Best Hikes in Michigan

The diverse landscape, scenic vistas and varied terrain of Michigan’s many trail networks give hikers plenty to explore in the Great Lakes State. Whether you are visiting the remote and rugged trails of the Upper Peninsula or looking for a quick outing near the major metro areas, the state has a multitude of hiking trails to enjoy.

The terrain ranges from easy, wooded strolls through old-growth hardwood forests to the more challenging landscapes found on the islands and shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron. With lakes, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls and impressive forests, you won’t run out of options on the nearly 12,500 miles of state-designated trails and pathways.

 Warren Woods

    • Location: Warren Woods State Park, 73 miles southwest of Kalamazoo, MI
    • Length: 1.6-mile round-trip loop
    • Difficulty Rating: Easy
    • Best For: A family outing in a beautiful old-growth forest
    • Dogs: Leashed

Although most visitors to this area will head to nearby Warren Dunes State Park, those looking for a splendid short hike should not overlook Warren Woods State Park. Located inland from Lake Michigan, the attraction of the park is not the vast lake, but rather the last remaining beech-maple climax forest in the state of Michigan. The impressive trees, a mix of beech, sugar maple and tulip poplar trees, have grown in some places to be nearly 100 feet tall and five feet in diameter. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1967, the state park protects and preserves this unique ecosystem. You’ll enjoy a well-shaded hike in the summer months under the canopy of these giant trees, as well as scenic views along the Galien River.

Starting from the parking lot, head north on the Warren Woods Trail. The trail is not marked, but it is wide and well-used so you should have no trouble finding your way. As you approach the Galien River, the trees increase in height and circumference; take a moment to look up to appreciate the size of the forest. After about a third of a mile, you will come to the Galien River Overlook where a set of stairs descends to a bridge over the river. Benches offer a spot to sit and enjoy the views, and you can learn more about the area from several interpretive signs.

Continuing over the bridge, take an immediate right onto the narrow Warren Woods River Loop. This short extension follows the river before looping back to the main Warren Woods Trail, where the path widens again and takes you to the northern edge of the park. The trail ends here, and you can return south to the trailhead along the Warren Woods Trail.

Note that the parking lot is closed in the winter months—you can park on the shoulder of Warren Woods Road and hike in when the main lot is closed. There are two picnic tables and a vault toilet located at the trailhead. Be sure to bring bug spray in the summer months and be prepared for the footing to be a bit muddy near the river as the trail passes through a flood plain.

Two hikers along the trail at Warren Woods.

Hiking in Warren Woods (Photo Credit: HP Contributor Rafi Wilkinson)

Prairie Pathway

  • Location: Rouge Park, 15 miles west of downtown Detroit, MI
  • Length: 1.4-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy
  • Best For: A family-friendly escape in the city
  • Dogs: Leashed

Rouge Park is located on the western edge of Detroit, making for a pleasant getaway in the midst of the greater metro area. With nearly seven miles of trails and other activities to enjoy, the park is perfect for an easy family outing. It features nearly 15 acres of restored native prairie in addition to a butterfly garden that is particularly colorful in the late spring and early summer months when the wildflowers are in bloom. With the opportunity to spot butterflies and other animals such as deer, foxes, turkeys and other birds, this is an ideal spot for young children. Amateur (and professional) nature photographers will also enjoy capturing the variety of picturesque views along the path.

Parking can be found along the shoulder of West Outer Drive, and the trailhead is marked with a sign and informational kiosk. The Prairie Pathway is a wide, mown path that is broad enough for two people to walk side-by-side. You can choose to hike the loop in either direction, and the trail is very flat and easy with only a few sections of lumpy footing.

If hiking clockwise, the trail loops past the Butterfly Garden Trail roughly one mile into the hike. This short side trail is worth a quick trip to enjoy the native wildflowers and to see what insects you can spot. Continue on the Prairie Pathway to return to the trailhead. If looking for a longer outing, you can continue your hike on the other trails in the park.

Green Trail

  • Location: Haven Hill Natural Area, 45 miles northwest of Detroit, MI
  • Length: 5.0-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A pleasant outing passing through wetlands and woodlands
  • Dogs: Leashed

The Haven Hill Natural Area is a woodsy oasis located on the northeast side of the Highland State Recreation Area. With forests, marshes and lakes all nestled within the rolling terrain outside of the Detroit metro area, planning a day trip to enjoy the trails in Haven Hills is an easy undertaking.

Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976, the Haven Hill Natural Area contains a unique mix of Michigan’s primary forest types, including a swamp forest of tamarack and cedar, beech-maple forest, oak-hickory forest and mixed hardwood forest. The area is also home to a variety of wildlife and over 100 species of birds, making it a great spot for birdwatching. With nearby camping and plenty of trails to explore by foot, mountain bike or horseback, a trip to the area won’t disappoint.

The Green Trail starts from the southern parking area located off of Moraine Road. You can hike the loop in either direction, as the elevation change is very mild regardless of which way you go. Older children who can handle the distance will enjoy tackling this loop.

Heading clockwise, the trail passes through a mixed hardwood forest, skirting several marshy and wetland areas and small ponds. In the summer, the trail is well shaded. As the trail turns north, you will have some very mild, undulating terrain to navigate. The trail is wide and easy to follow as you loop around the northern edge of Haven Hill Natural Area. The path winds back to the south through more wooded terrain before passing by the eastern shore of Haven Hill Lake. You will then cross Haven Road before the final stretch of trail continues south to return to the trailhead.

Northern Loop

  • Location: North Manitou Island via ferry from Leland, MI, 27 miles northwest of Traverse City, MI
  • Length: 14.2-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A multiday backpacking trip with incredible stargazing
  • Dogs: No dogs

North Manitou Island, part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, offers a remote and unforgettable multiday backpacking trip. To get to the island, you will need to book tickets and take the ferry run by Manitou Transit Service which departs from Leland, MI. Note that the ferry may not run during inclement weather, so you’ll want to pack extra food and be prepared in the event that your departure from the island is delayed (rare, but possible).

Generally, you’ll need to be self-sufficient on the island as amenities are limited to one potable water source at the dock, a few designated campsites and one outhouse at the Village Campground. Once on the island, there are several trails to choose from, and you can opt for a variety of different hikes and overnight stays. A backcountry permit is required for any overnight stay, so be sure to pay for your permit before heading out. In the summer, remember to bring bug spray and sunscreen.

This three-day, two-night recommended route offers relatively easy backpacking. The daily mileage is manageable for less-experienced backpackers, and the gentle terrain is highlighted by stunning views of Lake Michigan.

From the dock, head south on the Classic Trail toward the cemetery. After about a mile, turn west onto the Cross-Island Trail, a wooded trail that cuts through the center of the island. The next four miles continue west through the woods descending to a second trail junction. Head north on the Classic Trail for a short way to reach the Crescent City Beach Access Trail. This sandy trail leads to the shore where you will find several backcountry campsites. Set up camp and get ready to enjoy a starry night sky—on a clear night, the Milky Way is dazzling.

The second day continues on the Classic Trail where you will encounter the moderate incline of the “Old Grade.” This 1.5-mile gradual climb is the most challenging section of the hike. The trail winds around to the north of the inland Lake Manitou and onto the Maleski Homestead Trail. You’ll hike past the remnants of the John Maleski homestead, where old farm fields are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Continue onto a steep bluff overlooking the lake where you can make camp for your second night. The hike concludes on day three with a leisurely three-mile hike along the shoreline to return to the ferry dock.

A view of the Milky Way over the shores of Lake Michigan on North Manitou Island.

The Milky Way while backpacking on North Manitou Island. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project contributor Rafi Wilkinson.

Potawatomi Trail

  • Location: Pinckney Recreation Area, 57 miles west of Detroit, MI
  • Length: 17.5-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A classic hike in southeast Michigan
  • Dogs: Leashed

With over 40 miles of multiuse trails, an extensive lake and stream system, camping and a wooded, backcountry feel, Pinckney Recreation Area makes an idyllic weekend getaway. Located within driving distance of the Detroit metro area, you can easily plan an overnight adventure or a day trip to the park.

With other activities like fishing, swimming, kayaking and mountain biking to enjoy, the area is a fun place to take the entire family. The large main parking lot is located on the east end of the park by Silver Lake; note that the trails are closed from dusk to dawn. Remember to bring sunscreen and bug spray if visiting in the warmer months. Hunting is also allowed in the park, so be sure to wear bright colors as you may encounter hunters, especially September through November.

This loop hike starts on the east end near Silver Lake. You can complete the loop going either direction, but hiking counterclockwise is recommended—it’s the opposite direction of mountain bike traffic, which makes sharing the trail a bit easier. If you aren’t up for the full 17.5-mile loop, there are several cutoffs and connecting trails that will allow you to customize the distance of your hike. All the trails are well-marked, so you should have no trouble staying on track.

Heading north and west from the start, the Potawatomi Trail skirts forest that’s predominantly maple, oak and hickory along Silver Lake before winding west around the north end of Crooked Lake. There are many stream crossings in the area, but most have bridges so you should be able to keep your feet dry during much of the year. If you’re planning on doing the full loop, continue north past the Potawatomi Shortcut Trail, but if you want to cut about five miles off your hike, take this shortcut instead.

Continuing on the main trail, you’ll loop around Gosling Lake before turning south again. The eskers and rolling moraine create a unique landscape that’s a testament to the area’s glacial history—it is not uncommon to spot glacial erratics (large boulders) throughout the park, so keep an eye out on your hike. This next section of the hike passes by many of the lakes in the area—notably Halfmoon Lake, Blind Lake and Watson Lake. The trail then turns back to the east to return to the parking lot.

Chapel Loop

  • Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 62 miles east of Marquette, MI
  • Length: 10.6-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A remarkable escape to the shores of Lake Superior
  • Dogs: No dogs

A trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a treat you won’t want to miss. This particular hike has a sampling of many of the iconic Upper Peninsula sights—waterfalls, cliffs, coves, arches, sandy beaches and beautiful viewpoints overlooking the clear, green-blue waters of Lake Superior.

Designated as America’s first National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks is known for its towering sandstone cliffs and the remote solitude of its northern woodlands. You can choose to explore the area by foot on the many miles of trail, or rent a kayak or canoe to continue your exploration on the water. When out hiking, you’ll want to come prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen, and don’t forget the insect repellent—biting flies and mosquitoes are notorious, especially near the beaches. The area is also home to larger animals such as bears, so take the appropriate precautions if planning a day trip or overnight backpack.

This hike is highlighted by a pristine forest, spectacular views of the colorful sandstone cliffs, a variety of waterfalls and the hike’s namesake, Chapel Rock. The loop starts from the parking area at the end of Chapel Road. If you’re visiting in winter, the road to the trailhead is not plowed so you’ll want to plan accordingly.

If hiking clockwise, you’ll start through the wooded Mosquito River basin, heading toward Mosquito Beach. The Mosquito Falls Trail takes you past scenic Mosquito Falls before winding back to the northwest to the shore of Lake Superior. Here you’ll follow a short section of the North Country Trail along the edge of the sandstone cliffs that form the shoreline. Take your time to enjoy the numerous viewpoints of the colorful overhanging cliffs, sandstone arches and wooded shoreline.

From Chapel Beach, cross a small creek and climb up to Chapel Rock—a free-standing sandstone pillar that’s the remnant of a Cambrian-age sandstone arch. Although the arch collapsed in the 1940s, the beach and remnant of Chapel Rock are still picturesque. Once you are finished exploring the area, continue on the Chapel Rock Trail to return to the trailhead. Despite hiking away from the shore, you will still enjoy plenty of scenery on this wooded trail which winds along the southeast side of Chapel Lake and passes Chapel Falls before ending at the parking area.

Tahquamenon Falls Route

  • Location: Tahquamenon Falls State Park, 89 miles northeast of Munising, MI
  • Length: 5.8-mile point-to-point
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A hilly hike to see several memorable waterfalls
  • Dogs: Leashed

Tahquamenon Falls State Park combines the unique, rugged beauty of the Upper Peninsula with the park’s centerpiece, the Tahquamenon River. At 50 feet high and 200 feet wide, the Upper Falls of the Tahquamenon is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. The falls can be viewed from an observation platform or, for more adventurous visitors, on a hike to the bottom of the falls or along the river for further exploration into the interior of the park. In addition to hiking, visitors can enjoy camping, backpacking, fishing and canoeing. Don’t forget your bug spray!

Autumn is a particularly scenic time to visit, as the changing foliage along the riverbank makes for perfect photo opportunities. Keep an eye open for wildlife too, as moose, black bear, coyotes, otter, deer, fox, porcupine, beavers and mink may be spotted in the park. For out-of-state visitors, there is a daily admission fee that can be paid upon entering the park if you don’t have a Michigan Recreational Passport.

This hike is best done as a point-to-point during the summer when the park shuttle runs regularly. Alternatively, you can arrange to be picked up at the end, or simply make this an out-and-back hike of your desired length.

The hike starts at the Brink of the Upper Tahquamenon Falls (a wooden observation platform at the top of the falls) before heading out on the Upper Falls Connector Trail which leads to the Tahquamenon River. You may be surprised by the hue of the water, which is a dark molasses color due to the tannins produced by the trees in the nearby forests and swamps.

From the falls, head downriver following a section of the North Country Trail, also known as the River Trail. Along the way, you can stop at several observation points, including a descent of 116 steps to a platform that looks back over the Upper Falls.

The trail continues with some moderate ups and downs following along the river, heading toward the Lower Falls. If it has rained recently, the trail can be muddy and slippery in places. Once you reach the Lower Falls, take a break to appreciate this interesting waterfall—while not as grand as the Upper Falls, the waterfall is split by an island, forming many smaller cascades.

In the warmer months, you can get up close to the falls and dip your feet in the river for post-hike refreshment. From the Lower Falls, it is a short stroll on a wide and well-maintained path to parking lot.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls in the fall.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls in the fall. (Photo Credit: HP Contributor Carl Ignash)

Dunes Trail

  • Location: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 28 miles northwest of Traverse City, MI
  • Length: 3.7-mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A sandy dune hike to reach the shores of Lake Michigan
  • Dogs: No dogs

A trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore gives visitors a chance to enjoy the best that Lake Michigan has to offer. On a warm, busy day you will have to share the impressive dunes and stretches of pristine shoreline with others, but with the many miles of lakeshore, the crowds quickly disperse.

Although the national lakeshore offers a wide variety of landscapes to explore, visitors should not overlook a hike on the dunes themselves. These towering sand dunes offer a unique perspective of Lake Michigan and also provide a fun day out when combined with a swim. Be sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water. Additionally, even though you may want to walk part of the way barefoot, shoes or sandals are recommended as the sand can get hot on a sunny day, and the dunes have some scrubby grasses and shrubs to navigate.

This hike, although under 4 miles in length, is a more strenuous outing than you may expect due to the sandy nature of the trail, so allow plenty of time (at least several hours). Additionally, be aware that the climb back from the shoreline can feel more strenuous as you get tired—so if you’re hiking with kids, make sure they save enough energy for the return journey.

The Dunes Trail hike starts from the large Dune Climb parking area. You’ll start up the large sand dune—look for blue-tipped wooden posts that mark the way. After you reach the top of the first dune, the route will climb and descend several smaller dunes while overall trending down toward the shore of Lake Michigan.

After the last dune, you’ll descend to the narrow, sandy beach. Take a dip to cool off on a hot day or enjoy a stroll along the shoreline in either direction before making the return journey up the dunes to the parking area. On the way back, you will have inland views of Little Glen Lake which make for a pleasant break on the climb back to the trailhead.

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness Loop

  • Location: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, 75 miles southwest of Houghton, MI
  • Length: 21.2-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: An adventurous backpacking excursion with excellent views and variety of terrain
  • Dogs: Leashed

Home to an expansive and stunning wilderness, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is one of the few remaining wilderness areas of the Midwest. As Michigan’s largest state park, the nearly 60,000 acres is home to impressive old-growth forest, many miles of shoreline trails along Lake Superior, superb backcountry camping and many streams and rivers.

In addition to the nearly 90 miles of hiking trails, visitors should plan to stop and enjoy the scenery at Lake of the Clouds (which has an ADA accessible viewing area) and the Summit Peak Observation Tower.

Other unique activities offered by the state park include an 18-hole disc golf course, the scenic drive along Presque Isle River Corridor and, in the winter, a trip to the Porcupine Mountain Ski Area. The park also offers several overnight options, including campgrounds, cabins, yurts and a lodge. Be aware that black bears are frequently spotted in the park, so take the appropriate precautions when camping. Additionally, the roads are closed from December 1 into early spring, so check the park’s website for current conditions.

This loop hike is a strenuous but rewarding outing that highlights some of the best views, memorable scenery and challenging terrain that the Porcupine Mountains have to offer. At just over 20-miles, this loop is best tackled as a multiday backpack with one to two nights at backcountry campsites (be sure to reserve your site in advance).

Starting from the Lake of the Clouds Trailhead, you are greeted with the impressive vista of the Lake of the Clouds overlook. From here you can enjoy expansive views of both Lake of the Clouds and Lake Superior. This popular viewpoint can be a bit crowded, but once you head out on the trail, you’ll appreciate a more remote experience.

From the viewpoint, the hike continues on the North Mirror Lake Trail which heads southwest to Mirror Lake. From here, if you are looking for a shorter loop for a long day hike, you have the option to take the Correction Line Trail. If continuing on the full loop, hike southwest on the Little Carp River Trail. This trail is wooded and has some undulating ups and downs.

You’ll eventually hike a short section of the North Country Trail to connect over to the Cross Trail. This four-mile trail makes a steady and gradual descent all the way to the rocky shore of Lake Superior, where several good campsite options and splendid views can be found. The loop concludes on the Big Carp River Trail, where a steady climb takes you up to the ridge on a forested trail. Keep your eyes and ears open as you can spot many waterfalls along the way. The climb brings you back to the Lake of the Clouds overlook where you can once again survey the impressive landscape that you just hiked.

Viewpoint overlooking the Lake of the Clouds.

A viewpoint overlooking the Lake of the Clouds. (Photo Credit: HP Contributor Chris Rozoff)

Minong Ridge Traverse

  • Location: Isle Royale National Park, 73 miles via ferry north of Houghton, MI  
  • Length: 29.2-mile point-to-point
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A once-in-a-lifetime adventure
  • Dogs: No dogs

A trip to Isle Royale National Park is no small undertaking due to its remote location in the far north of Lake Superior. Access to the island from Michigan is via two ferries, seaplane or private watercraft; visit the park’s website for details and to arrange your transportation to the island. (The island can also be accessed via ferries departing from Minnesota.)

Once on the island, your choices for exploring include day hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, fishing and boating. Whether you choose to explore on foot or by water, the rugged and pristine beauty of the island is quickly apparent in the verdant forests and Lake Superior’s clear waters. There is an entry fee for the park, and any overnight trips will require a permit. Due to rough winter weather, the park is closed annually from November 1 to April 15.

The challenging Minong Ridge Trail is not to be taken lightly. That said, the stunning scenery along the trail makes the challenge well worth the effort. Most people choose to hike the trail from east to west, as this direction is generally a bit easier.

Once you have been dropped off on Isle Royale at Rock Harbor, you will need to arrange transportation on the Voyageur II ferry to get to the start of the trail at McCargoe Cove. From here, your journey begins with an undulating climb to Pine Mountain. Along the way, you’ll pass the short Minong Mine Spur Trail that leads to the remnants of what was once the largest copper mine on the island. Continuing on the Todd Harbor Campground Connector, you’ll reach the Todd Harbor Camp which has a single shelter and a few campsites.

The next leg of the journey is a bit easier, with more gradual grades as you cross a marshy lowland (depending on the conditions, you may get your feet wet). Your next opportunity to set up camp is via the Little Todd Harbor Trail to the north connecting to Little Todd, a picturesque shoreline spot where you can enjoy views of Lake Superior from your campsite.

From Little Todd, the next segment of trail is the most challenging, with steep and sustained climbs and a few sections of technical scrambling. Once you’ve gained the ridgeline, you will have unobstructed views of Lake Superior and the rest of Isle Royale. The trail continues along the north side of Lake Desor, where you have the option to take the North Lake Desor Campground Spur Trail to set up camp by the lake.

The final stretch of trail from Lake Desor to the Windigo Visitor Center is slightly easier, but a long mileage day at just over 12 miles. The views are still enjoyable, making up for the challenging ups and downs. Once you reach the trail’s end, you have the option to spend another night at the Washington Creek Campground or, if you make it to the docks in the early afternoon, you can hop on the ferry to return to the mainland.