouse Lake. 

Visitors are asked to use existing campsites when possible.  Campfires or bonfires are not permitted on the beach.  Know before you go - see the restrictions section of this page for a full list of requirements to help protect this specially managed area.

Lake and Pond Fishing

Fishing is allowed at Nordhouse Lake.  There are no prohibitions against shore fishing on Lake Michigan, however, the shoreline is very shallow and there are few fish. 

Please note there is not a boat launch available,and use of wheeled equipment is not allowed per the Wilderness Designation of the area. 

Fishing Mode Shore, Wade
Special Designations National Wilderness Area
Fishing Platform No
Cleaning Station No
Water Temperature Cold
Accessible Platform No
Fishing Method Fly, Pole

Areas for Lake and Pond Fishing at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Day Hiking

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is open to hiking with 10-miles of trail accessed from either Lake Michigan Recreation Area or Nurnberg Trailhead. The trail system within the dunes is minimally signed.  While some sections of trail will lead visitors to Lake Michigan, others head to Nordhouse Lake.  Visitors are encouraged to use a trail app, bring a compass/GPS unit and/or a current map when hiking the wilderness.  Utilizing “Leave No Trace” principles we encourage people to stay on the trail system.

Arrowhead Trail is located within and around Lake Michigan Recreation Area.  This short loop trail was created by the Boy Scouts many years ago and is located between the Lake Michigan Recreation Area and Lake Michigan.  This short trail goes between the beach and campground.  Visitors can also walk along the beach, heading south will take you onto the shoreline within the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.  See Maps & Publications section of our website to download the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area map/brochure.

Areas for Day Hiking at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area


There are several dispersed campsites along the trail system.  Visit to reserve a camping site at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area, on the northern side of Nordhouse. 

Visitors are encouraged to use a trail app, bring a compass/GPS unit and/or a current map when hiking the wilderness.  Utilizing “Leave No Trace” principles we encourage people to stay on the trail system.  No camping is permitted within 400 feet of the Lake Michigan shoreline, 100 feet from trail, 200 feet from Nordhouse Lake.  Visitors are asked to use existing campsites when possible.  Campfires or bonfires are not permitted on the beach.  Know before you go - visit Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness restrictions at link below. 


Areas for Backpacking at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Viewing Wildlife

The Lake Michigan Shoreline is the summer habitat for the Piping Plover.  The piping plover is a relative of the Killdeer. Piping Plovers are smaller, and lighter colored. Breeding adults have a single black band around the neck, while the Killdeer has two. The Great Lakes population of piping plovers is endangered — they are in danger of extinction. The “piping” part of the name is a description of its call, a sweet, soft whistle. Plovers are a group of shorebirds that feed with run-stop-peck movements, somewhat like the way an American robin feeds.

The ultimate wildlife viewing experience is watching animals in their habitat. Here are some helpful tips to become a wildlife friendly viewer:

  • Use the right tools - A field guide, a pair of binoculars and a camera. Wear clothing that is appropritate for the season and activitiy.
  • Watch at dawn and dusk - This is the time when most wildlife species are active enough to view.
  • Keep your distance - Maintain a distance that is comfortable for the wildlife.
  • Stay quiet - Move slowly and quietly to increase your chances of viewing wildlife, and to avoid stressing the animals you wish to watch.
  • Do not feed the wildlife - There is plenty of food availale in the wild. Human food can cause digestive problems, provide improper nutrition, and even kill an animal.

An online version of the Michigan Wildlife Viewing Guide is available on the MI-DNRE website.

Areas for Viewing Wildlife at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Viewing Plants

The shoreline is home to the federally threatened Pitcher's Thistle.

The Pitcher’s thistle grows for five to eight years before it flowers. Its non-flowering form is a rosette or cluster of silvery leaves and its flowering form typically has one stem with many branches. The entire flowering plant may grow 3 feet tall. Cream or pink flowers grow at the end of branches and from the leaf axils.

Areas for Viewing Plants at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Interpretive Areas

Interpretive signage depicting the dunes, wilderness, piping plover, and pitcher thistle can be found throughout the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area and Lake Michigan Recreation Area.


There are picnic sites available at Nurnberg Trailhead, Lake Michigan Recreation Area Day Use, or visitors can pick a spot anywhere they would like along the trails, dunes or shoreline.  Just remember the restrictions noted above.

Scenic view from the dunes.

Areas for Picnicking at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area


 Sandy shoreline beaches span all along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.  To find out water temperature in Lake Michigan visit Great Lakes Coastal Forcasting System

Swimming in Lake Michigan can be hazardous with variant undertows, please ensure self awareness and safety of others.   There are no life guards in this area.  Swim at your own risk. 

Water Temperature Cool to Cold

Areas for Swimming at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

XC Skiing/Snowshoeing

See Nurnberg Road and Lake Michigan Recreation Area for access details to the area during the winter months.

General Info:


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.


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

Related Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


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