North Country Trail
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15 Michigan Towns to Explore Along the North Country Trail (NCT)

Stretching across nearly the entire Upper Peninsula, over the Mackinac Bridge, and down through the Lower Peninsula, is a massive hiking trail of more than 1,000 miles that showcases jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring Michigan beauty.

The North Country Trail is the ultimate trail for those who love the great outdoors; perfect for calming strolls, backpacking excursions, and memorable hikes.

The NCT takes hikers along the shorelines of three Great Lakes, through dozens of towns, over rolling hills, and through scenic forests. Whether you’re an avid backpacker or a casual meanderer, the NCT has something for everyone.

With so many cities dotted along the NCT, we’ve created a comprehensive guide highlighting each town along the trail in Michigan. With its multiple entry and exit points, the trail is easily accessible, inviting hikers to discover the unique beauty of Michigan.

North Country Trail-Sand-Point-Trail-
North Country Trail – Sand Point Trail | photo via annpricephoto

Getting to Know the North Country Trail

The North Country Trail, officially designated as the North Country Scenic Trail, stretches for 4,800 miles across the United States, spanning from North Dakota to Vermont.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States, which cover more than 91,000 miles across all 50 states, and the NCT is the longest of all of them.

On March 5, 1980, the NCT was created through an amendment to the National System Trails Act. The trail’s original path followed existing trails in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest: the Finger Lakes Trail in New York, the Baker Trail in Pennsylvania, and the Buckeye Trail in Ohio.

In 2023, the National Park System officially designated the trail as a national scenic trail. With this recognition, the NCT now qualifies for funding opportunities and resources and enjoys the same legal status as other national parks and trails.

While the NCT stretches across eight states, Michigan can claim the most miles of the trail. The trail spans 550 miles from west to east across the Upper Peninsula. It then crosses the Mighty Mac at the Straits of Mackinac and continues for another 600 miles to Ohio.

Local trail associations in each state currently maintain different sections of the trail.

Following the Path of the North Country Trail

The trail runs from Lake Sakakawea State Park in North Dakota to Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, crossing through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York along the way. 

In Michigan, the NCT enters along Lake Superior on the western end of the UP, crossing the Mackinac Bridge, and heads south along the western part of the Lower Peninsula. From there, travelers gradually trek in a southeastward direction, passing through Battle Creek and the southernmost parts of the state on the way to Ohio.

After leaving Michigan, the trail continues into western Ohio dipping almost to Cincinnati before traversing east across the southern hill country of the state. The trail continues across northwestern Pennsylvania, central New York, and ends in Vermont.

North Country Trail-Petoskey
North Country Trail – Petoskey | photo via tigerfan

Starting on the North County Trail in Michigan

The trail crosses the Montreal River out of Wisconsin and reaches the Ottawa National Forest in the Western UP. Here, outdoor enthusiasts can explore the wilderness around them on a lengthy hike along the Black River.

Hikers encounter Lake Superior briefly at Black River Harbor Recreation Area, and the trail later turns inland through forest. The section of the trail extends for more than 150 miles and passes through Lake of the Clouds.

The trail continues through forest areas to Craig Lake State Park in Baraga County and eventually to Marquette.

Exploring Michigan’s Trail Towns

The North Country Trail passes through dozens of cities, which are designated Trail Towns.

In Michigan, there are 15 Trail Towns, spanning from the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula to the trail’s midpoint point in Lowell to Southcentral Michigan in Battle Creek.

Each trail town is unique and offers a variety of activities for all hikers.

Marquette

Michigan’s northernmost trail town on the NCT is Marquette, a scenic city on the Lake Superior shore home to unique shops, highly-rated breweries, and beautiful hiking and biking trails.

Wetmore Landing is a scenic section of the NCT with a trailhead just west of Marquette. The trail is flat, and hikers can walk a short distance to the beach or the Little Presque Isle Recreation Area.

The path has something everyone can enjoy, including numerous rocks to collect and scramble on, scenic forests, and a walk along the Lake Superior shore.

Visitors starting their NCT trek in Marquette have several options for additional things to do in the area. From chasing waterfalls to visiting museums, Marquette is a four-season town with much to explore.

The area offers numerous accommodations, including camping areas and many unique rentals. Hungry hikers can sit down for a cold craft beer at Blackrocks Brewery, one of several breweries in town offering tasty brews with locally sourced ingredients.

Grand Marais

As hikers continue east on their NCT journey, they will pass through large swaths of wilderness. The journey includes more than 40 miles along the Lakeshore Trail section of the NCT, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

This section is arguably one of the most scenic along the NCT and in Michigan. This geological wonder rises from the Lake Superior waters and remains a popular destination for visitors wanting to see colorful, unique sandstone formations.

Museum enthusiasts can pay a visit to the Pickle Barrel House Museum. This unique museum looks like a life-sized version of a pickle barrel and is one of the city’s most well-known structures. Open seasonally, this roadside museum remains popular for visitors who enjoy visiting this former lakeside cottage.

North Country Trail-St.-Ignace
North Country Trail – St. Ignace | photo via kimberlyjohnson0710

St. Ignace

After passing through Grand Marais, hikers on the NCT have even more beautiful scenery ahead of them on the way to St. Ignace.

Hikers will pass through the Lake Superior State Forest and Hiawatha National Forest as they cross the Little Two Hearted River, stroll along the Lake Superior shoreline, and wander past Tahquamenon Falls State Park on the way to the Mackinac Bridge.

Related: Tahquamenon Falls is a magnificent year-round destination, especially for those who love to camp!

The small lakeside town of St. Ignace is the northern gateway between Michigan’s two peninsulas and is bursting with natural beauty so close to the Mackinac Bridge.

One of Michigan’s best roadside attractions, Castle Rock, is also in St. Ignace. It allows visitors a unique view of Lake Huron from nearly 200 feet up. Visitors can also snap selfies with one of Michigan’s many Paul Bunyan statues.

Walking through downtown St. Ignace, visitors can stop into quaint shops offering unique souvenirs, tasty treats, and even a history lesson if hikers visit the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.

And of course, a visit to St. Ignace isn’t complete without grabbing a burger from Clyde’s Drive-In or fresh pasties from Lehto’s.

Mackinac Bridge

Except for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk, NCT hikers can’t walk across the Mackinac Bridge – only vehicles can cross. Hikers must either take a ferry across the Straits of Mackinac or procure a vehicle to drive across the bridge.

Mackinaw City

The Lower Peninsula portion of the North Country Trail begins in Mackinaw City. This history-rich village is a popular tourist destination and offers plenty to see as an NCT Trail Town.

Hikers who want to experience even more outdoor fun should visit the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, a magnificent year-round place to see the night sky and even the Northern Lights.

Mackinaw Manor Haunted Mansion is a unique year-round attraction. This state-of-the-art haunted house is fully automated and can put a scare into visitors young and old, even in winter.

The Jack Pine Lumber Shows highlight the region’s logging history, and the competitive shows feature ax throwing, chopping, logrolling, and more.

Hikers can refresh and refuel at one of many Mackinaw City eateries, and if you’re looking for overnight accommodations, there are plenty of options in Mackinaw City.

Hikers will head southwest out of Mackinaw City toward Petoskey. The Northwest Lower Michigan portion of the NCT features open meadows, scenic ridge-top views, lakes, and rivers as trekkers head toward Petoskey, Kalkaska, and Fife Lake.

Petoskey

Nestled on Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey has long been a haven for those looking for incredible Michigan beauty, comfortable accommodations, and small-town adventure.

A visit to Petoskey State Park gives hikers fantastic views and plenty of pristine beachfront. It’s a favorite haunt for residents and visitors, offering space for swimming and sunbathing, a nearby geocaching area, space for camping, and more.

Petoskey is also a great place to walk on the beach, hunting for Petoskey stones. The official state stone is featured in many downtown Petoskey shops. But for some, it’s more rewarding to locate a Petoskey walking along the beach.

During the summer, visitors can hop aboard the vintage Downtown Petoskey Trolley for free and marvel at the town’s Victorian charm while indulging in some shopping.

Petoskey restaurants have something to satisfy cravings big and small, and after exploring Petoskey, long-time or first-time visitors will find numerous cozy lodging options available.

Kalkaska

Continuing further south and then heading southwest, travelers will go about 50 miles and arrive in Kalkaska. Situated right in the heart of Northwest Michigan, Kalkaska pairs scenic beauty with the quaintness of a small town.

Fishing enthusiasts can visit the National Trout Memorial right in the heart of the village. This larger-than-life, impossible-to-miss trout fountain is known locally as the Fisherman’s Shrine and features an 18-foot-tall fish with water cascading around it.

Kalkaska Log Lake Campground is a favorite local spot to play disc golf. The course is short, but challenging and precise shots can help players record decent scores. The shorter distance also gives players a chance to record aces during rounds.

Related: Kalkaska County is also home to the Seven Bridges Nature Area, a beautiful preserve perfect for an enchanting excursion. As its name suggests, there are seven bridges to cross on the preserve that allow visitors to meander and soak in the scenery. The Preserve is also a fantastic fishing spot.

North Country Trail-Fife-Lake
North Country Trail – Fife Lake | photo via deejbonner

Fife Lake

Just south of Traverse City sits Fife Lake, a Northern Michigan village that was once a bustling lumbering town.

Hikers can get to Fife Lake off the main NCT route via a mile-long trail. Near Fife Lake, the trail is part of a north-south loop of more than 20 miles. The Old US-131 State Forest Campground and Spring Lake Forest Campground are the bookends of the loop.

Fife Lake has a charming downtown with dining options and quaint shops. The village also features the Fife Lake Historical Walk, which includes more than two dozen display plaques with information on the village’s history and historical photographs.

Along with the historic walk, Fife Lake also has a historical museum, which features historical buildings and local artifacts.

Continuing south, travelers will eventually turn west and cross US-131. Travelers will later head southwest toward the Manistee National Forest. The journey through the forest covers more than 100 miles as travelers make their way south toward Grand Rapids.

White Cloud

Coming through the forest, hikers will hit the next trail town, White Cloud. While it may not have the hustle and bustle of Grand Rapids, White Cloud is perfect for a West Michigan adventure and acts as the almost midpoint of the NCT.

White Cloud is accessed on the NCT via the Campground Connector Trail, a 4.3-mile loop that takes trekkers to White Cloud Park and Campground. The connector trail allows travelers to enjoy camping experiences and provides access to local restaurants, lodging, and beautiful scenery.

Adventurers looking for even more outdoor fun can find it on or around the White River. This small river is fun for experienced kayakers, especially around Raceway Park. The rapids make for a fun ride on the river, and fly fishermen can try their luck fishing for trout.

As travelers head toward the next trail town, Lowell, the trail takes them through Cedar Springs and Rockford

Lowell

Continuing southeast, travelers will go right through Lowell, a true trail town that serves as the headquarters of the North Country Trail Association. It’s a great spot to use bathroom facilities, stop into the Trail Shop, and use the on-site Internet.

In addition to the NCT, Lowell is a vibrant town with plenty of events, and it is home to regional trail networks, including the Fred Meijer River Valley Trails.

Art and theater enthusiasts can also stop in Lowell to see the historic Old Theater. Recent renovations have rejuvenated the theater, built in 1928, and it hosts comedy shows, local productions, and more.

Lowell is also home to the Fallasburg Covered Bridge, which spans 100 feet and connects Fallasburg and the Fallasburg Village over the Flat River. The NCT runs right through this hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts.

Related: In the fall, Olin Farm offers a fun, authentic pumpkin-picking experience on a family-owned farm.

Middleville

Twenty miles south of Lowell is the village of Middleville, which features the Thornapple River running through it. In the late 1800s, the river proved a strong selling point for numerous industries and a section of the Grand River Valley Railroad.

The eventual closing of the railroad led to the creation of the Paul-Henry Thornapple Trail. The trail shares its path with the NCT for about three miles, and travelers can find eateries, gas stations, and other conveniences.

North Country Trail-Augusta
North Country Trail – Augusta | photo via jimhaadsma

Augusta

After traversing south through the Yankee Springs Recreation Area, travelers arrive at the village of Augusta, where the Kalamazoo River meets Augusta Creek.

Coming into town, visitors will note the Knappen Milling Company facilities, which date back to 1929. Along the NCT, travelers can also find the Augusta Prairie, which is part of the National Park Service. Hiking this prairie treats travelers to stunning river valley vistas surrounded by native insects and plants in warmer months.

History buffs can visit the Fort Custer National Cemetary, just east of downtown Augusta. A trail of just a little over two miles goes through the trail, which has historical connections to WWI and WWII.

Battle Creek

Heading east from Augusta, Battle Creek (aka Cereal City USA) is the next trail town on the NCT and is a vibrant city known for its rich history and diverse attractions.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Binder Park Zoo offers a chance to see exotic animals and enjoy family-friendly activities. The Lelia Arboretum (and its Fantasy Forest) is a hidden gem in Battle Creek and delights travelers of all ages. This former grove of ash trees is now home to a magnificent sculpture park, home to a magical world of dragons and wizards.

The city is also home to the historic Kingman Museum and the fascinating Art Center of Battle Creek, showcasing local and international art. And, during the fall, Battle Creek’s downtown arts district is home to the annual Fall into the Arts Art Walk. This celebration is an excellent way to soak in some culture and features photography, musicians, and more.

Marshall

Positioned at the intersection of I-94 and I-69, Marshall is a city filled with attractions and history that also has small-town quaintness. The best way to experience Marshall’s history is to stroll around town to marvel at the 19th-century architecture and hundreds of historic homes. 

Hikers looking for a change of pace on their NCT journey can visit eight museums in Marshall, including the American Museum of Magic and the Governor’s Mansion Museum. They can also stroll down Main Street or take numerous walking tours, including historic home and garden tours. The annual Marshall Blues Fest features good food, live entertainment, and good vibes.

Don’t miss grabbing a nutty roll from Louie’s Bakery or tapping into your German heritage at Win Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub while you’re downtown. No matter where you turn, Marshall is bursting with history and plenty of things to do before you resume your journey.

Albion

The home of Albion College sits just a few minutes from the North Country Trail and downtown Albion. The college is home to the Whitehouse Nature Center, a spectacular place to enjoy nature. Stretching across 140 acres, the center has a river, live exhibits, five miles of trails, and more than 400 plant species.

The nature center is also one of the most beautiful spots in Michigan to see the leaves changing color in the fall!

Baseball fans can visit Albion’s Champions Stadium, one of many baseball stadiums in Michigan that’s perfect for watching a game during warmer months. Albion’s Festival of Forks is an annual fall tradition and celebrates diversity, food, healthy habits, and community spirit.

Just south of downtown, travelers can visit Victory Park, the city’s largest public park. Victory Park features an 18-hole disc golf course, a playground, a band shell, and the Albion River Trail.

Litchfield

Litchfield is situated in Hillsdale County between Albion and Hillsdale. With the St. Joesph River flowing right through the city, Litchfield offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Litchfield has an established market of more than four dozen businesses, including many downtown spots. The town also sits roughly 10 minutes north of Hillsdale, which offers travelers more dining options and spots to stock up on supplies.

Those looking to do more than hike can frolic along the riverside and enjoy scenic views or spend time kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Firemen’s Park, located on the river, has a pavilion, basketball, shuffleboard, and volleyball courts.

Trekkers looking for a change of pace can visit Litchfield Greens golf course to play a round of golf. The course has been open since 1964 and has two sets of tees to accommodate golfers of different skill levels.

After passing through Litchfield, travelers can pass through Hillsdale, Pittsford, and eventually Waldron before the NCT continues into Ohio.

Related: Those who want a unique experience can trek to the Michigan-Indiana-Ohio tripoint, where the borders of all three states meet. In Michigan, the spot is approximately 20 miles south of Litchfield in SW Hillsdale County.

North Country Trail-Lowell
North Country Trail – Lowell | photo via trailingthemitten

Hike the North Country Trail and Visit a Trail Town Today

Unparalleled natural beauty, unique trail towns, and the chance to have a memorable adventure make the North Country Trail a road worth traveling in Michigan.

Whether you hike from just one trail town to the next, traverse across the Upper Peninsula, or discover a new town on your journey, the NCT has something to offer everyone. So stash your gear in your favorite hiking backpack, grab your walking stick, and hit the trail! 

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