Articles promoting hiking for overall health and well-being have been popping up on social media for several months. According to experts, hiking can actually rewire our brains and help combat stress. Plus, it’s a great way to get outside and enjoy our beautiful state. There is no better place to take a hike than Northwestern Michigan. Miles of trails lead to pristine beaches, secluded lighthouses, hidden forests, and gorgeous scenic overlooks. So grab your hiking shoes, pick a trail, and get out there!
North Country National Scenic Trail/Highbanks Rollway Trail – Wexford County
The North Country National Trail (NCT) is a footpath that covers 4,600 miles and crosses seven states. An 875-mile stretch of this beautiful trail runs through Michigan, so there’s no shortage of great hiking opportunities. For spectacular views of the Manistee River, hop on at Highbanks Rollway trailhead. Located between Kingsley and Buckley in Wexford County, this starting point offers hikes from 2.3 to 12.9 miles. For the best views, go left at the main trail sign and follow the bluff to the observation deck. The best time to visit is mid-fall when autumn colors are at their peak.
For some added incentive to hit the trail, check out the annual North Country Trail Association 2017 Hike 100 Challenge. Anyone who hikes 100 miles on the NCT in 2017 is eligible for a special patch. It’s a great way to stay motivated and make your hiking miles really count!
Manistee River Trail – Mesick
The 11-mile Manistee River Trail is a fairly new hiking adventure near Mesick. Completed in 1992, it’s linked to an 8.5-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), which runs on the opposite side of the Manistee River. Adding an element of excitement to the hike is a 245-foot suspension bridge, which connects the two trails. The Manistee River Trail is an easy hike, through level terrain and offers great views of the Manistee River and valley. Seven backcountry camping sites with fire rings are available along the loop. Drinking water and vault toilets are available at the Red Bridge Access site. For hiking itineraries and camping information, visit the Manistee River Trail site at Michigan Trail Maps.
Arcadia Dunes/C.S. Mott Nature Preserve – Arcadia
Located north of Arcadia, the Arcadia Dunes/C.S. Mott Nature Preserve is loaded with hiking opportunities. From challenging hikes to easy loops, it’s a great place to hit the trail and explore.
Start your hiking adventure with the easy 1.5 miles of Pete’s Woods Trail. This quick loop through beautiful wooded terrain is perfect for beginning hikers or families with younger children. During spring and early summer, this area is perfect for wildflower viewing. This trail is accessible from Joyfield Road – watch for signs for the Swamp Road Trailhead.
For a more challenging hike, hit the Baldy Trails/Baldy Trailhead loop. Sweeping views of Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes from Baldy Dune are a highlight of this trail system. Both short and longer hikes to the scenic overlooks are available.
Other trails include the multi-use Dry Hills Trails and Camp Trails. These offer more hiking options, plus trail running and mountain biking.
Arcadia Dunes is also part of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, so be on the lookout for some great birding opportunities.
Ludington State Park – Ludington
Tucked away inside Ludington State Park are 18 miles of beautiful trails for all ages and abilities. Situated between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan, this amazing area takes hikers past hidden lakes, historic shipwrecks, scenic overlooks, and an unforgettable lighthouse.
Nine different trails throughout the park offer a wide variety of options. Start your hiking adventure with the Skyline, Lost Lake, Sable River, or Coast Guard trail. These shorter trails are perfect for beginning hikers. Be on the lookout for deer, birds, turtles, and other wildlife.
Longer hikes include the three-mile Lighthouse Trail. This trail starts at Beechwood Campground and ends at Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is open for tours May through October. Be sure to climb the tower for incredible views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area.
More challenging hikes include the three to four-mile Logging, Ridge, and Island Trails. For the ultimate hike, try the six-mile South End Ski Trails.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
There are 100 miles of trails located in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, each more beautiful than the last. It’s impossible to choose which of the 13 mainland trails is the best, so plan to visit more than once!
One of the highlights of this area is the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This 22-mile paved trail is handicap accessible and designed for walkers, runners, bikers, wheelchairs, and strollers. It’s a great way to get around the park and see many sites throughout the lakeshore.
Other park trails take hikers through diverse and often exciting terrain. The moderately challenging Pyramid Point, Alligator Hill, and Empire Bluff trails offer incredible views. The 3.5-mile round trip Dunes Trail goes over incredibly steep dunes to Lake Michigan. Note – this is a very strenuous trail and not recommended for beginning hikers.
Easier trails, such as Sleeping Bear Point and Good Harbor Bay offer hiking opportunities for all skill levels. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trail guide has more information on these and other trails.
Feeling extra motivated? Join the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Trail Trekker Challenge and hike all 13 mainland trails in one year. Those that successfully complete the challenge will receive a prize! Click on the link above for more details.
Magoon Creek Nature Area – Manistee
Quiet and off-the-beaten-path, the Magoon Creek Nature Area is the perfect short day hike. Located just south of Manistee, the easy 1/4 – 1/2 mile loops lead to quiet beach areas and beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Picnic pavilions are available at nearby Sundling Park.
Do you love hiking in Michigan? Tell us about your favorite trail in the comments below.