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Places We Protect

Laughing Whitefish Lake Preserve


Laughing Whitefish Lake Preserve features a variety of habitats—marsh and swamp, hardwood and beech-maple forests—that work in unison to support abundant wildlife.
Laughing Whitefish Laughing Whitefish Lake Preserve features a variety of habitats—marsh and swamp, hardwood and beech-maple forests—that work in unison to support abundant wildlife. © Richard Baumer

George Shiras III took the first photographs of wildlife at night here.




Situated between Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Area and Hiawatha National Forest, the 1,728-acre preserve lies along Laughing Whitefish Lake and River, six miles south of where the river empties into Lake Superior. The preserve includes three-quarters of the lake as well as over 1,000 acres of surrounding wetlands and upland forest.

Abundant wildlife including bald eagles and loons, along with black bear, river otter, beaver, leopard frog and a host of warblers, thrushes and woodpeckers frequent the area. The varied habitats here—marsh and swamp, hardwood and beech-maple forests—all work in unison to support these creatures.

What can I see here?

Visitors to this preserve during the spring and fall seasons may witness a number of neotropical migratory birds and a profusion of colorful wildflowers in the spring and the beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows of the autumn foliage. As you enter the preserve from the parking area you are invited to take the self-guided “George Shiras III Discovery Trail,” a mile-long loop with an accompanying interpretive brochure that describes plants, animals and historical markers of interest along the route.

Enjoy views of Laughing Whitefish Lake thanks to volunteer help in building an observation platform along the trail. While skiing or snowshoeing the preserve pathways during the winter months, keep an eye out for snowshoe hare and whitetail deer.




This land is open for foot access and activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, bird watching and deer hunting by permit.


1,728 acres

Explore our work in this region

Visitor info

The Nature Conservancy allows hunting for whitetail deer on this preserve to reduce an unnaturally high deer population in the area and reduce threats too many deer pose to our conservation targets. All hunters are required to receive a permit from TNC as well as a Michigan deer hunting license. Additionally, hunters must report any deer taken from the preserve.

As you walk along the shaded trails of the preserve, you will be following in the footsteps of renowned wildlife photographer George Shiras III who invented the method for nighttime photography on this land. Laughing Whitefish Lake became famous when George’s pictures won prizes at the 1900 World Exposition in Paris and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, and in 1906 National Geographic Magazine devoted an issue to his photos.

Thanks to committed volunteers who regularly monitor the preserve, remove invasive species and contribute to special projects, Laughing Whitefish Lake Preserve remains a thriving natural area. The preserve is in good ecological condition. However, human activities such as unauthorized motorized vehicle use are a threat to the landscape.

Permitted Activities

  • Hiking, skiing and snowshoeing
  • Bird watching, nature study and photography
  • Research projects and educational studies with approved permit
  • Hunting with a TNC-issued permit for whitetail deer
  • Fishing, following Michigan guidelines
  • Boating and canoeing

Prohibited Activities

  • No motorized and non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles
  • No building of new trails
  • No pets
  • No hunting or trapping without a TNC-issued permit
  • No removal of plants or animals (alive or dead)
  • No removal of rocks, water, or other non-organic materials
  • No camping, bonfires, fireworks, or other fires
  • No firewood collecting
  • No littering
Dogsled Race While TNC usually prohibits dogs on nature preserves, an exception was made for the UP 200, a qualifying race for the Iditarod.