Places We Protect

Wilderness Lakes Reserve

Michigan

A river runs through a brightly colored forest of trees on a spring day at Wilderness Lakes Reserve.
Wilderness Lakes 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. © Bob Anthony

In a state rich with natural beauty, Wilderness Lakes Reserve stands out. The diverse habitats provide an important home for rare and threatened animal species.

Overview

Description

Wilderness Lakes Reserve sits amidst the northern forests of the Great Lakes. These northern forests are some of the largest remaining unbroken swaths of hardwood forest in North America. They play many critical roles for people and nature: storing carbon from the atmosphere, filtering the headwaters of the Great Lakes, providing habitat for a wide range of species of migratory birds and supporting major economic drivers such as timber, recreation and tourism.

Wilderness Lakes Reserve is a key piece of a network of protected lands that The Nature Conservancy is working to help create across this important region, in collaboration with other forest owners. In 2021, we nearly doubled the reserve’s size by acquiring another 4,853 acres. With the adjacent Craig Lake State Park, this contributes to a mostly contiguous protected area about 30 square miles in size! This helps provide iconic Upper Peninsula wildlife like moose and eastern gray wolf with the room they need to roam.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Access via the North Country Trail at Craig Lake State Park.

Highlights

Hiking, snowshoeing, birding and fishing amongst spectacular forests, high-quality wetlands, and glacial lakes.

Size

11,025 acres

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Wildlife at Wilderness Lakes

The 11,025-acre Wilderness Lakes 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. Together, these properties protect critical wildlife corridors, a priority as part of our forest conservation vision for the Michigamme Highlands.

Explore Michigan Wildlife
A moose walks through the forest at night.
A coyote crosses through a green forest area.
A black bear passes through a green forested area.
A martin jumps through the snow.
A deer crosses through  a green forest area.

Rich and Varied Landscape

In addition to spectacular forests—including eastern white pine, northern white cedar, sugar maple and yellow birch—the reserve is interspersed with a rich and varied landscape of lakes and wetlands.

  • Dozens of glacial lakes, the largest of which—Loon Lake—is one mile long and 35 feet deep.
  • Over a thousand acres of wetlands that provide habitat for several rare plants such as the Laurentian bladder fern and bog gentian.
  • Habitat for rare and threatened animal species including northern goshawk, eastern gray wolf, moose, bobcat and loon.
  • High-quality white cedar seepage swamp, a conservation priority habitat for a high number of plant species.
  • The headwaters of the Peshekee and Sturgeon Rivers, which flow into two Great Lakes and play an important role in water quality for the region.
  • Crossed by the North Country Trail, the longest U.S. National Scenic Trail, which runs 4,600 miles from North Dakota to New York.
The crimson leaves of a pitcher plant on the forest floor at Wilderness Lakes Reserve in autumn.
Pitcher Plant A pitcher plant grows along the forest floor at Wilderness Lakes Reserve in Baraga County. The Reserve is full of colors during the autumn months. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Plan Your Visit

  • Accessing the Reserve

    The Wilderness Lakes Reserve is located in L’Anse and Spurr Townships in Baraga County, Michigan about an hour west of Marquette. Please note, there is no official parking or entrance at this time, however visitors may enter on the North Country Trail crossing through Craig Lake State Park, which is owned and managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Parking does require a Michigan Recreation Passport. Park at the Craig Lake parking lot (approximate coordinates: 46.599465, -88.189790) and follow the trail to the south end of the lake where it intersects with the North Country Trail (approximate coordinates: 46.599600, -88.186200).

    Take the North Country Trail west for approximately 1.7 miles until it intersects with the Reserve. The North Country Trail crosses the reserve for a half mile through the forest before continuing on private land. The North Country Trail is currently the only established trail on the property, since this is a recently established Reserve with limited visitor infrastructure.

    Download an Access Map.

  • Permitted Activities
  • Prohibited Activities
    • No motorized and non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles
    • No pets
    • No building of new trails
    • No geocaching 
    • No removal of trees, 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 has three Upper Peninsula properties enrolled as Commercial Forest Lands in the State of Michigan. On these properties, TNC employs a conservation strategy that includes sustainable timber harvesting to demonstrate managing forests in a way that promotes ecological values and reaps direct economic benefits.

    The Commercial Forest Act provides public access for hunting and fishing, but does not allow motor vehicle access, camping, tree cutting, structures or other related activities. TNC's hunting guidelines also apply to these properties.

  • Questions?

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

An aerial view of Wilderness Lakes Reserve in autumn.
MIFO161111_D178.DNG The isolated rivers and woods of the Wilderness Lakes Reserve provide some of the richest habitat in Michigan. © Robert Anthony

Background

The Michigamme Highlands are known for containing a diverse range of habitats and the Reserve is a good example. Forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers and rock outcroppings all connect together in a beautifully pristine area. Forests on the property include a mix of conifers and hardwoods, including eastern white pine, northern white cedar and yellow birch. These communities provide diverse habitat for rare and threatened animal species including northern goshawk, bobcat and loon.

The property contains high-quality examples of white cedar seepage swamp, a unique wetland known for its remarkable number of plant species, including blueberries, native honeysuckles, ferns, orchids, mosses and sedges.

The Nature Conservancy is managing this property as a Forest Reserve, following sustainable forestry practices that build forest health and resilience, such as selective harvesting to improve biodiversity, and ensure critical protection of wetlands and buffers around the many lakes, rivers and streams. The entirety of the property is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® FSC®-C008922 and will be enrolled in the State of Michigan’s Commercial Forest Program.

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Keep Exploring

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

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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.

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