Places We Protect

McMahon Lake Preserve


Grasses growing out of the water onthe shore of a lake at McMahon Lake Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
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.



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.




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

Explore Via Audio Tour

Our guided audio tours include stories, fun facts, historical notes and natural sounds to help deepen your connection to the world. You can access the tour from the comfort of your home, or onsite as you hike.

Visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of scenic McMahon Lake and unique wetland habitats from the trail’s two viewing platforms. Spot a beaver lodge, listen for some unusual animal calls, and learn about the preserve’s patterned fen and many other natural wonders. From white pines to lush wetlands, the preserve’s habitats continue to thrive as they have for thousands of years, undisturbed by logging or development.

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.

McMahon Lake Preserve (3:08) Due to its remote location and swampy nature, the area has avoided development—so visiting McMahon Lake Preserve is like traveling back in time.

Plan Your Visit

  • When to Visit

    This preserve is open year round. 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.

  • What to Bring

    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.

  • 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
    • No littering
  • Hunting

    The Nature Conservancy allows hunting for white-tail deer on this preserve to reduce threats too many deer pose to our conservation targets and to ensure that the preserve does not become a “refuge” for deer during the hunting season.

    In order to be eligible to hunt at this preserve, hunters are required to receive a permit from TNC, follow TNC hunting program rules and comply with all local, state and federal laws and ordinances governing hunting activities, including obtaining all required government licenses or permits. For more information, please visit our Deer Hunting in Michigan page.

  • Questions?

    Have questions about the preserve? Contact Shaun Howard, TNC protected lands project manager in Michigan.

A beaver lodge in the center of McMahon Lake.
McMahon Lake Preserve A beaver has built an impressive lodge in the middle of McMahon Lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. © Fauna Creative


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.

Keep Exploring

From shifting sand dunes to granite bald mountains, explore our preserves and reserves spread across the state of Michigan.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map

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