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This Northern Michigan climb has 462 steps and a gorgeous Lake Charlevoix view

Aug 05, 2023Aug 05, 2023

A platform viewing area at the top of Avalanche Preserve looks 15 miles down the length of Lake Charlevoix. Photo provided by Kecia Freed.

BOYNE CITY, MI - Some of the most panoramic views in all of Northern Michigan can be found at the peaks of its ski hills. Or, in the case of Avalanche Preserve high atop Boyne City, at a former downhill ski area that has now become a recreation gem for its community.

As for its amazing view at the top, you’ve got to put in a little legwork to get there: A 462-step climb up sections of a wooden staircase that rise through the trees near the edge of town. Avalanche's old chairlift and tow rope are long gone. So it's calf and quad muscles that are going to get you to the top.

And once you reach the top, the viewing platform reveals the reward for all that cardio in the form of stunning views of Lake Charlevoix. If the weather is clear, you can see up to 15 miles down the length of Michigan's third-largest inland lake.

"I think the community is really fortunate to have public property like that. Not many communities do," said Boyne City Mayor Hugh Conklin. Though, he cautioned, getting up the stairway takes some gumption. Benches are strategically placed along the route to give climbers a little breather if they need it.

"It's steep," he said of the climb. "It's not for the faint of heart."

Four Seasons of Fun

The fabulous view from the peak's platforms are just one of the reasons locals and visitors alike show up at Avalanche Preserve. This four-season spot always has multiple options for outdoor fun. Once hikers make it to the top, they often fan out to take advantage of the three miles of hiking trails at the 320-acre recreation area that boasts plenty of forested pathways. There are also other spots to access the trails that don't involve a steep climb.

Avalanche has mountain bike trails for beginners, intermediate and even advanced riders. It features 12 miles of single-track and four miles of two-track trails. For more details on the trails, check the Trailforks map here, or find information at the Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association website. A disc golf course has also been set up through the woods.

In the winter, the former ski hill transforms into a sledding hill that offers some pretty speedy rides, according to the mayor. It also lures cross-country ski lovers with groomed trails.

Sold, Then Returned to the City

Avalanche has a bit of an unusual history for a ski area-turned-city park. Documents show it was designated as a winter sports park in 1948, and by 1953 Boyne City had obtained the land. At that time, the ski hill featured a tow rope that went half way up the steep incline, according to a 1977 article on its history in the Charlevoix County Press. In the 1960s, the city battled some low-snow years and had no snowmaking equipment to solve the problem.

In 1967, the city sold the land to a man from Toledo who installed a chairlift. He later turned it over to a corporation, who sold it to the nearby Boyne Mountain resort in 1972. There was some back-and-forth ownership between Boyne and others until 1977, when Boyne's owner, Everett Kircher, deeded the land to the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization. The instructions were to gift it to the local community with one restriction: There would be no downhill skiing on the property in the future.

For Boyne City, the gift meant it now had a huge, sloping canvas on which to develop a stellar recreation area.

"We are very fortunate to have it," City Manager Michael Cain said. "It really is one of our crown jewels."

Avalanche Preserve in Boyne City not only offers beautiful panoramic views of Lake Charlevoix, but also has hiking and biking trails and disc golf. Photo provided by Hugh Conklin.

Some recent tree removal has opened up that gorgeous hilltop view even more, city leaders said.

"Even for people who have been up there before, if they go up there now, it's going to be a new view to them," Cain said. "On a clear day, you can see Charlevoix off to the west."

And the sunsets are pretty spectacular, too.

Does it really have 462 steps? There's a little debate about that. Some cut off the number at 437, while others count the extra steps it takes to reach the elevated platforms.

Either way, to keep track as you are climbing, check out the step counts that have been carved into the staircase at different points. It will motivate you to keep going.

Avalanche Preserve makes people work for this stunning view: More than 450 steps to the top will put you on an overlook platform. Photo provided by Kecia Freed.

Cain said the recreation area is all part of Boyne City's commitment to being a welcoming community for people, whether they are among its residents or just driving through. The small but active waterfront downtown area is a gathering spot for not just locals, but those visiting nearby Young State Park and Boyne Mountain resort. The city is just a short drive from Petoskey, and makes a nice stop on any Northern Michigan trip.

Ready to climb? As you're headed up those 462 wooden steps, be sure to take some breaks on the benches placed along the way. Photo by Tanda Gmiter | MLive

Headed to Boyne City? Read more about its parks here.

Spending some time in the nearby Petoskey area? Check out the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau website for a rundown on things to do and places to stay.

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