Cass County has some of the best hiking & backpacking trails in southwestern Lower Michigan and is home to parks and nature preserves where endangered plants and wildlife are protected and studied. These habitats are open to the public for their study and enjoyment. People can study and observe countless numbers of wildflowers from early Spring through late Fall. Dowagiac Woods is one of these nature preserves where people come to observe the vegetation, and also the birds and wildlife that thrive under the protection of the Michigan Nature Association. Check out the opportunities for hiking and backpacking in Cass County, Michigan below.

Crane Pond State Game Area – 2 miles primitive narrow hiking trails

Crane Pond State Game Area is 4,114 acres in Newberg Township that has been dedicated to wildlife conservation and management by the DNR Wildlife Division. There are only 2 miles of primitive narrow hiking trails. Location: – 60887 Highway M-40, Jones, MI – Directions Crane Pond DNR Wildlife Office, 60887 Highway M-40, Jones, MI 49061 Phone 269-244-5928. Map & Guidelines for Crane Pond State Game Area


Dowagiac Woods Nature Preserve – 2.5 miles o primitive narrow hiking trails

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary, commonly referred to as Dowagiac Woods, is a 384-acre woods with 2.5 miles of primitive, narrow trails. It is maintained and preserved by the Michigan Nature Association which is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting Michigan’s exceptional natural habitats and extraordinary and endangered plants and animals. History: These woods were virtually unknown even to people living nearby until 1975 when it came to the attention of the Michigan Nature Association because of a report from a member that Blue-eyed Mary grew there. Response to an appeal by the Michigan Nature Association in 1981 for $110,000 to purchase the woods was overwhelming. Despite poor economic conditions in the state at the time, the campaign was completed in one year. Over 550 individual contributions were given, climaxed by a $20,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation. In a marvelous show of cooperation, twenty percent of the amount needed was raised in Cass County alone. In February 2009, MNA purchased adjacent acreage to expand Dowagiac Woods to 384 acres (155 ha). It is MNA’s largest sanctuary in the Lower Peninsula. Plants flourish at Dowagiac Woods in countless numbers. Over fifty species of wildflowers bloom in the spring. After the first flowers open, hepatica and bloodroot start, quickly followed by a profusion of blooming that continues right up through the time of Trillium Grandiflorum. The tulip tree occurs in great numbers in the central forest, which is on slightly higher ground than the lowlands. Buds of the tulip tree unfold early. A top attraction in the Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is the abundance of Blue-eyed Mary, Collinsia verna. For six full weeks, beginning early in April, it reigns supreme. Over 150 beds can be seen from the trail, each averaging ten by twenty feet square. Nearly fifty kinds of trees have been found at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary, including blue beech, black ash, black walnut, and hackberry. The Ohio buckeye also thrives here in all sizes, from seedlings to one very tall tree that two people can scarcely reach around. The buckeye is the first tree to leaf out in the spring and blooms in late April. Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is also home to many animals, including at least 49 different kinds of birds. The songs of the Yellow Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher and ruffed grouse can all be heard. (Wikipedia) Location: Entrance at 31898 Frost St., Pokagon, MI 49047 – Directions


Dr. T.K. Lawless Park – 7 miles groomed hiking trails

Lawless Park has over 17 miles of groomed trails for hiking. The park is also a naturalist’s paradise for bird watching and so many more outdoor activities and sports. This 820-acre nature park is open year-round and boasts a broad range of recreational activities for every season of the year. Location: 15122 Monkey Run Street, Vandalia, MI 49095 – Directions


Fred Russ Forest Park – 4 miles groomed hiking trails

Located eight miles east of Dowagiac within the 580-acre Fred Russ research forest, this 13-acre park with its rich history and natural beauty is one of the most visited parks in Cass County. People come to Russ Forest Park to hike, ride the trails on horseback, fish, canoe, and picnic. See details below. Dowagiac Creek is a designated trout stream (second- quality, cold water) that flows through Russ Forest, which is owned by Michigan State University. This first-order stream originates in a chain of lakes near Marcellus and flows in a southwesterly direction to its confluence with the Dowagiac River. There is no state-owned land along the creek, but anglers currently have no problems obtaining landowner permission to fish most of the creek. The creek has many faithful anglers, some who have been fishing there for decades. It is very good dry fly water, being sufficiently wide to permit fly casting by the novice. This feature is rare in many southern Michigan trout streams. Anglers do quite well, catching trout from 5-24 inches. Many limit catches are reported. Historically, Dowagiac Creek has been managed for trout since at least 1933. Brown, brook, and rainbow trout have all been planted; however, only browns have been stocked since 1964. Location: 20379 Marcellus Highway, Decatur, MI 49045 – Directions