11 Pure Michigan Hiking Trails to See Brilliant Fall Colors

To help you plan your fall travels, here’s a round-up of the best trails around the state for spectacular views of the changing colors of autumn. Listed from easier to harder routes, there’s something for everyone. With a variety of overlooks, hills and mountains, there are a multitude of ways to soak in Pure Michigan’s beauty. And check here for any other trails that might be near you!

Port Crescent State Park Trails
Port Austin

Difficulty: Easy

If you’re looking for a great family trip, head to Michigan’s “Thumb” for a fantastic day trip along Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay shoreline. The park offers fishing, canoeing, birding and more! It is also a great place to view the stars, so you might want to consider staying overnight. There are seven miles of trails including a loop and a nature trail.

It’s easy to customize your own route, depending on your interests. The Camper’s Trail is one of the most scenic and, at 2.3 miles, is not difficult. You can even shorten the trek by using the 0.3-mile cutoff spur, but might miss out on some scenic views. October is one of the best times to visit as there are less campers and the fall colors reach their brilliant peak. It is also dog-friendly!

While you’re hanging out in the area, take the time to kayak by Turnip Rock, one of the most famous spots in the state!

Mackinac Island Trails
Mackinac Island

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

There are over 140 miles of trails and roads leading to great views on Mackinac Island. Stop by the Visitor’s Center to buy a map of the trails, significant points of interest and self-tours. Or visit a rental bike shop for a map, (though these have less detail). One of the most popular trails is the 8.2 mile road along the island’s perimeter. Typically there are bikers along this trail, but plenty of pedestrians also use it to see the beautiful shorelines. The road is not very hilly but it is long, so take your time to enjoy the views and be sure to stop occasionally to read about the history of the island. If you’d like to get deeper inland, there are several trails that lead to great views of the changing reds, yellows and oranges as well as vantage points to see the beautiful shorelines. Stay aware of bikers and horses and be sure to stop at Sugar Loaf, Fort Mackinac, Skull Cave or Arch Rock for amazing views.

Mackinac Island, Photo Courtesy of Linda Sorensen

Mackinac Island, Photo Courtesy of Linda Sorensen

Sugarloaf Mountain Trail

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Sugarloaf Mountain Trail in the Upper Peninsula is a fantastic hike for great views. There are two different ways to reach the viewing area: an easy route and a difficult route. The difficult route is faster than the easier route, but is steeper. If bringing the family, we suggest the easy route as it’s easier on young children. You’ll also be able to spend more time leisurely strolling and admiring the color change on the trees.

Be aware there are intermittent stairs on the route once you get closer to summit to help with the elevation change and the trail also has many rocks and roots sticking out of the ground. Once you get to the top, there are three different vantage points for views of Lake Superior, the Superior Dome and miles of colorful trees. Take this trail on your next visit to Marquette and you won’t be disappointed!

Photo Courtesy of Jill Boudreau-Wallaker

View from Sugarloaf Mountain, Photo Courtesy of Jill Boudreau-Wallaker

Ludington State Park Trails

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Ludington State Park has a fantastic array of sand dunes, marshlands and forests. There are three modern campgrounds if you want to stay overnight. With a multitude of trails, there is a hike for everyone! One of the best and most scenic is the Lighthouse Trail that leads to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. It is 3 miles long and winds over open and wooded sand dunes. Take your family to tour the lighthouse and climb the tower through October.  If that seems too difficult, take the Lighthouse Road that travels from the main entrance to the lighthouse via a 1.8-mile hard-packed sand and gravel road.

Photo Courtesy of Jesse Barcega

Ludington State Park, Photo Courtesy of Jesse Barcega

Stony Creek Metropark Trails
Shelby Township

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Get that “up north” feeling without leaving the suburbs! There are a few rustic and nature trails in the park ranging in distance. There is also a paved trail perfect for bikers, rollerbladers or hikers, but still provides great views of the surrounding trees and foliage. Visit the Nature Center for more information and to see where you want to start your trip.

From lounging on the beach to playing disc golf, there are a ton of activities to do at Stony Creek Metropark, making it a great place to take your family for a day trip.

Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

The 9-mile Chapel Loop is one of the most scenic hikes in Michigan. Take in the view of Lake Superior, Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock and Grand Portal Point. Try and take a weekend trip to tackle this hike as it can take most of the day and you’ll want to view the rocks from the water as well! Take your bug spray, water and camera too, as the views will be amazing.

Chapel Rock, Photo Courtesy of Justin Mault

Chapel Rock, Photo Courtesy of Justin Mault

Empire Bluff Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Difficulty: Moderate

The Empire Bluff Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes is a 1.5 mile roundtrip hike perfect for views of the water and foliage. On a clear day, you can even see South Manitou Island! Be sure to pick up a map of the trail at the trailhead. There are also numbered posts along the way for more information. For your own safety, don’t climb down the bluff as it is more than 400 feet above the sandy shoreline! This trek is a must-do for those looking for spectacular views of the lakeshore.

Photo Courtesy of Ben Winn

View from Empire Bluff Trail, Photo Courtesy of Ben Winn

Tahquamenon Falls State Park River Trail

Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

One of the most popular hiking trails in this park is the River Trail. Linking the Upper Falls and Lower Falls, this nearly 5 mile hike leads along the Tahquamenon River and is very scenic. It is a moderate to hard trail to tackle due to the hilly terrain and exposed roots, but is well worth the effort. Be sure to bring plenty of water and bug spray for the trip. After your hike, stop by the shops and pub near the Upper Falls for a great meal, drink or souvenir.

Photo Courtesy of Dan Hammel

Upper Tahquamenon Falls, Photo Courtesy of Dan Hammel

Porcupine Mountains State Park Escarpment Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Despite it only being 4 miles long, the changes in elevation along the Escarpment Trail make this hike more of a challenge. However, viewing Lake of the Clouds, Lake Superior and the Carp River Valley in one trip will leave you in awe of Michigan’s unimagined beauty. Take a weekend to stay in the area and take advantage of the many restaurants and entertainment centers, like Black Bear Lanes for bowling!

Lake of the Clouds, Photo Courtesy of Angie Barnstead

Lake of the Clouds, Photo Courtesy of Angie Barnstead

Jordan River Pathway Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

The Jordan River Pathway is one of the most popular hiking trips in the Lower Peninsula. Stay at the walk-in campground for a weekend and bask in the rustic nature of the area. It is an 18-mile loop perfect for hikers looking for scenic views of streams, colorful foliage or the valley below. If you’re an angler, fishing in the Jordan River might allow you to catch dinner at the end of a long hike! Definitely bring bug spray, as horse flies and mosquitoes may greet you along the way. Be sure to capture pictures of the views from Deadman’s Hill and Landslide Overlook.

Dead Man's Hill, Photo Courtesy of Michelle Russell

Dead Man’s Hill, Photo Courtesy of Michelle Russell

Greenstone Ridge Trail
Isle Royale

Difficulty: Hard

Greenstone Ridge Trail is a trail for experienced hikers. The 40-mile long trail is the backbone of Isle Royale, an island only accessible by boat or plane. Every backpacker should try this trail at least once, as it is an incredibly fulfilling multi-day trip. The Greenstone Ridge Trail provides panoramic views of the gorgeous and rustic landscape, crossing through exposed bedrock and dense forest. Take a few days to truly experience the wilderness of Isle Royale where moose and wolves roam free.

Where do you love to hike and take in the views? Share with us in the comments!

3 Scenic Pure Michigan Hiking Trails Near M-22

Today, guest blogger Scott Christ describes his experience hiking along three scenic trails near M-22. For more information on hiking trails in Michigan, visit michigan.org. 

Close your eyes and imagine an idyllic place filled with vibrant, turquoise-hued lakes … powdered sand beaches surrounded by towering dunes … and pine-scented, old-growth forests.

For some people, Michigan may not be the first place to come to mind that fits this description. Yet that’s exactly what I experienced during a summer trip to the Leelanau Peninsula in northern Michigan.

Scoping Out the Hiking Trails Along M-22 Near Leland and Glen Arbor

Our destination for this trip: Lake Leelanau. Our goal: plan as many “Michigan-themed” activities as possible. I had driven up M-22 before, but after spending a week trekking up and down this infamous road, I was absolutely blown away by it’s winding roads, spectacular views, and overall magnificence.

Before leaving for our trip, I did my homework and found three hiking trails close to M-22 between Leland and Glen Arbor:

1. Houdek Dunes Natural Area

2. Whaleback Natural Area

3. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Here’s what each had to offer.

Experiencing the Trails

Whaleback Natural Area

Whaleback Natural Area is a 10,000-year-old playground of preserved dunes and forests. It’s within walking distance of downtown Leland and directly accessible from M-22. Plan on 1 to 1.5 hours if you’re walking the trail. There are a couple fairly intense climbs involved too, so I’d classify this one as “Moderately Difficult.”

Make sure you stop at the spectacular Lookout Point, which offers majestic views of Lake Michigan.

Houdek Dunes Natural Area

Quick disclaimer about Houdek Dunes: it’s not easy to find. A Google Maps search took us to downtown Leland and we quickly realized we were in the wrong spot. So we headed up M-22 just north of Lake Leelanau, and found it marked by a tiny sign on the left side of the road.

The troubles getting there turned out to be worth it though. Houdek Dunes was formed from glacial sediments about 4,000 years ago, and you’ll experience the amazing aftermath of geology and time with its combination of dunes and wooded forests.

Depending on which way you trek through the trail system, you’ll see plenty of hundred-year-old birch trees, mature pines, sun-kissed stretches of dense green ferns, and the beautiful Houdek Creek, a spring-fed trout stream that flows into North Lake Leelanau.

The trail features 3/4 and 1- 1/2 mile loops. Plan on a couple hours to get through it if you’re walking, but you can definitely do it in less. I’d classify the difficulty level as “moderate.”

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive turned out to be one of the coolest parts of our trip. Located in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it’s a 7-mile drive that offers a variety of stops and lookout points.

To get there, you’ll need to head over to Glen Arbor along M-22 then take a quick detour up “Dune Highway” 109.

About halfway through the drive, you’ll reach the Lake Michigan Dune Overlook Platform stop. Park your car and walk the trail to the dune, which towers 450 feet above lake level.

Although going down the bluff is not recommended, it’s also not prohibited for those who are up to the challenge. The way down is a little unnerving at first because it’s steep, but once you get used to it it’s smooth sailing. The way up is another story. I consider myself to be in good shape and it was strenuous. But if you’re in decent shape, like a little adventure, and don’t have a fear of heights, do it. You won’t regret it.

There is an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle, which gets you access to all areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s well worth the money and I was happy to help support these awesome parks.

Final Thoughts

As someone who comes from the ad world, my feelings about “Pure Michigan” were that it was just a clever ad campaign. But this trip changed that. Pure Michigan embodies the fact that Michigan, and particularly northern Michigan, is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in the world. Let’s keep it that way.

Where is your favorite spot to go hiking in Michigan?

Scott Christ is a writer, entrepreneur, and health enthusiast who helps people look better, feel better, and live longer with healthy real food recipes and motivational weight loss tipsConnect with Scott on Facebook or Twitter

Get Your Fall Foliage Fix at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

As we say goodbye to summer and welcome the root of fall, we face new explorations of Pure Michigan. Known for its abundance of autumnal colors, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is unique not only for its rock formations and shoreline, but also for its hiking trails and waterfalls. Whether you’re planning to experience the lakeshore by water or land, there are many ways to get your fall foliage fix.

Read more on four ways to see fall foliage near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

1. Cruise the Lakeshore

Travel alongside the picturesque 40-mile stretch of vibrantly colored trees, sandy beaches, waterfalls, caverns and rare rock formations on a Pictured Rocks Cruise. The clear blue water and red and orange hues of the rocks rising vertically out of the shoreline add a nice touch to the fall foliage that line the Lakeshore. The tour features the most iconic landmarks of Pictured Rocks including the East Channel Lighthouse,  Miners Castle, Lovers Leap and other iconic landmarks. This family-friendly cruise also offers complimentary dog kennels on-site for the duration of the cruise. The 2 ½ hour-long cruises are an ideal way to see parts of Pictured Rocks that you cannot see from land.

Pictured Rocks Cruises is one of the best ways to see the Lakeshore

Photo Courtesy of Shawn Malone

2. Paddle Pictured Rocks

Get up close and personal on a Pictured Rocks Kayaking tour of the most iconic stretch of the Lakeshore. On this 5 hour-long tour, you’ll get the chance to paddle through caves, under arches and alongside waterfalls. Glide through the crystal clear water of Lake Superior and enjoy the vibrant hues of fall foliage surrounding the Lakeshore. The journey features many landmarks including Miners Castle, Lovers Leap, Rainbow Cave, Indian Head, Gull Rookery, Grand Portal, Chapel Cove and Chapel Rock. Pictured Rocks Kayaking provides all paddling equipment and ensures that paddling will be done with the wind at the paddlers back whenever possible.

Get up close and personal with multi-colored sandstone cliffs by kayaking

Photo Courtesy of Shawn Malone

3. Hike the Trails

Experience Pictured Rocks from a different perspective. While hiking the shoreline, you are at the heart of the fall foliage, with a breathtaking view of Lake Superior below. The Lakeshore offers a variety of recognizable sites to see and should be on every Michiganders bucket list. With over 60 miles of hiking trails within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, you’ll experience fall color like never before.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore boasts many beautiful waterfalls

Photo Courtesy of Pictured Rocks Cruises

4. Take a Drive

An explosion of vibrant red, orange and gold adds an entirely new dimension to a Pictured Rocks road trip. The route to the Lakeshore offers an astounding look at fall foliage with towering trees and royal blue lakes encompassing most of your drive. With many areas to stop and admire the scenery, you won’t mind taking the long route.

Celebrate Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s 50th anniversary this autumn with a cruise, kayak or hike—we guarantee you’ll fall in love.

What is your favorite memory from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore? Share with us by commenting below!

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