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The Great Lakes State is full of diverse terrain and beautiful scenery, making it a pretty great place for hiking whatever the time of year. Across state parks, resorts and rugged wilderness, hiking trails give visitors the chance to get some great exercise, challenge themselves or just to take a relaxing stroll in nature. Here are some of the top trails to visit in Michigan.
Starting with the biggest, the mammoth Iron Belle Trail runs all the way from Belle Isle Park in Detroit to Ironwood on the western edge of the Upper Peninsula. The hiking trail, when complete, will be 1,273 miles long, the longest designated state trail in the US, running up the western side of the lower peninsula and along the coast of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. Unsurprisingly it takes in a wide range of surroundings, from forests and coastlines to towns and rivers. The trail is currently more than two-thirds complete.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail takes in some of the state’s most beautiful scenery along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The first section of the trail was opened in 2012, and it has grown to join up the lakeshore’s main attractions, including the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, the Dune Climb, Glen Haven and Glen Arbor. The trail is currently 16.5 miles long but extensions are planned.
If you’re in Traverse City, one of Michigan’s most popular tourist towns, and fancy a quiet walk away from the crowds, the Leelanau Trail stretches 17 miles north up the peninsula to Suttons Bay. Built on the former Leelanau Scenic Railroad, the trail passes many of Michigan’s famous vineyards and cherry orchards. During May the trail is especially beautiful as the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, but the rolling hills and lush forests are great any time of year.
The Paul Henry-Thornapple Trail is being constructed along a former railroad corridor from Grand Rapids to Vermontville in the western half of the state. When finished it will be 42 miles in length, passing through small towns, farmland and woods, with close proximity to the Thornapple River. A project of multiple agencies and trail organizations, some sections of the trail are complete, including many paved stretches.
In northeastern Michigan, the Bay County Riverwalk Trail System consists of 21 miles of trails in two sections. One section runs north along the Saginaw River to Saginaw Bay and the Topico Marsh Nature Preserve, as well as stretching down over six miles to the town of Zilwaukee. The other section is a loop around the city on an abandoned railway and a series of boardwalks on the river.
In the Upper Peninsula, the Iron Ore Heritage Trail crosses the historic Marquette Iron Range. The 47-mile stretch mostly follows abandoned railroad corridors that were used to connect the mines with the Lake Superior Harbor, and the interpretive trail aims to showcase the role of the iron ore mining industry in Michigan and the wider United States. Snowmobiles and cross country skiers can be seen on the trail in winter.
The longest linear state park in Michigan, “The Great White Pine” stretches 93 miles from Cadillac to Grand Rapids, running through 31 cities, villages and townships. The trail currently has several paved sections, but the rest is natural ballast and hard packed gravel and as it’s on an old train line, the path is relatively flat and easy to manage. Wildlife, wildflowers, rivers and dense forest await you along this scenic corridor.