Our Favorite Hiking Trails
Whether you’re looking for a mellow day hike with the kids or a weeklong backpacking trip in true wilderness, Michigan has the perfect trail for you
Not only is Michigan bigger than you think (it’s the 11th largest state), it’s also wilder and more wooded, home to the largest number of local and federal forests in the U.S. But perhaps the most surprising thing about the hiking trails in Michigan is how diverse they are, including everything from multi-day wilderness treks through remote and rugged National Parks to mellow footpaths along scenic rivers.
Southern Lower Peninsula
1. Hines Park Trail, Detroit Metro: Dearborn-Northville
Tracing the Rouge River valley, the 17-mile-long Hines Park Trail charts a slender, wending path from Northville to Dearborn. The city still buzzes all around you, but the green seclusion created by dropping into the shallow valley and 100-plus years of park-forest care creates an unexpected and rich outdoor immersion. On an early-morning hike accompanied by birdsong, it’s easy to forget you in are a metro area of four million people.
Northern Lower Peninsula
2. Manistee River Trail and North Country Trail, Mesick
The Manistee River, one of America’s greatest trout rivers, is also home to one of the state’s most beautiful hikes. On the east side is the 11-mile Manistee River Trail; on the west side is a 12-mile section of the North County Trail. Combine them and you’ve got a rugged 23-mile loop with steep climbs, waterfalls, and seven backcountry campsites to choose from. A must-see: the 245-foot wooden suspension bridge (the largest in the Lower Peninsula) a short walk from the Hodenpyl Dam trailhead.
3. Au Sable River Highbanks Trail, Oscoda
With easy, mostly flat terrain and big views, the Highbanks Trail is perfect for families looking for an entry-level backpacking or hiking outing. The entire trail, which mostly sticks to the bluff above the river, is seven miles each way. If it’s a day hike you’re after, the four-mile section from the Iargo Springs trailhead to Lumberman’s Monument is the most scenic. If you’ve got time for an overnighter, camp at Monument Campground before backtracking to Iargo Springs the next day. Either way, bring your suit and rod: Several spur trails lead down to the river for fishing and swimming breaks.
4. Jordan River Pathway, Mancelona
Pack a fly rod and food for an overnight, and you’re set for the weekend on this 18-mile-long iconic Michigan trail. Your plan of attack: Start at the ridgetop trailhead at Deadman’s Hill, which serves up sweeping views of the forest below, and then drop into the Jordan River Valley. Your destination for the night is 10 miles away at the Pinney Bridge Campground, the only camp in the valley. Don’t forget the bug spray: Much of the terrain along the river is low and wet, and the bugs can be fierce in spring and early summer.
5. South Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Once you hit the island—a 90-minute ferry ride out of Leland Harbor—you’ve got options. Set up a sunshade at The Bay beach/campground and spend the day swimming, climbing to the base of the historic lighthouse, or hiking to see a sunken ship whose hull still rises above the waves. Want solitude? Hoof the flat and sandy trails 3.7 miles to the north shore’s Popple Campground, where you can scramble to the top of massive 450-foot-tall dunes. Ferry: Manitou Island Transit.
6. Wilderness State Park, Mackinaw City
Gracing the northernmost tip of Lower Michigan’s mitt, Wilderness State Park runs along the Mackinac Straits and is laced with nearly 40 miles of trails. The best way to experience it all? Stay at the main campground (250 sites, six cabins) and then load packs with beach supplies and walk the waterline seeking solitude for you and your crew. Come nightfall, drive five miles east to the Dark Sky Park and explore the heavens through a mighty telescope.
7. Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Area, Glennie
Neither motors nor bicycles are allowed in the aptly named Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Area. Plan an easy weekend with family ambling the 20 miles of trails that meander among 11,000 acres of kettle lakes and classic Michigan forest. Be sure to allow plenty of time to linger at the lakes and spend the night if possible: The backcountry campsites at Hoist Lakes see very little use and the state stocks South Hoist Lake with rainbow trout.
8. Isle Royale National Park, Lake Superior
Sitting in the northwest corner of rugged Lake Superior, this 45-mile-long, nine-mile-wide wilderness is tough to reach. Thanks to its remote location—getting there requires a 90-minute ferry ride from the nearest harbor—it’s home to the most pristine boreal forest in the lower 48, some 1,300 moose, and, according to last count, just two remaining wolves. Book a room at the Rock Harbor Lodge to plot your day hikes or use it as a basecamp for a multiday backpacking trip: The park has 170 spectacular miles of flat to moderately hilly hiking trails and 36 backcountry campsites. Tip: Go in late August when the bugs have decreased.
9. Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, Silver City
One of the few remaining large wilderness areas in the Midwest, the Porkies—a 60,000-acre park of ancient mountains rising 1,300 feet above Lake Superior—are rugged and wild, with nearly 110 miles of trails. Translation: Everything from easy day hikes to five-day backpacking loops is in play. There are 63 backcountry campsites, 19 rustic cabins, and three yurts in the park, but if you’ve only got a few hours, head for the Escarpment Trail (4.4 miles easy way), which traces a high rocky bluff and serves up panoramic views of both the park and lake.
10. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising
It might be best known as a paddling destination, but Pictured Rocks also features some of the most stunning lakeshore hiking in all of the Midwest. Hike the whole park if you can: The 42-mile trail—which starts in Grand Marais and finishes in Munising and doubles as the North Country National Scenic Trail—is the crown jewel of Michigan hikes, passing by lighthouses, shipwrecks, giant sand dunes, and, of course, its signature standstone cliffs and rock features. If you can’t swing the whole burrito, head for the heart of the park by hiking the 12-mile loop connecting Mosquito Beach and Chapel Beach.