12 Stunning Trails for Horseback Riding in Michigan

Michigan boasts more than 12,000 trails and pathways, most through gorgeous terrain accessible throughout its temperate four seasons.

Women riding horses on a trail in a forest.
Horseback Riding in Michigan | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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The state's great weather is great for horses too, and for owners who have access to more than 1,000 miles of state-designated equestrian trails. Some state and private recreation areas offer trailside camping—and those without their own horse will find horse rentals and guided trips aplenty.

1. Mackinac Island

Ferry over and rent a horse for a guided or self-guided trail outing at Cindy's Riding Stable, or call ahead and arrange to bring your own horse over via one of the island's ferry services. Boarding options for horses and humans include quaint B&Bs, the storied Grand Hotel, and newly-renovated Mission Point Resort. Best of all, 80 percent of the island is state park land crisscrossed by shady horse-friendly trails.

2. Brighton Recreation Area – Brighton

After riding 20 miles of trails through meadows and woods, past lakes and streams, you can settle in for the night—next to your horse—at the 17-site campground not far from Ann Arbor's great restaurants, music and nightlife options. There's also a full-service riding stable, and those without a horse can rent one or book a guided trail ride.

3. Thunder Valley Equestrian Pathway – Marquette County

Marquette's ridges are popular for hikes, cliff diving and biking, but it's the horseback trails like this 8.8-mile loop that leads to some of the county's most spectacular views. Board at the U.P. Equestrian Center, where those without a horse of their own can take riding lessons or book a guided trail ride. While the horse is safely boarded, tour nearby waterfalls, take a shoreline trail on a rental bike, or do some sipping in one of the city's growing number of microbreweries, coffee shops and wine bars.

4. Ranch Rudolph – Traverse City

Cabins and horse-friendly campsites at this stunning spot along the Boardman River are open to people who bring their own horse—and those who don't. The ranch offers guided trail rides (and tube and kayak rentals for river floats). Trails run through the Pere Marquette State Forest and vary from sandy to hard-packed gravel trails; it's also located on the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail, a 220-mile trail open to just horseback riders and hikers that runs from Empire on the state's west coast to Oscoda on its east.

5. Ionia State Recreation Area – Ionia

This state campground between Grand Rapids and Lansing offers 46 equestrian campsites, making it a good bet you'll find an open one and a 15-mile trail system for exploring the diverse terrain. A private group recently worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to install horse corrals at nine campsites and a new pavilion too.

6. Bill Nicholls Trail – Houghton

This trail wanders 40 miles through some of the Upper Peninsula's most scenic landscapes. This is “copper country,” and visitors can see remnants of the copper mining boom that flourished for more than 100 years, as well as wildlife galore. Highlights include the train trestles including three you'll cross at 100 feet over the Firesteel River. For more on the copper mining history, Houghton's A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum is not to be missed.

7. Kenbuck Resort – Wetmore

It's hard to beat a horseback ride into a private cabin in the woods, and that's what you'll find in the Hiawatha National Forest near the 26-mile Pine Marten Horse Trail. You can choose from a 2- or 3-bedroom cabin and get use of a private boat and portable corral. You're also just a half-hour south of the heart of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, easily explored through Munising-based boat tours.

8. Elk Hill Equestrian State Forest and Trail Camp – Gaylord

This campground near the headquarters of Pigeon River Country Elk Range is secluded from the main road but also not far from the alpine charm and travel offerings of nearby Gaylord. The trail camp offers both tie-up areas for horses and a ramp that leads down to the river for horses needing a bit of a cool-off. Surrounding trails are especially popular for the possibility of glimpsing one of some 1,000 elk that live in the 100,000-acre forest.

9. Outrider Horseback Riding – Lake Ann

Those without a horse of their own need not feel envy anymore at those who get to take a true overnight trail ride and bunk alongside their own horse. Outrider Horseback Riding offers western style trail rides, starting near the Leelanau County's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, including overnight adventures. The “Wild West” outings feature trail camping as well as dinner and breakfast cooked on an open fire.

10. Yankee Springs Recreation Area – Middleville

Choose from a rustic cabin or one of the 25 sites at the equestrian campground near Gun Lake. Trails are maintained for horseback riding by a local association, and they run through bogs and marshes and along lakes and streams. Metal detecting is also a popular past-time at the park with areas marked for the hobby.

11. Big Oaks Equestrian State Campground – Montmorency County

This facility near Lewiston is one of the state's newest equestrian campgrounds. Opened in 2016, it boasts 24 campsites, and there's access to water, a generator hookup, vault toilets and a day-use parking area. It's hilly and secluded but sites are only booked on a first-come basis.

12. Waterloo Recreation Area – Chelsea

Those who like plenty of options—for trails and camping styles, both—will love this park, home to multiple campgrounds, cabins and yurts, beaches, hiking trails, fishing lakes and equestrian trails. This is the third-largest state park in the state's lower peninsula. One highlight is the track chair program that helps visitors explore areas of the park they can't reach in traditional wheelchairs. The highlight for horse lovers is the 50 miles of horseback trails; Horse N Around Stables offers trail rides in the park too.