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Places We Protect

Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie

Michigan

Waves roll onto the sandy shore of Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie.
Zetterberg Preserve Overlooking the shore of Lake Michigan at Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie. © Sue DeVries

Point Betsie contains diverse natural communities, including wetlands, dunes, beaches and forests.

Overview

Description

The dunes at Pt. Betsie are part of the largest freshwater dune system in the world, which covers 275,000 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline. The dunes provide critical habitat for rare species, including Pitcher’s thistle. They have also been identified as a potential nesting site for piping plover as the population of this endangered species recovers. The Nature Conservancy works with partners through the Michigan Dune Alliance to conserve this rare coastal ecosystem.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

For your safety and to protect this fragile ecosystem, please stay off the dunes.

Highlights

Hike along the shoreline of Lake Michigan or visit the historic Point Betsie Lighthouse.

Explore our work in this region

Pitcher's Thistle

Zetterberg Preserve is home to the state and globally threatened Pitcher's thistle. You can spot the cream-colored flowers in July. Before you head to the preserve, view these photos of the wildflower to avoid trampling the plants.

View More Michigan Wildflowers
Pitcher's thistle plants grow along the sandy shoreline at Zetterberg Preserve.
Closeup of the cream and pink blossoms of a Pitcher's thistle plant.
A bee rests on the blossom of a Pitcher's thistle.
A pitcher's thistle plant and bright blue sky.
Plants grow out of the sandy shore of Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie.

Sand Dunes

Point Betsie is a dynamic mosaic of shifting sand dunes, wetlands, boreal forest and sandy Lake Michigan beaches constantly battered by wind, ice, waves and currents moving along the shore of the lake. This globally imperiled open dune habitat provides a place where threatened species such as Pitcher’s thistle, fascicled broomrape and the Lake Huron locust can thrive.

Dune vegetation includes marram grass, beach pea and hoary puccoon with forested islands of balsam fir, paper birch, red oak and creeping juniper. Peaceful ponds among the dunes swell and shrink in sync with water levels in Lake Michigan, attracting migrating birds such as the semipalmated plover. Cedar waxwings flit through pockets of forest, while spotted sandpiper and killdeer scurry over the sand. 

Lake Michigan Dunes (3:48) Learn more about eastern Lake Michigan's magnificent dunes, the largest freshwater dune system in the world!

Plan Your Visit

  • Preserve Safety

    For your safety and to protect this fragile ecosystem, please stay off the dunes. Consider a hike along the shoreline instead of through the preserve to prevent dune erosion. 

    Natural hazards to be aware of include poison ivy and leafy spurge, which can cause skin irritations.

    Walking the sand dunes of this preserve is strenuous, and there are dangerous lake currents offshore.

  • When to Visit

    This preserve is open year round. In July, watch for rare Pitcher's thistle bloom with cream-colored flowers. Point Betsie also offers excellent birdwatching opportunities during the spring and fall migrations, which are in May and late August through September, respectively. 

    The preserve is adjacent to the Point Betsie Lighthouse, which is open for tours Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The beach is not part of the preserve. Respect private landowners who live adjacent to the preserve by not trespassing.

  • What to Bring

    Come prepared with sunscreen and bug repellant. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you when you visit.

  • Permitted Activities
    • Walking, birdwatching and photography along the beach and road
    • Educational studies with approved permit
    • Swimming in Lake Michigan
  • Prohibited Activities
    • No motorized and non-motorized vehicles
    • No pets
    • No hunting or trapping
    • 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 removal of any stakes, poles, signs, markers or other objects, as they may be part of an ongoing study or class
    • No littering
  • Questions?

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

A tiny piping plover chick walks over a rocky shore.
Piping Plover Piping plovers nested at the Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie for the first time in several decades. © Fauna Creative

Background

Point Betsie became a preserve through the generosity of Steve and Connie Zetterberg. In 1988 the Zetterbergs donated the original 71 acres of virgin sand dunes, which became the Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie—property that had been in their family for generations. After having been preserved by the Zetterberg family, Point Betsie is now maintained by TNC and cherished by generations of Michiganders.

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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