The Most Scenic Hiking Trails in Michigan
The diverse terrain, natural beauty and the splendor of four distinct seasons make hiking trails in Michigan an unforgettable experience. Pure Michigan trails lead visitors past waterfalls and inland lakes, beneath soaring hardwoods brilliant with color in autumn and bare Great Lakes sand dunes sprinkled with snow in winter. The state’s paths wend their way through virgin forest and travel through the glimmering office towers of Michigan’s biggest city. Strap on a pack and hit the hiking trails in Michigan, whether for an hour’s getaway or a weeks-long journey through both peninsulas on Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail. It’s a natural escape you won’t soon forget.
Michigan is home to one quarter of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600-mile path that will traverse seven states and rank as the longest in America’s National Trail System when completed. Measuring 1,150 miles within Michigan, the trail’s difficulty and terrain varies widely, from flat farm country near the Ohio border to wooded river and lake views in the northern Lower Peninsula and stunning Lake Superior vistas in the Upper Peninsula. Popular segments include those near Baldwin, in the Manistee National Forest between Cadillac and Manistee, and along the Lake Superior shore near Grand Marais.
Stretching 1,250 miles by foot (770 miles if you travel the route by bicycle), Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail will rank as the longest designated state trail in the U.S. when it’s completed. The trail’s two distinct routes—a more rustic path for hikers and a shorter, paved route for bikes—begin in the western Upper Peninsula town of Ironwood and end on metro Detroit’s Belle Isle Park. Look for starting points in any of 48 Michigan counties for a varied experience through white pine forests, over the Mackinac Bridge and eventually along the city streets of downtown Detroit.
3. Greenstone Ridge Trail – Isle Royale National Park
If you follow the Greenstone Ridge all the way from Windigo in the west to Rock Harbor in the east, you’ll have traversed 43 miles of Isle Royale National Park, the least visited park in the Lower 48. Challenging primarily for its remoteness and primitive camping conditions (you’ll have to filter your own water once you’re on the trail), the Greenstone Ridge promises breathtaking vistas of northern Lake Superior: thick white pine forests, granite outcroppings, broad expanses of the Big Lake and, if you’re lucky, a few moose.
4. Lakeshore-North Country Trail – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Past crashing Lake Superior surf and the towering white Au Sable Light Station, alongside Chapel Rock and Spray and Bridalveil Falls, Pictured Rocks’ Lakeshore Trail shares a picture-perfect route with a northern stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Pick up the stunningly beautiful trail in Grand Marais, at Twelvemile Beach, at Miners Castle or in Munising for enjoyable day hikes, or hike the entire 42-mile distance and pitch your tent along the way.
5. Pyramid Point Trail – Sleeping Bear Dunes National LakeshoreDifficulty: Moderate
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are crisscrossed by 100 miles of hiking trails, ranging from gentle nature walks to circuits around North and South Manitou Islands and the challenging but popular Dunes Hiking Trail, which begins at the base of the daunting Dune Climb. But the most beautiful of Sleeping Bear’s trails may be Pyramid Point, where it’s possible to enjoy the quiet beauty of Lake Michigan even at the height of summer. The 3-mile trek passes through wildflower-strewn meadows and forests of paper birch through and over rolling sand dunes. A short spur leads out to a breathtaking Lake Michigan overlook.
6. Big Carp River Trail – Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Spread across 60,000 acres in the western Upper Peninsula and encompassing nearly 90 miles of trails, the Porcupine Mountains rank as Michigan’s largest and most remote state park. For a good overview of the Porkies’ most spectacular scenery, follow the 9.6-mile Big Carp River Trail. The route travels upward from the Lake Superior shore through a scenic valley toward the Lake of the Clouds. If you have time, continue along the Escarpment Trail, which follows the ridge overlooking the Lake of the Clouds, or along North Mirror Lake Trail leading to the park’s highest lake, Mirror Lake, at 1,532 feet above sea level.
7. Port Crescent Trails – Port Crescent State ParkDifficulty: Easy
The most scenic trails in Michigan’s thumb meander through Port Crescent State Park bordering Lake Huron. Located at the site of the once-thriving lumbering and fishing town of Port Crescent, the park’s 2.5-mile network of hiking trails overlooks Saginaw Bay and takes in views of the Pinnebog River and Channel, wind-swept Lake Huron sand dunes and a chimney monument recalling the old lumbering days.
8. Potawatomi, Algonquin and Chippewa Trails – Negwegon State ParkDifficulty: Easy
1,800-acre Negwegon State Park ranks among one of the loveliest on the Lake Huron shore and sits midway between Harrisville and Alpena. Three looped trails named after Native American tribes link with one another, leading deep into the park and out to Negwegon’s South Point. The easy 5-mile trek rewards hikers with an unspoiled shoreline, hidden bays and sugar sand beaches. And the park’s isolation means you may well have those beautiful views all to yourself.
9. Great Warren Dune Trail – Warren Dunes State ParkDifficulty: Moderate
Popular with visitors looking to escape the heat of summer in Chicago, the Warren Dunes are no less lovely in autumn, when the park’s oak and hickory forest bursts into brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. Follow the Great Warren Dune Trail to immerse yourself in the beauty of this southwest Michigan escape. The 4-mile circuit wends its way through hardwood forests and up over towering dunes before opening onto a jaw-dropping expanse of golden Lake Michigan beach.
10. Penosha Trail – Brighton Recreation AreaDifficulty: Moderate
An easy getaway from metro Detroit, the Brighton Recreation Area offers a green respite in southeast Michigan. The 5-mile Penosha Trail forms a scenic loop beneath a canopy of maple and oak trees surrounded by rolling hills and inland lakes. Visit in the heat of summer for a cool retreat from the big-city crowds and noise. Visit in autumn and you’ll be wowed by the vibrant colors of fiery fall hardwoods.
11. Grand River Trail, Grand River County Park – William Burchfield ParkDifficulty: Moderate
Explore the banks of the Grand River, Michigan’s longest, on this 4-mile loop in Ingham County. Located 10 miles south of Lansing, Grand River County and Burchfield Parks adjoin one another to create a lovely riverside greenspace near Michigan’s state capital. Expect a meandering path that climbs over river bluffs, through wetlands, passes century-old farms and beneath hardwood forests that are particularly beautiful in autumn.
12. Au Sable River Foot Trail – Hartwick Pines State Park
Set in the heart of northern Michigan, the Hartwick Pines represent a rare plot of virgin white pines, forest that was once nearly decimated by lumberjacks. The Au Sable River Foot Trail offers a close-up look at the beauty of these old trees and passes over the Au Sable River twice. If you have time, add a walk along Hartwick Pines’ Old Growth Forest Trail, too. Just one mile in length, the short hike takes visitors to a reconstructed logging camp and the Logging Museum.