Cottonwood Trail

A Ranger leads a group on the Cottonwood Trail

Each year thousands of people use the over 100 miles of trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to experience the variety of natural ecosystems that exist in the Park and to see beautiful vistas that are inaccessible from a vehicle. Downed trees or branches due to high wind, snow or ice sometimes block the trail, or erosion can cut gullies into the making a hike more difficult or dangerous. Trail adopters commit to hiking their trail about once each month to clear small obstructions by hand or with hand tools and to communicate larger obstructions or erosion to Park Roads and Trails supervisor. Also, even though most people who hike our trails are aware of the problem of litter and leave the trail in the same or better condition than they found it, having volunteers regularly hike the trails assures that they will be clean and in good condition for future visitors.

The Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes in cooperation with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has developed an Adopt-A-Trail program to provide regular monitoring and clean-up of the trails within the Park. To become an Adopt-A-Trail volunteer, you or your group must commit to hiking your trail about once each month during the spring, summer and fall.

Trails in the Adopt-a-Trail System

At this time, we have 12 named hiking trails in the program, which include 20 sub-lo0ps.

  • Old Indian Trail    (Lake Michigan Loop, Red Arrow Loop, Green Arrow Loop)
  • Platte Plains Trails    (Lasso Loop, White Pine, Bass/Deer Lake, Otter Creek Loop, Otter Creek West, Otter Creek East, White Pines Campground Spur)
  • Empire Bluff
  • Windy Moraine
  • Shauger Hill
  • Cottonwood
  • Dune Loop
  • Sleeping Bear Point
  • Alligator Hill    (Advanced Trail,  Intermediate Trail, Easy Trail, Big Glen Lookout Spur)
  • Bay View    (Farms Loop Trail, Ridge Loop Trail, High Trail, Low Trail, Moosewood Loop Trail)
  • Pyramid Point    (Main Loop Trail, SE Loop Trail)
  • Good Harbor Bay

You can get more details about each trail from our online Hiking Trails brochure. Use the brochure to choose the trails (or individual loops) that you would enjoy patrolling.

This brochure is also available in paper form, for a free-will  donation, at several locations within the park, including the campground offices and the Visitor Center in Empire.

Here is how to become an Adopt-A-Trail Volunteer:

  1. Contact the Adopt-A-Trail Manager, Jeff Brown to indicate your interest. The Manager will help you select a trail and help you through the process of getting signed up, becoming trained, and obtaining the materials you will need (including an Annual Pass to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. and a selection from various volunteer uniform items).
  2.  Download, fill out, and return the  FOSBD Volunteer Registration Form so that we know how to contact you.
  3. Sign up as a Volunteer-in-Park (VIP) at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Download a Volunteer Agreement Form and take it to the Visitor Center in Empire. If you are already a VIP, we will add this job to your existing VIP profile.
  4. Attend a one-hour training session where you will receive all the information you need to get started on the trails.
  5. After training, each time you patrol your trail, file your patrol report using our on-line Time Reporting Form to report the hours you spent, and to report any maintenance issues that require handling by Park Maintenance Staff.


Description of Project:

The volunteer will patrol park trails, perform low level maintenance, watch for any problem areas and report them to park staff.

Duties & Responsibilities of volunteers:

The volunteer will patrol the trails to provide a situation report including windfalls, drainage problems, erosion, vandalism, and litter. The volunteer may use hand tools to cut low-hanging limbs or branches and small downed trees that block the trail.

The volunteer may also pick up litter, remove leaves and debris from drainage’s, and remove sand from boardwalks.  Also, the volunteer will greet and provide needed assistance to other park visitors using the trail.

The volunteer will submit an online time report of hours worked and any observations about the trail.

Anticipated Results & Benefits of Project:

Park trails will receive more frequent scrutiny than is possible through visits by paid staff. Problems will be corrected on the spot, or else reported to the appropriate staff member for prompt attention. The presence of volunteers on the trails will provide a positive influence on visitor behavior.

Skills and Abilities Needed by Volunteers:

The volunteer’s physical conditioning must be good enough to permit walking moderate distances. A volunteer using hand tools must be accustomed to doing such work to prevent injury. The volunteer needs to be able to work alone without frequent supervision and to exercise good judgment.  The volunteer should be comfortable interacting with park visitors, and using their best efforts to answer questions and to provide a positive image of the park and the Friends of Sleeping Bear organization.

Limitations for Volunteers:

Volunteers may not use power tools for trail maintenance without supervision from park staff.

Minimum Time Commitment of Volunteers:

Volunteers are asked to patrol their trail once per month from April through October.  Patrolling more frequently, and patrolling other trails is an added plus.

Park Employee Who Will Supervise Volunteers:

The Roads and Trails Foreman will be in charge of the volunteers assisted by the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Contact information: Daniel Ostrowski (231) 326-4781.

Report volunteer hours, maintenance issues, and observations here.

<Current Trail Status>

Here are some of the views you will experience as an Adopt-A-Trail volunteer: