Michigan is a state of unquestionable natural beauty, with rolling hills, dense forests, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and more. Its diverse terrain provides many wonderful opportunities for hikers. Add to that the unique delights of every season, and it’s clear that Michigan invites hikers of all ages and fitness levels to put on their boots and explore.
Here are nine fantastic hikes in Michigan.
1. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Nature lovers, photographers, and waterfall enthusiasts will love Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Tahquamenon River runs through the park, and the Upper Falls is one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi. There are many trail options, including the 5.2-mile Tahquamenon-Clark Loop, where hikers will encounter diverse terrain. Wildlife fans will have the chance to see moose, black bears, otters, deer, coyotes, foxes, and more, especially in the fall. In the summer, you can dip your feet into the river to cool off after your hike. There are options for shorter hikes as well as longer ones, with a total of 25 miles of hiking trails throughout the park’s 52,000 acres.
For a little refreshment, stop by the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub before heading home.
2. Saugatuck Dunes State Park
For a hiking spot with lots of variety, head to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. With 1,000 acres, including 2.5 miles of shoreline, the park has sand dunes, pine and hardwood stands, rolling hills, and lots of beautiful Lake Michigan views. Its 14-mile trail network includes three primary loops known as the North Trail, Beach Trail, and South Trail. For a real workout, try hiking up sand dunes, some of which are more than 200 feet tall. There’s also a 300-acre natural area that is great for bird-watchers and has a swimming beach for a splash after your hike. While the park is fairly undeveloped, in the summertime you will probably encounter enthusiastic beachgoers.
Pro Tip: For a quieter journey, try the South Trail. At 5.2 miles, it’s the longest loop and attracts fewer beachgoers.
3. Bird Hills Nature Area
To find a natural area within the bounds of a busy university town is a unique pleasure. When it includes different trailheads and fabulous bird-watching, we just can’t resist. As you can tell by the name, the serene Bird Hills Nature Area is a bird-watcher’s delight. There are hills, ravines, streams, and lots of beeches, sugar maples, and flowering dogwoods. Wildflowers bloom in the spring, adding even more beauty.
The land was once used for logging and pastureland, which resulted in some nonnative plants finding a home here. That makes for beautiful hiking, especially on the Bird Hills Nature Area Loop, a 2.3-mile trail primarily used for hiking, walking, running, and bird-watching. In the fall, you might see a deer or two wandering through the autumn leaves.
Some parts may be rocky or full of tree roots, so it’s a good idea to wear sturdy boots. It's a city park and close to the highway, but if you go in the spring you may be so focused on hunting for morel mushrooms that you won’t even notice.
4. Porcupine Mountains Escarpment Trail
Many people think that the Porcupine Mountains Escarpment Trail is the best hike in Michigan. Featuring amazing views of the Porcupine Mountains, the Upper Carp River Valley, and the Lake of the Clouds, the Escarpment Trail has a lot to offer. It’s a challenging hike -- about 4 miles each way -- but if you’re a seasoned hiker, the payoffs are big. The trail hovers along a ridge that passes three major peaks and offers views of Lake Superior on one side and Lake of the Clouds on the other. The high rocky bluff includes a steep 400-foot cliff from which you can take some stunning photographs.
It’s definitely worth attempting the whole trek, but remember that it’s a point-to-point hike and not a loop, so know your limits. If you’re up for it, this is one of the most breathtaking hikes you’ll ever enjoy.
5. Potawatomi Trail, Pinckney Recreation Area
Tucked inside the Pinckney Recreation Area, the Potawatomi Trail is a challenging hike that you can tailor to your liking. The trail was a joint venture between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Boy Scouts and is now one of the most popular hiking trails in the state. The entire loop is 17.5 miles, but there are spots where you can shorten or customize your hike, including a well-known shortcut that trims off 3 miles. If you want to make the full trip and camp overnight, there are options for that, too. Mountain bikers have fallen in love with this trail, but you can hike counterclockwise to avoid them.
The whole area has more than 40 miles of trails with various cutoffs and connecting trails. Features include forests, lakes, streams, and bridges. You’ll also encounter marshes and wetlands to keep things interesting and fun. Other activities in the park include fishing, kayaking, and swimming.
6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Lake Michigan is a wondrous natural resource, so it’s no surprise that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a fantastic spot to go hiking. The diverse terrain gives you plenty of options, as do the 13 different hiking trails available. Every trail has something beautiful to offer, from views of lakes and hills to forests, fields of wildflowers, and, of course, sand dunes.
The 100 miles of designated lakeshore trails provide great experiences in any season, since most of them are groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. With all of the different trails, it might be hard to pick one to try first. But the hilly Pyramid Point Trail is a beautiful 3-mile trail that offers a lot to enjoy. It passes through a beech-maple forest, meadows filled with wildflowers, a pine plantation, and sand dunes. There’s a spur to a lookout point about a half of a mile from the trailhead that features a spectacular view of Lake Michigan.
7. Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary
The largest expanse of old eastern white pines in Michigan, the Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary contains some trees that are more than 600 years old. Trees up to 150 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter are some of the last old-growth virgin white pines anywhere in the Midwest. If you enjoy the scent of natural pine, hiking in this 508-acre nature sanctuary is for you. Bird-watchers can search the area for 85 species, including woodpeckers and hawks.
The two easy loop trails are well marked. The Cathedral Grove Loop is about a mile long and passes by some of the oldest and largest trees. The Bertha Daubendiek Trail, named for the sanctuary’s founder, is about 1.5 miles and winds through pine, maple, and oak groves. For a longer trek, combine the intersecting trails for a 2.5-mile hike.
8. Beaver Lake Loop, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
For a picturesque hike with loads of variety and fewer fellow trekkers, the Beaver Lake Loop in the 73,000-acre Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a great choice. This moderately challenging loop is just over 9 miles, but you’ll see lots of natural beauty, even if you don’t complete the entire route. Lakes, forests, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, amazing views of Lake Superior, and sandy beaches all make an appearance. Bird-watchers and wildlife observers will find plenty to intrigue them -- bears, moose, and even wolves have been sighted in the area.
Even if the Beaver Lake Loop isn’t your speed, Pictured Rocks offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails, so you can easily find one to suit your activity level and interests. Early summer can get quite buggy, so opt for late summer or early fall, when the views are spectacular. To make your hike an overnight trip, you can rent a cute little cabin on the shore of Lake Superior for the perfect getaway.
9. Muncie Lake Pathway
Traverse City is known for its cherries, beer, great film festival, and friendly people. It’s also home to one of the most interesting hikes in Michigan. Muncie Lake Pathway is a 11.5-mile trail system that crisscrosses forests, meadows, lakes, a trout stream, and shoreline. The main path for hikers is a well-groomed 8-mile loop featuring waterfront access. The trail passes lovely small lakes and along the Boardman River. You will also find overlooks with beautiful views of the Boardman Valley. There are five different loops ranging from under a mile to more than 5 miles long, so there’s something for everyone.
Popular with locals, mountain bikers, and cross-country skiers, the pathway is maintained for winter. In the spring, look out for birds, wildflowers, wildlife, and even a few fairy houses.
Pro Tip: While Michigan offers great hiking in every season, nothing beats the fall colors. You’ll also encounter fewer biting insects, which will make your hike all the more enjoyable.
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