Heading Along The Ridgeline To See Lake Michigan At Baldy Dunes.
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10 Beautiful Hikes in Traverse City You Need to Explore

The next time you are in Northern Michigan, check out these beautiful hidden gem hiking trails in Traverse City that the whole family can enjoy

Hiking has been a natural way for our family to explore together- many of our favorite trails ending with a swim, ice cream cone, or a trip to a local brewery.

It’s the experience of the day that makes an impression on the kids- they typically associate a trail with memories we have made along the way. There are so many things I get wrong as a parent, but when I see them run with joy through the woods, I know I’m doing something right.

I asked my children to contribute their thoughts to this article, helping me to name the best we have to offer in our area. There are so many incredible places to explore, but here are our family favorites, all within a 45-minute drive of Traverse City, Michigan.

Mud Lakes
Gorgeous views from a resting stop on Cathead Bay | photo via Kristi Murphy

1. Mud Lakes Loops in Leelanau State Park

  • Location: Densmore Rd, Northport, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: Various- there are multiple loops ranging from 2-5 miles.

Parking and Directions

From Northport, you will head further north on 201. Follow signs towards Leelanau State Park and the road will become E Woolsey Lake Rd.

Shortly after you pass the small, historic airplane strip, you will turn left onto Densmore Rd. Follow that until it dead ends at the parking lot. Free parking (with Michigan State Parks pass) at the trailhead.

Mud Lakes Loops Trail Description

This is one of our top places to adventure! This is a section of stunning Cathead Bay- offering views of Fox Island with an expansive beach. The trail begins through the forest, making loops of varying lengths.

Typically, with young children, I would recommend the “Lake Michigan” trail, which is marked in blue. It is considered an easy trail, with many types of trees and topography to look at.

About a mile in, you will reach a side trail that will lead you down to Lake Michigan. There is a bench to stop and rest on at the top of the dunes- this offers a gorgeous view. You can continue to follow the blue posts down to the water’s edge.

Insider Tips

Pack a picnic from New Bohemia Cafe and some swimsuits in the summer months. It is a great place to take a dip in Lake Michigan or play around on the many dunes, and makes kids excited to get hiking!

Bonus- stop at the Mitten Brewing Company in Northport after your hike.

Treat Farms
Winter’s views from the Treat Farms lookout | photo via Kristi Murphy

2. Treat Farms in Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore

  • Location: Norconk Road, Empire, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: An easy 2.3 miles. The trail is out and back.

Parking and Directions

Take M-22 south out of Empire, and turn right onto Norconk Road (just about 2.5 miles from town). You will see a metal gate just past an old farmhouse. Park along the side of the road by the metal gate. Parking is free, with a Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore Pass.

Treat Farms Trail Description

This is a lesser-known trail within the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore. It combines history, a path through large and various trees, ending at an overlook high above Lake Michigan.

You will begin traversing through the forest, spotting maple and beech trees swaying above your head. You will emerge at an old farmstead, with many buildings to look at and build the imagination of what used to be.

Continue through the meadow, until you reach the overlook with the turquoise water crashing below.

Insider Tips

At the end of the trail, to your right, you can see many paths that continue through dunes. You can take these side trails for an added adventure, eventually connecting to the famous Empire Bluffs Trail.

My kids love to play on the dunes or find a perch along the ridge. The views are other-worldly, beautiful in all seasons. Stop in Empire at Grocer’s Daughter for a hot cocoa or chocolate in the winter season or some gelato in the summer.

Sleeping Bear Point 2
Rock art and “Cliffs on Insanity” at Sleeping Bear Point | photo via Kristi Murphy

3. Sleeping Bear Point Loop in Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore

  • Location: W Sleeping Bear Dr, Glen Arbor, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: This is a 2.8 mile loop, with a shorter option of taking the Lake Michigan spur trail only 0.25 miles from the trailhead.

Parking and Directions

Travel from Glen Arbor west on M109. You will come to the historic village of Glen Haven. Take a right into the village and a left onto Sleeping Bear Dr. Follow this road until it turns to dirt and ends at the trailhead parking lot. Parking is free, with a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Pass.


My kids like to call this “Cliffs on Insanity”! If you complete the loop, you will see why. You can start on either side of the trail- either leading directly towards Lake Michigan or up through a forested trail.

I like to begin going through the woods, as it offers shade. Continue through the forest to emerge into the sandy portion of the trail, and continue to follow the blue tip posts the entire loop. You will be treated to panoramic views of Lake Michigan for the majority of your hike.

Insider Tips

This is another chance to spend the day on the beach! Swim, play games, and rock hunt to your delight. There are plenty of areas for the kids to climb the “cliffs” and run down to the water’s edge. Head into Glen Arbor for an ice cream cone after to celebrate!

Green Point Dunes
Green Point Dunes | photo via Kristi Murphy

4. Green Point Dunes Loop in Arcadia Dunes

  • Location: 1198 Green Point Rd, Frankfort, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: 2 miles, intermediate with several uphill climbs


Free parking at the trailhead. No pass is required.

Green Point Dunes Loop Description

The entire loop is stunning! You will hike through lush forest surroundings with several lookout platforms and views of Lake Michigan along the way.

One mile into the trail, you will reach a staircase that will lead you down to the breathtaking beach. The beach is rugged, with pine trees greeting your arrival.

Insider Tips

If you are looking for an adventure off the beaten path, this one’s for you. We rarely see others on this hike. The water is crystal blue, with views of the Frankfort lighthouse in the distance.

We like to stop at Five Shores Brewery in Beulah post-hike for a giant pretzel and IPA, or head towards Honor for a giant ice cream cone at JoMo’s.

Heading along the ridgeline to see Lake Michigan at Baldy Dunes | photo via Kristi Murphy

5. Baldy Trails in Arcadia Dunes

  • Location: M22 Northwood Highway, Arcadia, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: Varied Lengths- 1.5-3 mile loops available. Easy trails, but the last spur on the sand can be tiresome!

Parking and Directions

From the Frankfort area, head south on M22 about 10 miles. You will see the trailhead on your right. Parking is free and no pass is required.

Baldy Trails Description

This trail has it all- overlooks, boardwalks, dune jumping, views of Lake Michigan, and an abundance of trees. You can create your own loop with interconnecting paths, all meandering towards the lookout on Baldy Dune.

Insider Tips

This trail is also rarely crowded. There is no beach access available here, but the first portion of the trail leading to a stunning overlook is handicap accessible.

After playing on the dunes, stop at Stormcloud Brewery in Frankfort for pizza and Belgian-inspired beer.

Ransom Lake
Hiking with friends at Ransom Lake | photo via Kristi Murphy

6. Ransom Lake Natural Area

  • Location: 5533 Lake Ann Rd, Lake Ann, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: 2 miles, easy.

Parking and Directions

Free parking is located at the trailhead.

Natural Area Description

Not far from Traverse City, this trail flies under the radar of most. You will begin following a river from the beginning of the trailhead until you reach the junction of the loop trail.

The loop follows the Ransom Lake shoreline, with views of this calm, inland lake the whole way. In the right season, you will spot loons or geese on the lake, calling out to one another.

Insider Tips

This trail is quiet and serene, with loads of varying topography and several fun bridges for children to cross. Make a stop at the Lake Ann Brewery, Stone Oven, and the Corner Cone in downtown Lake Ann afterward.

Bonus- there is a giant playground centrally located near these extra stops, making it a win for all.

Lost Lake
My daughter sketching the trees at Lost Lake | photo via Kristi Murphy

7. Lost Lake Pathway

  • Location: 1120-1158 Gonder Rd, Interlochen, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: Various connecting loops- ranging from 2.5 miles to a longer 6.5. Easy to intermediate.

Parking and Directions

Free parking at the trailhead.


This is a fantastic loop to view two different lakes and a dam. The shorter trail will offer views of Lake Dubbonnet and circle around a campground with views of the lake most of the way.

You can pop out and get a look at the dam a little over a mile in, and if you choose to do so, you can continue to the other side of the dam to add distance on additional trails. The additional trails will lead you around the smaller Lost Lake. You can create many loops at this one location.

Insider Tips

We love to run, hike, or even mountain bike this trail! It is lovely during all seasons, and easy to get to from town.

Brown Bridge
Summer’s View of the Boardman River running through Brown Bridge | photo via Kristi Murphy

8. Brown Bridge Quiet Area

  • Location: Ranch Rudolf Rd, Traverse City, MI
  • Length/Difficulty: You can create your own distance here- you can choose an out and back or various loop hikes. You can make your walk as short as a mile, or as long as 6.5 miles if you do all the connecting loops. This is an intermediate hike, with a few uphill climbs.

Parking and Directions

There are multiple free parking lots available. I like to start at Trailhead 4.

Brown Bridge Quiet Area Description

This is our favorite hike that is local to Traverse City. The trail runs through the forest above the gorgeous Boardman River. There are staircases, connecting boardwalks, and two stunning bridges you can cross- all of which keep kids interested in the journey!

The colors are breathtaking in the fall, but so much can be seen through every season.

Insider Tips

There are many places you can access the river to throw rocks, watch fly fisherman, or even kayak. Coming here to watch the seasons change is a highlight for our family every year.

Sabin Pond
Stopping along the Boardman River on our Sabin Pond hike | photo via Kristi Murphy

9. Sabin Pond Trailhead

  • Location: 1450 Cass Road, Traverse City
  • Length/Difficulty: This is another trail where you can choose your distance. It is all out and back, so play around with how you feel for the day! It is an easy trail.

Parking and Directions

Park near the nature center to start this section of the trail. Free to park.

Sabin Pond Trailhead Description

There is so much to explore here! There are multiple overlooks, boardwalks, and staircases. The trail runs along the Boardman River, the sound of water constantly providing serenity.

There are several areas my kids like to stop and throw rocks in the river or give their feet a dip into the cold water!

Insider Tips

Stay and play at the Boardman Nature Center after your hike. They recently added a Nature Scape playground, which is a fantastic opportunity for you to watch your kids expand their imagination.

My kids and their cousins exploring M22 Creek in Valley of the Giants | photo via Kristi Murphy

10. Valley of the Giants

  • Location: 6985 Scharmen Road, Traverse City
  • Length/Difficulty: This can be as long as you’d like it to be. As a part of the North Country Trail, the path goes on for miles. Our favorite trek is about two miles- going through the giant trees and walking along the river before returning.

Parking and Directions

Getting to this trailhead is a bit off the beaten path. If you put the address into your GPS, it will be the most accurate. The last few miles of your drive will be on a dirt road.

Right after you pass mailbox number 6985, you will see a small parking area to your left. You should see the blue blazes of the North Country Trail marking the beginning of this section of the trail.

Valley of the Giants Trail Description

Although this trail is not one you’ll hear about often, it is worth its title! Soon after beginning your hike, you will reach a sign that hangs above your head that reads, “Valley of the Giants”.

The trees are huge, and there is a stunning quote on the beauty of the trees that you will want to stop and take in as you begin. You will then drop down into a valley along the M22 Creek. You can play in the stream, sit on fallen logs, and meander along the ridgeline.

Insider Tips

We love to bring a picnic from many of the delicious spots in Traverse City (Mary’s Kitchen Port being a favorite!) and spend the afternoon dipping in and out of the creek and climbing along the riverbank.

Enjoy Your Next Traverse City Adventure

All of these hiking trails in Traverse City are stunning and offer the chance to explore together as a family. Slow down, connect, and breathe together as you explore the beautiful wilderness that awaits you!

For more Traverse City inspiration, check out 19 Best Cheap & Free Things to Do in Traverse City with Kids.

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