A person holds their phone and uses the inaturalist app to record a species at the base of a tree.
Exploring Michigan Whether you’re an avid bird-watcher or love identifying new plant species, Michigan has plenty of nature to explore. © Devan King/TNC
Stories in Michigan

Connect With Nature at a Local Preserve

Check out these 10 ways to engage with The Nature Conservancy’s preserves in Michigan.

One of the best things about Michigan is its nature. Whether you want to view wildlife, explore different types of habitats or just take in the state’s natural beauty, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) protects a variety of preserves that are open and accessible to the public. The activities below will help you explore these areas and enhance your connection with nature from the comfort of your home or while on site.

1. Become a Community Scientist Using iNaturalist

Connect to other naturalists and community scientists who enjoy exploring the outdoors using iNaturalist. This social media platform helps people share biodiversity information with each other and learn more about the places they’re visiting. You can record your observations, help others identify species, and view other users’ identifications. When you record a species at a TNC nature preserve in Michigan, your finding will appear in our TNC Michigan Preserves & Reserves project within the iNaturalist system.

A person crouches down to examine green plant life while on a hike at Nan Weston Nature Preserve in Michigan.
Nan Weston nature Preserve Located in Michigan’s Upper River Raisin Watershed is Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow. The dynamic area features more than 260 species of wildflowers and other native plants. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

2. Visit a TNC Nature Preserve in Michigan

TNC’s preserves across the state don’t just protect Michigan’s natural heritage; they also protect the important benefits to physical, spiritual and mental wellness that nature provides people. With the help of our enthusiastic volunteers, we maintain these preserves for their ecological health and work to make them accessible to as many people as possible, through field trips, audio tours and more. After you visit a preserve, make sure to leave us a Google review to let us know about your experience.

Rocks of various sizes along the shore of a lake. A forest grows on the land surrounding the lake at the Gerstacker Nature Preserve in Michigan.
Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley
Nature Preserve
This preserve offers a tapestry of intertwined habitats along 4 miles of northern Lake Huron shoreline, including an inland lake, interdunal wetlands, conifer swamps and more.
Echo Lake surrounded by tall green trees under a blue, cloud-filled sky.
Echo Lake Nature Preserve
Nature Preserve
The biologically rich and varied habitats of the 480-acre preserve include intact, diverse and old forests, dramatic granite bald mountains or bedrock outcroppings, and Echo Lake.
View of the surrounding forest and Lake Superior from the top of Mt. Baldy in Michigan.
Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve
Nature Preserve
Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy is home to the largest and least disturbed of only a handful of balds remaining in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.
Water between two large rock formations, covered in lichen and other plants, along the shore of Lake Superior in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan.
Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor
Nature Preserve
TNC's Mary Macdonald Preserve encompasses 1,200 acres, including five miles of Lake Superior shoreline, in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.
A group of people walk along a boardwalk in autumn at the Nan Weston Nature Preserve in Michigan.
Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow
Nature Preserve
Nan Weston Nature Preserve lies in the Upper River Raisin Watershed in southeast Michigan. Visit the preserve to view stunning spring wildflowers and beautiful autumn foliage.
An orange and black fritillary butterfly on yellow wildflowers at Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve.
Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve
Nature Preserve
As you explore more than five miles of trails at Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve, watch for reptiles and amphibians around the coastal plain marshes and small ponds.
Grasses growing out of the water onthe shore of a lake at McMahon Lake Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
McMahon Lake Preserve
Nature Preserve
The 4,084-acre McMahon Lake Preserve, located in Luce County, lies within the watershed of the Two-Hearted River, a state-designated Natural River.
Aerial view of a forest of yellow-tipped trees among green trees in the Two-Hearted River Forest Reserve.
Two Hearted River Forest Reserve
The reserve is managed for sustainable forestry and enrolled in Michigan's Commercial Forest Act. Lands are open for public access by foot for hiking, hunting and fishing.
The sun sets behind the trees and reflects in a calm body of water at Maxton Plains Preserve in Drummond Island, Michigan.
Maxton Plains Preserve
Nature Preserve
The 1,210-acre Maxton Plains Preserve, located on Drummond Island in Chippewa County, is arguably one of the world’s finest examples of alvar grassland.
Trees along a shoreline are reflected in the water's edge at Bete Grise Preserve in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. .
Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve
Nature Preserve
The 62-acre preserve consists of just over 4,000 feet of shoreline along Lake Superior leading to dune and swale wetlands, and 1,000 feet of frontage on the Mendota Ship Canal.
A forest of trees at Slate River Forest Reserve in autumn. The color of their leaves are just beginning to change.
Slate River Forest Reserve
Comprising 10,550 acres of forestland in Baraga County, Slate River Forest provides a compelling story of what a thriving future could look like for Upper Peninsula forests.
A water-level view across a pond covered in lily pads, with a few trees on the shore and sun shining out from behind clouds at Erie Marsh Preserve in Michigan.
Erie Marsh Preserve
Nature Preserve
Erie Marsh represents 11% of the remaining marshland in southeastern Michigan and is one of the largest marshes on Lake Erie.
Wildflowers, grasses and plants in bloom at Ives Road Fen Preserve in Michigan.
Ives Road Fen Preserve
Nature Preserve
After 20 years of intensive restoration efforts, Ives Road Fen is once again home to a healthy prairie fen and floodplain forest, with a diversity of plant and wildlife species.
The moon shines over Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve. The sun is just starting to rise over the horizon.
Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve
Nature Preserve
Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve is rich in biodiversity, providing habitat for both wetland and prairie plants.
A river runs through Grand River Fen Preserve. The area is full of wildflowers and other plant life.
Grand River Fen Preserve
Nature Preserve
The Grand Riven Fen is a critical habitat for special insects and a globally-rare plant, the bog bluegrass.
A colorful sunset over the shore of Lake Huron at Grass Bay Preserve in Michigan.
Grass Bay Preserve
Nature Preserve
A paradise for a multitude of wildflowers and neotropical migrating birds, Grass Bay Preserve extends along two miles of stunning Lake Huron shoreline.
Waves crash onto the sandy shore of Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie.
Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie
Nature Preserve
Point Betsie is a dynamic mosaic of shifting sand dunes, interdunal wetlands, boreal forest and sandy Lake Michigan beaches.
Trees along a sandy shoreline at the John Arthur Woollam Preserve in Michigan, with a body of water in the foreground.
John Arthur Woollam Preserve
Nature Preserve
The 185-acre preserve consists of 4,300 feet of stunning rocky shoreline with huge boulders and coastal wetlands, and a coniferous forest grading into northern hardwoods.
Hikers climb up a grassy incline as the sun sets over Lake Michigan.
Portage Point Woods Preserve
Nature Preserve
The preserve typifies back-dune forests created by dune succession, highlighting the process of forest formation inland, away from coastal dunes.
A river runs through a brightly colored forest of trees on a spring day at Wilderness Lakes Reserve.
Wilderness Lakes Reserve
The 11,030-acre reserve lies adjacent to the neighboring Craig Lake State Park, creating a protected area of over 19,000 acres in one of Michigan’s most iconic landscapes.

Nature Preserves and Reserves in Michigan The accessibility of the nature preserves and reserves listed above varies per location. Explore the individual pages to plan your visit.

3. Deepen Your Connection to Nature with Audio Tours

Take a tour through floodplain forests, wetlands, bluffs and marshes right from the palm of your hand. Our guided audio tours—provided via Travelstorys—include stories, fun facts, historical notes and natural sounds to deepen your connection to nature. You can access the tour from the comfort of your home or from your phone as you hike. If you’re accessing it from a mobile device, make sure you follow the instructions below before you head to the trail.

Explore Our Available Tours

Click on each box to learn more about the tour.

How to use an audio tour

    • Download the free TravelStorys app to your smartphone or tablet from the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play (Android).
    • Search for the preserve you want to tour.
    • Click on the tour when it pops up, then click on the blue circle with the white arrow to download it to your device.
    • In your device settings, make sure GPS and location services are set to “allow all the time.”
    • Charge your device and grab a pair of headphones (if you prefer).
    • In the preserve’s parking area, open the TravelStorys app and select the tour to begin (data service/internet is not required).
    • As you hike, the audio will play at pre-programmed GPS points. It’s like a personal tour guide that you can carry in your pocket!
    • Visit and search for the preserve you’d like to tour.
    • Click on the tour page and scroll to the green button “Explore this Preserve Remotely.”
    • From here, toggle your way through the interface at your own pace. Enjoy all the sights and sounds from the comfort of your home (or classroom!)

Cómo usar una audioguía

    • Descarga la aplicación gratuita TravelStorys en su teléfono inteligente o tableta desde el App Store (iPhone) o Google Play (Android).
    • Busca la reserva que desea recorrer.
    • Haz clic en el recorrido cuando aparezca, luego haz clic en el circulo azul con la flecha blanca para descargarlo en su móvil o tableta.
    • En la configuración de su móvil o tableta, asegúrese de que los servicios de locación y GPS están configurados para “permitir todo el tiempo.”
    • Asegúrate que tu móvil o tableta tengan carga y trae audiófonos.
    • En el área de estacionamiento de la reserva, abra la aplicación TravelStorys y seleccione el recorrido para comenzar (no se requiere servicio de datos/internet).
    • Mientras camina, el audio se reproducirá en puntos GPS preprogramados. ¡Es como un guía turístico personal que puedes llevar en el bolsillo!
    • Visita y busque la reserva que te gustaría visitar.
    • Haz clic en la página de recorrido y mueve el cursor hasta el botón verde “Explora esta reserva de forma remota.”
    • Desde aquí, recorra el recorrido a su propio ritmo. Disfrute de todas las vistas y sonidos desde la comodidad de su hogar (o salón de clase).

Find Events and Volunteer Opportunities

4. Attend an Event or Volunteer

We host events and volunteer opportunities throughout the year. You can attend one of our virtual webinars, volunteer days, guided hikes and much more. These opportunities are a great way to connect with the natural world and learn more about Michigan’s nature from a variety of experts. 

Fall hike at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve
Fall hike at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve Join one of our guided preserve hikes where you'll have the opportunity to meet and hear from TNC staff while exploring different landscapes. © Bekah Wuchner/TNC

5. Share Your Photos of Nature

What does Michigan look like through your lens? We are always looking for photos that help represent Michigan’s natural beauty. Become a preserve photo ambassador to help us highlight the amazing views and local species our state has to offer. Participating in TNC’s yearly photo contest is another great way to get involved with conservation and showcase your best images. We also love to see your photos on social media. As you visit a preserve, tag us in your adventures using #TNCMichigan.

Photo Contest

These stunning images of Michigan are all from past submissions to TNC's annual photo contest.

A weasal pup peers out from a pile of rocks at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan.
A person holds a light near the frozen shore of Lake Superior in Michigan. The sky is illuminated with thousands of stars.
Sun sets behind the water of Lake Superior. View from an ice cave as the water rushes over rocks and ice.
A juvenile fox rests under a tree in a Michigan forest.
A colorful sunrise over Copper Harbor in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
A snowy owl preens on the rocks by the water during the winter.
A great blue heron fishing at dawn at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The scene appears pink and purple as the sun rises.
A common loon shakes water off itself as it flaps its wings.
A colorful sunset over the sandy shore of Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan.
A tiny tree frog nestled in a green leaf on a cloudy afternoon.

6. Treasure Hunt with Geocaching

Geocaching is an exciting way to explore the landscape, to discover something new and share special places with outdoor enthusiasts. Players seek to locate hidden containers, called geocaches or earthcaches, using a smartphone or GPS. It gets the whole family outside to explore the natural world and teaches kids about navigation with the fun reward of finding real hidden “treasure.” Geocaching is a regulated activity at TNC. In order to protect sensitive habitats and maintain a fun and safe activity, anyone wishing to place a geocache within our preserves must complete a permit application first.

How to Start the Hunt

  • Log on to to set up a free account and start the hunt.

    Once back home, you can share your stories and photos of the adventure online.

  • Official geocaches can be found at the following preserves:

  • Geocaching is a regulated activity at TNC. In order to protect sensitive habitats and maintain a fun and safe activity, anyone wishing to place a geocache within our preserves must complete a permit application first.

7. Watch a TNC Webinar

We host a variety of webinars featuring TNC and local experts. Scroll through the carousel below to select from past recordings. You can learn everything from “How Trees Survive Winter” to the “History of the First Wildlife Photos.” If you’re interested in attending live, check our events page for upcoming webinars.

8. Use TNC Lands for Research

Many of TNC lands in Michigan are available for scientific research purposes. A valid TNC Permit is required. For more information on how to apply for a research permit, contact Conservation Program Associate Tara Poloskey. Please note, we require a minimum of six weeks to process permit applications. Make sure to plan accordingly!

9. Bring an Expert With You

Whether you want to id a species you saw or report possible invasive species in the area, there are a variety of both free and paid apps that can help enhance your experience in nature.

  • Seek by iNaturalist

    Identify the plants and animals all around you. Learn more

  • eBird

    Track the birds you encounter in nature. Learn more

  • Midwest Invasive Species Information Network

    Learn how to ID invasive species and report them to a Midwest-wide database. Learn more

  • Merlin

    Identify birds by call and image. Learn more

  • Pl@ntNet

    Identify, explore and share your observations of wild plants. Learn more

10. Prepare to Go “Offline”

Some TNC-Michigan preserves are found in remote areas with minimal or no cellular data service, which can make navigating to them (and surrounding areas) difficult. Fortunately, you can take a section of Google Maps “offline” to allow full navigation even without any cellular connectivity.

By following the steps below, you can open the Google Maps app and access the downloaded offline map when you’re in an area with no internet service. You’ll be able to view the map, search for locations and get directions within the downloaded area.

Please note that offline maps do have some limitations: They don’t provide real-time traffic information or the ability to search for places outside the downloaded area. Additionally, the offline maps are only valid for a limited period, usually around 30 days, after which they need to be updated. To update your offline maps, simply connect to the internet and follow the same steps to download the updated version.

Get Started

    1. Open the Google Maps app on your device.
    2. Tap on the menu icon (three horizontal lines) located in the top-left corner of the screen to open the side menu. From there, select “Settings.”
    3. In the settings menu, choose “Offline maps.”
    4. On the Offline maps screen, select “Download a map.”
    5. Use pinch-to-zoom and pan gestures to navigate to the desired area on the map. You can also use the search bar to find a specific location. Once you’ve chosen an area, tap on it to select it.
    6. After selecting the area, tap on the “Download” button. Google Maps will estimate the storage size of the map and prompt you to confirm the download. Keep in mind that larger areas will require more storage space.
    7. If you want, you can give the offline map a custom name. This step is useful if you plan to download multiple maps.
    8. Once the download is complete, the selected area will be available for offline use. You can access these maps by going to the side menu, selecting “Offline maps,” and choosing the downloaded map.