Inspiring Escapades Along Some of our Most Scenic Trails
When it comes to trails, Michigan boasts more than 5,000 miles of hiking and biking trails. We’re shining the spotlight on nine that just happen to be among the best for providing inspiring exploration. Enjoy the Michigan countryside while peddling through lush forests, over gentle hills, and alongside lakes, streams, and magnificent scenic overlooks. Traverse the Lake Michigan shoreline and its views of golden dunes, gently rolling hills and past orchards and vineyards.
Bare Bluff Trail
Iron Belle Trail
Distance: 1,273 miles
Trailheads: Detroit, Ironwood and many others
The name suggests the breadth of this hiking trail’s reach—from the Iron Range of the western UP to Detroit’s Belle Island at the opposite corner of the state. In between, it hits multiple geographical highlights: the old-growth majesty of the Porcupine Mountains, countless waterfalls, the dunes and cliffs along the Lake Superior shore, the river country and the rolling Irish Hills. You’ll cross everything from the largest wooden suspension bridge in the state to the Mighty Mac (walk across on Labor Day or catch a ride with the Mackinac Bridge Authority transport or a ferry). A separate 774-mile Iron Belle biking trail follows US-2 in the UP and an eastern route in the Lower Peninsula.
Distance: 15 miles
Trailhead: Copper Harbor
Near the tip of the UP’s Keweenaw Peninsula, derailleurs click and colorful bike jerseys flash through the pines as mountain bikers climb banked curves, berms and wood plank bridges. This network of well-crafted singletrack makes Copper Harbor a marquee destination for avid mountain bikers. It earned coveted status as a Silver-Level Ride Center from the International Mountain Bike Association. Casual cyclists spin along logging roads past copper mining ghost towns and to secluded Lake Superior beaches. Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor has bike rentals, shuttles and trail information.
Iron Ore Heritage Trail
Distance: 47 miles
Trailheads: Republic, Ishpeming, Negaunee, Marquette, Chocolay Township
As much an open-air museum as a bike trail, the route weaves through pine forests dotted with artwork, interpretive signs and relics of the Marquette region’s rich iron mining history. Three worthy museums along the route are the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, Marquette Regional History Center and Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum, in a century-old mine shaft headframe rising 96 feet out of the forest. Cyclists find that hybrids ease navigating the asphalt trail’s sections of crushed limestone/granite and scaling steep hills. Plus, it would be a shame not to sample Marquette’s singletrack, some of the best mountain biking in the state.
North Central State Trail
Distance: 62 miles
Trailheads: Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Indian River, Topinabee, Cheboygan, Mackinaw City
Like a sampler platter of Michigan’s north country, this crushed-limestone trail skirts farm, field, rivers, an inland lake, a Great Lake and woodlands. Few roads intersect the 11-mile stretch between Vanderbilt and Wolverine, near where the state’s largest elk herd roams. The mammals—weighing up to 900 pounds—get especially active in autumn when males clash antlers and bugle for attention. Hikers might want to toss a rod in their packs if continuing north. For more than 15 miles, the trail parallels the Sturgeon River—a Blue Ribbon trout stream—and then the shore of sparkling Mullett Lake, with bass, trout and pike.
Little Traverse Wheelway
Distance: 26 miles
Trailheads: Charlevoix, Petoskey, Harbor Springs
Tracing the shore of Little Traverse Bay, this paved path leads to all sorts of hidden gems you might otherwise not discover. In Petoskey, a waterfall tumbles in Bay Front Park and the town’s oldest building, the 1859 St. Francis Solanus Indian Mission Church, stands behind a white picket fence. All along the way, pocket parks with cobbled beaches invite hunting for Petoskey stones. And whether at an overlook or on the water’s edge, savor the ever-changing brilliant blue Lake Michigan.
Betsie Valley Trail
Distance: 22 miles
Trailheads: Frankfort, Elberta, Beulah, Thompsonville
Freight cars once crossed Lake Michigan by ferry to connect with this former railroad line that begins near the shore in Frankfort. The train engineers no doubt savored the views now enjoyed by hikers and cyclists. The converted rail-trail winds through wetlands alive with waterfowl, along the shore of Crystal Lake and into the woodsy solitude of pine and hardwood forest fiery with autumn color.
Pere Marquette Rail Trail
Distance: 30 miles
Trailheads: Midland, Averill, Sanford, Coleman, Loomis, Clare
Cyclists hum over wooden bridges and through handsome stone underpasses as they spin along this smooth, level asphalt path following a former railroad corridor between Midland and Clare. Recognized as one of 25 rails-to-trails Conservancy Hall of Fame trails in the nation, the largely rural route skips over several creeks and rivers like the Tittabawassee. It provides plenty of stops along the way, including the popular trailside restaurant Alex’s Railside in Sanford. A new extension continues the trail west from Clare to Reed City, although with an asphalt surface and fewer trailside services.
Distance: 33 miles
Trailheads: South Haven, Kalamazoo
Breathe in deeply to appreciate the pleasures on this route past blueberry patches and peach orchards between Kalamazoo and South Haven. Following a former railroad line, the predominantly flat, crushed-gravel path skims seven bridges, including a covered wooden trestle over the Black River that’s a favorite photo op. Small towns like Gobles welcome cyclists with ice cream, apple cider and other refreshments.
Distance: 450 miles
Trailhead: Three Oaks
Beloved for their Lake Michigan shoreline and its views of golden dunes, the southwest Michigan communities of Harbor Country also offer paved roads ideal for cycling the bucolic countryside. Twenty inland routes ranging from 5 to 60 miles spin over gently rolling hills and past orchards and vineyards. All routes start at Dewey Cannon Trading Company, with plenty of parking and a changing area for riders.