The Great Lakes State offers thousands of miles of multi-use recreational trails for use by runners, hikers, bikers and others. And while each offers its own brand of magnificence, cultural charm or historic interest, here are eight that will be especially appealing to runners looking for a challenge while surrounded by nature in all its exquisite beauty.
Built on the old Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad line, the North Western State Trail, with endpoints in Petoskey and Mackinaw City, runs through 32 miles of gorgeous countryside. While the entire trail is well kept and picturesque, runners might want to focus on the 7.5-mile stretch of paved asphalt trail from Spring Lake Park in Petoskey to the village of Alanson.
From the park, the trail weaves through tunnels of trees past Mud and Round lakes, before traveling through the beautiful Fochtman and Hailand nature preserves and the village of Oden. Just beyond, it parallels M-31 all the way to Alanson, offering many excellent views of Crooked Lake.
Roughly halfway between Petoskey and Alanson, a trailhead with parking and restroom facilities is located at the Oden Fish Hatchery Visitor Center and offers an excellent starting point for shorter runs.
Traveling 93 miles from Grand Rapids to Cadillac along the old Michigan Northern section of the Penn Central Railroad, the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park holds the honor of being Michigan’s longest linear state park.
This scenic trail runs alongside US-131, offering numerous access points and plenty of options for trail runners. Two sections – from Sand Lake to Big Rapids and from Reed City to LeRoy – have hard-packed gravel surfaces, while the rest is paved asphalt.
The 24-mile stretch from Comstock Park, near the city of Grand Rapids, follows the Grand River before transitioning into the Rouge River Valley, where it passes through the villages of Belmont, Rockford and Cedar Springs on its way to Sand Lake.
Runners can access the trail at any one of these spots, making the area an excellent weekend destination for those who want to spend an afternoon relaxing in a park, shopping or sampling the local restaurants after a morning run.
On a map, the 12-mile Wadhams to Avoca Trail, stretching from the outskirts of Port Huron to Avoca, seems unassuming. But it’s really a hidden gem, built on a former CSX Rail line that runs through lovely rural landscapes.
The trail’s centerpiece, however, is the magnificent 640-foot-long, 60-foot tall Mill Creek Trestle that looms over the spectacular hardwood-covered valley. Erected in the late 1800s, the structure has been converted to a safe, railed pathway for trail users, and features four lookout areas where people can stop and admire the view.
Located just 1.5 miles from Avoca, the trestle, with its spectacular scenery, could be a turn-around spot for a short jaunt. Or, runners in the mood for a longer trek could start at the south end of the trail. From there, the first 5 miles are paved asphalt through suburban surroundings. Then the scenery changes, as does the surface – to fine screened, compacted limestone – all the way to Avoca.
Runners looking for a place to stretch their legs while vacationing in Michigan’s renowned Copper Country need only head to Houghton Waterfront Park and the starting point of the gorgeous Waterfront Trail.
It travels just 4.5 miles – all paved asphalt – but is plenty long for a quick early-morning or late-afternoon run, as an interlude to sight-seeing sessions. It follows the edge of the Keweenaw Waterway through downtown Houghton, past the campus of Michigan Technical University, and a series of waterfront parks before arriving at the Pilgrim River Bridge near Portage Lake.
If a 9-mile round-trip is too short, runners can choose to continue their trek along the adjoining Houghton Chassell Trail. It’s 5.75 miles of fine limestone aggregate that runs along Portage Lake to Chassell Centennial Park.
“Lush” might be the best word to describe the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail. The 10-mile pathway is fairly straight, flat and wide as it runs from Saginaw to St. Charles through a mix of residential and agricultural landscapes. But abundant foliage and trees along much of the corridor make it seem like you’re far removed from civilization.
Starting from Lumberjack Park in St. Charles, one of the trails first features is the exquisitely restored rail bridge that offers a stunning view of the Bad River.
A trailhead between the endpoints at the intersection of Van Wormer and Swan Creek roads offers parking, restroom facilities and drinking water – and options for runners who don’t want to tackle the entire trail.
The 10.5-mile paved asphalt trail follows the course of the Huron River between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, and it’s part of a larger project that will eventually link 35 miles of trail in Washtenaw County.
There are several entry and staging points along the way, but runners who take the trail from end-to-end will pass through a number of scenic parks, cross the Argo and Dixboro dams, and see a functional grist mill at Parker Mill County Park.
This scenic trail connects the city of Kalamazoo and the port city of South Haven on Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline. Between the two endpoints lies 34.5 miles of crushed limestone on an abandoned rail bed that passes through the towns of Gobles, Bloomingdale and Grand Junction.
Mostly flat, but with a slight grade at each end, the Kal-Haven Trail features a number of trailheads along its length that allow runners to pick and choose distances and scenery. Among its more notable highlights is the ghost town of Mentha, once well known for its production of peppermint oil, the Bloomingdale Depot Museum, the unique Camelback Bridge over Barber Creek near Grand Junction, and the rustic Covered Bridge that spans the Black River near South Haven.
Winding through the Pere Marquette Forest, and along the banks of the pristine Betsie River and shoreline of beautiful Crystal Lake, the Betsie Valley Trail overflows with natural beauty. The 22-mile trail stretches from Frankfort on Lake Michigan to the Crystal Mountains Resort area in Thompsonville.
Most of the trail is surfaced with crushed, compacted limestone, but runners who prefer paved asphalt can enjoy the nearly 7-mile stretch that runs from Frankfort to Mollineaux Road. It runs along the Betsie River State Game Reserve, and features an overlook with a superb view of the river valley.
From its southern end, the 13 miles of limestone trail from Thompsonville to Beulah, at the east end of Crystal Lake, is more remote, but it passes through fields and forests, including 6 miles of the majestic Pere Marquette Forest. With a variety of lodging and restaurants at either end of the trail, and a trailhead at Beulah, the Betsie Valley Trail is an excellent destination for runners who want to experience northern Michigan in all its splendor.
For more information, contact Michigan’s DNR office at 517-284-7275 or (517-284-PARK)