Best Hiking Trails in Michigan
There are many reasons why people hike. Research shows that time outdoors makes you more creative. Being outside gets us away from our screens and technology. But most of all, hiking gives you the beneficial impact of fresh air, sunshine and trees.
“For some reason nature’s beauty is more enjoyable if you had to work hard to see it,” popular hiker and blogger Colorado Keith writes. “As strange as it may seem to the non-hiker, the aching feet and sore butt are a sure sign of a great hike. This is always a moving target, as you get in better shape you will constantly seek harder hikes.”
If you live in Michigan (or if you’re headed there for a vacation) you are in luck. This state is full of some absolutely fantastic hiking locations.
Austin Draper writes in an article for Outdoor Command that Michigan is the perfect location for water enthusiasts. “Michigan certainly lives up to its name, as it boasts the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world. It’s also a part of the Great Lake region and is bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, plus Lake Saint Claire. Once you’re in Michigan, you’re never more than six miles from a natural water source!”
North Country National Scenic Trail – Lowell
Part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, runs through Michigan and offers splendid hikes along rivers, lakes and the forest. The trail offers routes of varying difficulty including one through farm country, for those who do not like to sweat. Other parts of the trial run past Lake Superior near Grand Marais and go through the Manistee National Forest.
On the South Michigan trial you can combine history and hiking with a visit to the Fort Custer National Cemetery. It is a great hike for birding enthusiasts as it passes by the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary and Biological Station.
The Western Michigan trail is an easy and very scenic hike on winding forest paths through Barry, Lowell, Rogue River and Middleville State Game Areas.
If you are up for a more difficult hike, why not try the Huron-Manistee National Forest that includes the popular Manistee River Trail loop. Camping is allowed in designated spots or you can rent the Birch Grove School House for a stayover or stop at the little town of White Cloud to replenish supplies.
According to Open Country this trail may not be ideal for those seeking solitude but it makes up for it in the sheer beauty of the area.
Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail – Detroit
The Iron Belle Trail is Michigan’s showcase trail crossing 48 different Michigan counties. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the record-setting trail used existing trails and new connections to provide routes for both hiking and cycling. In June 2019 it was 70% completed.
According to a press release from the DNR the trail will provide access to sites that were previously difficult to access with non-motorised transport.
The completed parts of the trail already offers different routes through white pine forests and even trails that end on the busy streets of Detroit. Once completed this will be the longest designated state trial in the United States.
Pro Tip: Great Snacks for Hiking
Not a fan of trail mix? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics there are plenty of other healthy snacks you can have while hiking.
Mostly importantly though experts warn it is important to stay hydrated. It is best to pre-hydrate by drinking at least 4 cups of water before a hike, but also plan for two cups of fluid for every hour of hiking.
Other snacks that are easy to carry include nuts, seeds, nut-based bars or nut butter packs. Fruit like apples, bananas and oranges, granola bars, dried fruit, ready-made tuna salad pouches, whole-grain tortillas and jerky are all great options to give you a calorie boost on the go.
Triple Crown hiker, Matthew Hazley, told National Geographic Magazine that he likes to mix pretzels, crackers and other complex carbs together and would add nuts and seeds for extra protein.
If you are going on a longer hike or will be camping have a look at this article about camping coolers.
Greenstone Ridge Trail – Isle Royale National Park
This hike is not for the faint-hearted. It is difficult but rewards those who persist with breathtaking vistas at Lake Superior and Big Lake.
The Hiking Project describes it as a good trail for those who want to be alone as it does not attract a lot of visitors. The route is described as follows: “The Greenstone Ridge Trail is a 40-mile-long path that extends from Windigo Harbor and the Windigo Ranger Station on the island’s western end, east across Isle Royale, to Rock Harbor and the Rock Harbor Lodge.”
“In addition, you’ll appreciate the lack of mosquitoes at these higher elevations,” the website adds.
According to Isle Royale’s information site, one of the attractions in the area Hidden Lake is a great site to see moose.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
If you are not quite ready for such a hard-core hike but still want to see the lakes, this might be the trail for you. If you want to do all 42 miles, there are camping facilities available. There are day trails going past Lake Superior and passing the Au Sable Light Station and the Bridalveil Falls.
The National Park Service describes the day trails in the park as offering “opportunities for solitude, inspiration, physical challenge, and renewal.”
“There are nearly 100 miles of trails in the park includes the North Country National Scenic Trail which runs 42 miles through the length of the park, adjacent to Lake Superior. Most of the park’s small 14 backcountry campgrounds (each with multiple sites) are along this trail,” their website reads.
Michigan Trails Maps describe the North Country National Scenic Trail as one of the state’s “classic hikes” adding that it offers the opportunity to see lighthouses, shipwrecks, magnificent dunes, cliffs and the beautiful beaches of Lake Superior.”
Pro Tip: How to Hike Safely with Photography Gear
Bastian Bodyl, writing for specialist website Improve Photography, has the following pro-tips on how to travel safely with photographic equipment.
Check your gear
Pack the right gear for what you think you will see on the hike
Think long and hard if you really need a tripod
You can significantly reduce the weight you carry by only taking lenses for what you anticipate you will find on your hike – but if you are into nature photography invest in a good landscape lens
If you want to use a drone check regulations before the time
Remember that you will need space for clothes, water and food
If you found a packing formula that works for you make a list and stick to it
Make sure you have the right backpack that your equipment will not get damaged
While you are hiking make sure you have your camera ready for that once in a lifetime shot
Pack a tiny compact camera …just in case
As a safety tip: Either walk or photograph. It is dangerous to multi-task
Pyramid Point Trail – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
You will be spoiled for choices at the Sleeping Bear Dunes with hundreds of miles of hiking trails. The very popular and challenging Dunes Hiking Trail starts at the base of a daunting dune. The 3-mile Pyramid Point trail will undoubtedly reward your effort with the most beautiful view over Lake Michigan. The trail also offers a great photographic opportunity to take pictures of the ghost forests – trees that long-ago became buried by moving dunes, then reappeared after the dunes moved.
According to the National Parks website the dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan.
Friends of Sleeping Bear also opened a heritage trail.
Pro Tip – Dune Climbing:
The National Park Service has these tips if you are into dune climbing:
Accept that the climb might be strenuous but you will be rewarded with a fun run back down.
If you are fit you can take a hike through all the Dunes to Lake Michigan. Remember to take lots of water.
It can be disorientating to hike through dunes so keep children in sight.
The best plan is to follow one of the marked hiking trails and carry a map.
Be careful when you are on steep dune slopes as they sometimes collapse.
Don’t walk on the ridges.
Take some shoes with you – just in case.
Pack enough water for your hike.
Big Carp River Trail – Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
This challenging hike through Michigan’s largest and most remote state park, offers a winding route from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Clouds and further up along to the park’s highest Lake, Mirror Lake that is at 1532 feet above sea level.
According to the Hiking Project the route is known for its abundance of waterfalls adding to the beauty of the area adding that hikers can expect to see “black bear, fisher, red squirrel, varying hare, red fox, gray wolf, coyote, bobcat, porcupine, striped skunk, and on occasion, moose.”
Port Crescent Trails – Port Crescent State Park
These trails are a great option if you’re new to hiking and want to find something that is beginner friendly. Formerly a centre for the lumbering industry this easy trail through the Port Crescent State Park will provide view of Saginaw Bay, the Pinnebog River and channel, Lake Huron and even the Chimney Monument. Camping facilities are available.
Michegan Trail Maps describes The Campers Trail as the most scenic in the park and easy enough for children older than 5 adding that it is well worth visiting the Chimney Monument for a history of the area and to find out the story behind the town of Port Crescent.
According to the website Pure Michegan the park falls in a dark sky preservation which makes it ideal for stargazing.
Potawatomi, Algonquin and Chippewa Trails – Negwegon State Park
These three easy trails, named after Native American Tribes provides spectacular views and are perfect for those who are looking for some solitude and an off-the-beaten track experience. The trails wound along Lake Huron and through the Negwegon State Park showing off the unspoiled shoreline, hidden coves and beaches. The area is also designated as dark sky preserve making it the ideal spot for amateur astronomers to visit.
According to the Department of Natural Resources camping is the best way to make the most of the Park. The DNR added that the park has a healthy black bear population.
According to Michigan Trail Maps the hikes lead to some spectacular sunrises and nature vistas of the Lake Huron shoreline. The three trails are described as between 1 mile and 2.2 miles long.
Great Warren Dune Trail – Warren Dunes State Park
When the oak and hickory forests turn orange, red, and yellow this is a perfect destination for photographers and nature lovers. This four mile walk goes over dunes and ends at Lake Michigan Beach.
American Hiking describes the trail as “one of the most beautiful spots on Lake Michigan’s Southern shore” and as the “perfect place to combine a trip to the beach with a ramble through rugged wooded dunes and bottomland forest.”
Penosha Trail – Brighton Recreation Area
Penosha Trail is a 5 mile hiking trail that is close to Detroit. Get out of the city and explore this trail that will take you through a maple and oak forest and past inland lakes.
According to Michigan Trail Maps the 5-mile hike doesn’t offer “overly spectacular” views but makes up for it with “impressive trees” and not being very busy – if solitude is what you are looking for. They advise that the best time to go is spring and fall. The site also points out that it is a prime spot for morel mushroom foraging.