Some of Hillsdale County’s best kept secrets are barely visible from public roads and the opportunities for recreational activities are never far away.
Explorers frequent the historic and mystical caves in the State of the Lost Nations game area where outlaw Silas Doty once hid with stolen horses in the 1800s.
And hikers enjoy miles and miles of scenic trails across the county as part of the North Country Trail, which stretches from the east coast across the entire state of Michigan and east. west from the upper peninsula.
While most water recreation activities take place on the county’s dozens of lakes and ponds, others prefer to float, kayak or canoe the St. Joseph River with other sights of the world as the river widens and meanders through the forests.
And some are still discovering new man-made recreational opportunities.
Randy Jablonski bought a property in southern Hillsdale County for a weekend getaway to the “concrete jungles” surrounding his home in metro Detroit where he works in the auto industry.
“We were looking for a place to be able to relax away from the city once in a while with the kids and absolutely fell in love with the lake community here,” Jablonski said. “And it’s nice to have a variety of things to do with them…it’s nice to see them put their phones down and just be kids.”
Jablonski said his family got into geocaching this year and he was surprised to find the number of geocaches in the county.
“We made it a day the last time we were here for Memorial Day and it was our first time to Lewis Emery Park,” he said. “We spent about half a day there looking for the caches and learning about the park’s history as a Civil War site, which was good.”
Cathy Smalls first came to Hillsdale County in 2017 while on a mission to hike as much of the North Country Trail as possible and after hiking a lot of Ohio’s trails, she crossed the line of state and started where the trail heads pick up near Waldron.
Smalls often returned to hike the Lost Nations State Game area on day visits from her home near Dayton, Ohio.
“This is one of my favorite sections of the trail to hike,” Smalls said. “You can really tell the Guardians are following things along the trails.”
While local groups like the Chief Baw Beese Chapter of the North Country Trail actively promote group hikes on the trails and bring in hikers from out of town, there is no concerted effort on the part of local government authorities to actively promote the outdoor opportunities available in Hillsdale County.
“They really should have a website or something with everything to do here,” Jablonski said. “For now, it’s just word of mouth.”