Mitchell State Park
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Hike the Heritage Nature Trail in Cadillac’s William Mitchell State Park

This Michigan bucket list item is brought to you by Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau.

In Wexford County, the City of Cadillac features diverse lakes, rolling hills, winding rivers, and various trails. This landscape allows for a wealth of summer activities — boating, camping, fishing, hiking, etc.

In particular, Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell are popular on the weekends. The two lakes are connected by the historic Clam Lake Canal, allowing you to easily paddle or drive a boat between the two. Also, there’s a paved path under the highway bridge that passes over the canal, so you can walk between the two lakes safely.

However, the Heritage Nature Trail is a feature in William Mitchell State Park that you don’t want to overlook. The nature trail is unpaved but rather flat, and you have a good chance of seeing unique wildlife the further into the marsh that you walk.

The Heritage Nature Trail at William Mitchell State Park

From the state park’s Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center, you can access the 2.5-mile Heritage Nature Trail. There are more than 60 parking spaces for your vehicle.

You’ll need a recreation passport to enter, and you can purchase it when you arrive. If you wish, you can learn more and purchase the pass beforehand.

Bonus: The passport gives you access to over 100 state recreation areas and parks throughout Michigan!

This easy trail has boardwalks and bridges through woodlands and the 70-acre Heritage Marsh. The beginning of the trail is closer to highway traffic and other businesses, so you might hear some noise until you get about ½ mile into your walk. By that point, you’ll be at the marsh, which has a 2-mile loop around it.

Along the way are places to sit and 10 interpretive signs that give you information about the animals, plants, and other nature. In our opinion, the section of trail between signs seven and nine is the most interesting. Additionally, there’s a barrier-free observation platform at sign six where you can get a better view of the surroundings.

You can use the viewing shelter between signs nine and 10 as well. At sign 10, you’ll find toilets before the trail heads back to the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center and parking lot.

Along with the main path, there are two short secondary trails that branch off. The first branch is at sign three and leads to the Grouse Habitat where you can view ruffed grouse. The second branch is at sign 10 and leads to Kenwood Park & Beach on Lake Cadillac where you can disc golf, swim, and use the playground.

There’s an 11th interpretive sign on this second branch, and you have the option to detour to that sign and back to the main trail if you want to read them all.

About Heritage Marsh & the Wildlife

Black Creek is the water source for Heritage Marsh. Originally, lumberjacks used the creek to move logs between Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell. Eventually, they built the Clam Lake Canal to make transporting the logs easier.

About a century later, the Department of Natural Resources made a dike around the area and used it as a pike-rearing pond. A few years later, the Michigan DNR formed the wetlands and dedicated it as a nature study area.

As a result, Heritage Marsh is an ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. While you’re walking the path, you can see a range of animals. If you stop and sit for a bit, some other unique wildlife may peek out. Here’s a short list of animals that call the marsh home:

  • Beavers
  • Bald eagles
  • Barred owls
  • Canada geese
  • Deer
  • Ducks
  • Great blue herons
  • Muskrats
  • Raccoons
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Songbirds
  • Turtles

The Best Time to Visit the Heritage Nature Trail

The Heritage Nature Trail can get busy on the weekends, so the extra activity might scare away some of the wildlife.

Consider walking the trail on a weekday when fewer people are visiting William Mitchell State Park. You’re likely to have a better wildlife experience.

Other Activities & Facilities Within William Mitchell State Park

Mitchell State Park is 334 acres and a popular summer destination for boaters and anglers. A lot of people take advantage of the day-use area and campgrounds too. Again, it can be busy on weekends, so consider going when it’s less crowded on weekdays. Let’s take a look at these other activities and facilities.

Everything at the Day-Use Area

The day-use area at the state park has plenty of parking. It features playground equipment, a picnic area, and a pavilion that you can reserve if you’re traveling with a group.

The sandy beach rests along Lake Mitchell, and we think that it’s nicer for swimming than the beach at Kenwood Park on Lake Cadillac.

The boat launch in the day-use area offers easy access to canoeing, kayaking, and fishing from a boat. In addition, there’s an accessible canoe and kayak launch on the Lake Cadillac side of the park.

You can rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks through Friends of Mitchell State Park, and the proceeds go toward park programs.

Fishing at Mitchell State Park

On the 1,150-acre Lake Cadillac and 2,580-acre Lake Mitchell, you can expect fine walleye fishing. The lakes also attract bass, panfish, and perch anglers.

You can either take a boat out onto the water to fish or use one of the two accessible fishing piers that are located at each end of the Clam Lake Canal. In the Mitchell State Park campground, there’s a third accessible fishing pier next to the playground.

For all of your fishing needs, stop by Pilgrim Village fishing shop just outside of the park. It has been providing quality live bait, reels, rods, and tackle accessories since 1994. The selection is so extensive that even advanced anglers can find what they need.

You can get Pilgrim Village boat rentals as well. Rowboats are available for $25, and motorboats are available from $60 for a half-day to $100 for a full day depending on the horsepower that you choose. Anchors, cushions, life jackets, oars, and the first tank of gas are included.

Heritage Nature Trail In Cadillac's William Mitchell State Park
photo via @leifsporck

Camping at the Park

If you would like to camp at Mitchell State Park to experience all of these activities, you can make reservations online. The 221-site modern campground features semi-shaded and fully shaded sites for tents, campers, and RVs.

The sites that line the Clam Lake Canal are the most sought-after for docking boats nearby. A couple of cabins are available too.

To get supplies for your campsite, head to Walraven’s Market just outside of the park. It sells fresh-cut meats for summer grilling — including homemade brats — fresh produce, and flowers. All of the products are priced very affordably.

Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center

The Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center next to the Heritage Nature Trail offers a range of programs. One of these is guided tours of the trail. The center has archery and pellet gun ranges as well, and you can join scheduled shooting programs during the summer.

Additionally, there’s an auditorium for hunter education classes and an exhibit hall with displays about the history of sportsmen and sportswomen in Michigan.

Most days, the center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Where to Grab a Bite to Eat in Cadillac

You might need a pick-me-up while you’re exploring William Mitchell State Park.

Michigan Coffee Company is the best place to go and a local favorite for its cozy space and beverage variety. You can also get breakfast sandwiches, panini, homemade soups, and fresh baked goods.

If you love tacos, you have to try Chico’s Taco House. The restaurant is loved by locals and visitors alike. In fact, many visitors return to the area just to get tacos. It has a patio for outdoor seating too.

For an afternoon treat or dessert after dinner, visit Ultimate Ice Cream in the Lake Cadillac Party Store. The menu includes hand-dipped and soft-serve ice cream, homemade waffle cones, sundaes, shakes, smoothies, and slushies. You can eat your frozen treat under the pergola while looking out over Lake Cadillac.

If you don’t mind driving to the north side of Lake Cadillac, Cheryl’s Landing serves the best breakfast in the area. On the other hand, you can take a boat and dock right in front of the restaurant. Aside from breakfast, it’s known for its hand-dipped ice cream.

Lodging Options Near Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac

Along with camping in William Mitchell State Park, Cadillac has two other great lodging options next to the park.

Pilgrim Village Resort is located on the Lake Mitchell side and has seven motel rooms and 16 cottages. It has its own beach, boat launch and docks, and many other amenities that are ideal if you plan to go fishing.

On the Lake Cadillac side, Lake Cadillac Resort has 55 Jacuzzi and lakeside suites. There’s an indoor pool, 600 feet of private beach, boat docks, and more.

In Cadillac, these are only a few of the lodging options available. Click here to see more. Keep in mind that you could get lower rates when you reserve accommodations during the week instead of the weekend.

Cadillac Visitor's Bureau #Miawesomelist 2021 Partner

One Comment

  1. This summer (2021) the Carl T. Johnson Center is open 9:00A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
    This is a great article. Thank you for covering the park.
    President of Friends of Mitchell St. Park

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