Places We Protect

McMahon Lake Preserve


Grasses growing out of the water onthe shore of a lake.
McMahon Lake Preserve The 4,084-acre McMahon Lake Preserve lies within the watershed of the Two-Hearted River. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Due to its remote location and swampy nature, the area has avoided development—so visiting the preserve is like traveling back in time.



Why Is This Preserve Significant?

This area was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River,” a tale of a man trying to find inner peace in the wilderness after he gets back from World War I. Hemingway himself spent many summers in northern Michigan and wrote this story based on his own memories of the area.

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. This area has largely avoided logging and development due to its remote location and swampy nature. As a result, traveling through the preserve is like traveling back through time.

What Can I See?

The variety of wildlife at this preserve is truly astounding. Moose wander the vast expanses of unbroken, undeveloped land of the preserve. Various species of woodpecker can be seen and heard throughout the beautiful pine forest. The majestic marsh hawk can be seen from the air, while the sandhill crane stalks through the swamp. Not to mention wolves, coyotes and bears. Oh my!

In 1993, an anonymous donor contributed the funds for this purchase in memory of former TNC board member and Matthaei Botanical Garden director, William S. Benninghoff. This portion of the preserve was dedicated to Dr. Benninghoff, who was instrumental in helping the Michigan Chapter identify and protect some of the most critical natural habitat in the state. Other significant gifts helping to make up this site included a 360-acre donation from The Escanaba Paper Company, and a 760-acre donation from William Malpass.




Local residents include the pine marten, moose, otter, pileated woodpecker, sandhill crane, northern harrier, bear, wolf, loon, coyote, ruffed grouse, gray jay, sedge wren and northern Parula warbler.


4,084 acres

Explore our work in Michigan

Early May and late July through October are the best times to visit this preserve to take advantage of Upper Michigan’s beauty while avoiding biting insects. Come prepared with head netting and insect repellant, since the black flies and mosquitoes are abundant. We also strongly recommend wearing ankle-high boots because portions of the strangmoor are very wet.

The Nature Conservancy allows hunting for white-tail 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 the Conservancy as well as a Michigan deer hunting license. Additionally, hunters must report any deer taken from the preserve.

Permitted Activities

Prohibited Activities

  • No motorized and non-motorized vehicles
  • 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
Spotlight On Nature: McMahon Lake Preserve