Posted by: kerryl29 | May 21, 2018

Trillium Ravine

Last year, my friend Danny Burk told me about his discovery of an interesting location for spring wildflowers–most particularly, large-leafed white trillium.  If this sounds familiar, you’re not experiencing deja vu.  It was Danny who first told me about the remarkable trillium bloom at Bendix Woods County Park, near South Bend, Indiana, in 2016.  (I related the experience of photographing at Bendix Woods in a spring clearinghouse blog post that year.  We also photographed at Bendix the following spring.)  Danny got a first look at Trillium Ravine Preserve–not far from the town of Niles, in southwest Michigan, after the peak bloom last year but made a point to highlight it as a place to photograph in 2018.

Trillium Ravine–which is only about 20 miles from Bendix Woods, coincidentally–though seemingly quite similar to Bendix in many ways, harbors a number of significant differences as well.  Trillium Ravine is a smaller property than Bendix and the trillium–while numerous–aren’t quite as plentiful as they are Bendix Woods.  This may seem like a negative–and in some respects, it is–but also has some compositional advantages.  In my estimation, Bendix works better for comparatively wider photographs while Trillium Ravine can be a better choice for intimates, as it’s easier to isolate individual flowers and smaller clusters of blooms.  Trillium Ravine, as its name may indicate, also has some interesting topographical features that are essentially absent from Bendix Woods that can also provide some unique image-making opportunities.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

The key, as always, to a good photo opportunity in a place like Trillium Ravine is combining peak bloom (which was the better part of two weeks later this year than in 2016 and 2017 due to winter conditions that lingered well into April in the Upper Midwest in 2018) and favorable weather conditions (overcast and light wind).  Threading this needle is always a bit of a hopeful exercise and we ultimately settled on May 6 as the best option; Danny was able to scout the location the day before (which was a full-on sunny day) and confirmed that the blooms were in excellent shape.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

I made the roughly two-hour drive from my Chicago area base to the preserve (which is rather hidden, partway down a dead-end secondary road) on the morning of May 6, arriving about a half an hour before I was scheduled to meet Danny.  The preserve–protected by the Michigan Nature Association–contains a single loop trail of approximately a half-mile in length.  As the sun was out when I arrived, I scouted the trail twice–hiking it in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions–and saw plenty of possibilities.  I wrapped up my second hike moments before Danny arrived and, fortunately for us, the clouds began to roll in.  We ended up with about two hours of cloudy, almost entirely windless conditions.  Early in the afternoon the clouds began to break up and we paused what we were doing, hopeful that we’d get more clouds (which had been the original forecast), but despite hanging around until late afternoon, the skies remained completely clear and a revised forecast indicated that this wouldn’t change with the approach of evening.  Still, we’d been given two hours of virtually ideal conditions; some years that never happens.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

It took me a bit of time during my scouting hikes before I adapted to the relative lack of flowers at Trillium Ravine.  “Relative” really is the key word in the previous sentence because, as you can see, there are a lot of blooms at Trillium Ravine.  But there are palpably fewer at the preserve than at Bendix Woods.  I thought to myself, as I was hiking the trail at the Ravine, how gobsmacked I would have been by this location if I hadn’t seen peak bloom at Bendix Woods first; other than Bendix, this is easily the largest number of trillium I’ve seen clustered in a single location anywhere–including any spot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the height of the spring bloom.  While the Smokies are a riot of wildflowers in the second half of April, and while there are some impressive stands of trillium in a variety of locations, there’s nothing like the field of white trillium at Trillium Ravine (to say nothing of Bendix Woods).  I was reminded again, of how easily one can be jaded by seeing something akin to perfection in a certain spot and the tendency to downgrade somewhere else because it–superficially at least–pales in comparison.  (This was a theme that popped up when I was in Colorado last fall.)

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

It didn’t take me long to emphatically put that idea out of my head and focus on the subject matter at hand, which was eminently photogenic.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

White Trillium Intimate, Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Though we never got any more clouds, late in the afternoon we were able to work some tight shots that were in open shade and/or with the benefit of a series of diffusers.

White Trillium Duo, Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

While the white trillium was the star of the show, there were a number of other wildflower species in evidence, and I used my macro lens to work with them.

Blue Phlox Close-Up, Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Prairie Trillium, Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Given the proximity of Bendix Woods and Trillium Reserve, the ideal scenario would be to have an entire day during peak bloom that was cloudy with little or no wind, and spend half the daylight hours at the Ravine and the other half at Bendix.  Maybe next year…



  1. All the pics are so beautiful!!!

    • Thanks very much!

  2. These are spectacular….I was going to suggest Pilcher Park in Joliet but there are far fewer flowers perhaps of a greater diversity of types though.

    • Thanks!

      Messenger Woods FP in Lockport used to be a real hot spot for trillium, but I’ve been told that the deer decimated them some time ago. It’s apparently still a good location for other spring ephemerals, and I really ought to get down there to check it out one of these years.

  3. This looks so beautiful and peaceful!

  4. Lovely! I used to walk through woods like these as a teenager behind my house in Ontario.

    • Thanks, Jane. Makes sense that there would be some spots like this in (southern) Ontario…

  5. I feel fortunate when I see a small clump of trillium in our woods. Seeing your images is a magical bounty!

    • Thanks, Ellen. If you’re ever back this way during the bloom (usually around April 25-27 or thereabouts–it was extremely late this year) I’ll be happy to show you these spots.

  6. You got quite a thrillium
    From all the trillium.

    • Too bad my name’s not William. 🙂

  7. You are blessed seeing and capturing such multitudes of Trilliums and you certainly know how to do them justice. We took a hike not long ago in the Redwoods appropriately named Trillium Falls. It seemed as though there were Trilliums at every step we took, but naturally they weren’t spread out in fields as the ones you’ve showed here.
    Just returned from some marvelous hikes up at Cape Perpetua and Silver Falls. Trillium leaves and some faded petals were all we found, but there was a mind boggling amount of other delights in bloom. Not to mention the Rhodies blooming all along the highway and in the woods. Love this time of year!

    • Thanks, Gunta.

      Glad to hear that you had some good experiences to the north. Hopefully the waterfalls were all flowing nicely for you at Silver Falls.

      • Our main objective at Silver Falls was a visit with the grandkids who live nearby. We opted for a nature hike instead of the falls which were already swarming with people the Friday morning of Memorial Day weekend. It’s been a pretty tough winter, so I also didn’t feel up to doing the Canyon Trail… so no chance to take a shot at any of the falls. The nature hike was pretty rewarding with lots of flowers popping out and quite uncrowded.

  8. You used the logs and paths to great effect in these compositions. In the third photo I like the way the thousands of trilliums echo all the new leaves in the background, giving the image a pointillist feeling.

    • Thanks very much! I was given some terrific elements to work with.

  9. I just got back from a first visit to Michigan with my mother. She had to pull over to the side of the road several times because she was so blown away by the Trillium– we didn’t know such bounties were possible! Nothing like this exists on the East Coast, at least not that I know of. Thanks for the gorgeous pictures!

    • Thanks very much!

      Truth is, until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t seen anything quite like this myself, despite numerous spring visits to the Smoky Mountains. There’s plenty of trillium in the Smokies, but I’ve never seen grow in such thick enclaves as I’ve seen over the last few springs in northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan.

  10. […] and fellow photographer Danny Burk about possible day trips this year (we eventually ended up at Trillium Ravine in early May) when he mentioned that he was heading up to the Sleeping Bear area some time in the […]

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