The experience many hikers, bicyclists and afternoon strollers seek is simply being on the trail and enjoying their companions and surroundings. There are plenty of others, though, whose time on the trail is best topped off with a special reward—a unique experience, a breathtaking view, an intriguing discovery and Michigan trails can provide that.
Nationally known as “The Trails State,” Michigan offers thousands of miles of recreational trails, and more than a few of them offer an extraordinary twist along the way that will satisfy any reward seeker-types who read this. Here is but a handful that all will enjoy, especially early birds, night owls and determined trekkers.
Early Bird Special
Just 8 miles in length, the Huron Sunrise Trail, running from Rogers City along Lake Huron’s western shoreline to Forty Mile Point, packs a wonderfully scenic wallop any time of day. For the all-time ultimate trail experience, however, hikers, bikers and skaters should do as its name suggests and be on the trail at dawn.
From its northern endpoint at the historic Forty Mile Lighthouse Park, the asphalt and concrete trail first runs through lush woodlands in Hoeft State Park. From there, all the way to Seagull Point Park in Rogers City, it hugs the shoreline, offering wide-open views of the big lake — and an awe-inspiring spectacle when the sun peeks over the horizon.
After a breathtaking sunrise experience, hikers and riders might want to take a side trip into the Herman Vogler Conservation Area before heading for a cup of coffee, or one of the many city parks scattered about the trail.
After Dark Discovery
On the opposite side of the Lower Peninsula, sky gazers can experience the incredible beauty of a night sky over the Great Lakes at Emmet County’s Headlands International Dark Sky Park, and its Dark Sky Discovery Trail.
The park, just 2 miles east of Mackinaw City, had to meet a substantial list of requirements, dealing with things such as light pollution and sky brightness to be officially classified as a dark sky park. And the trail, while it’s just a mile long, leads to one of the most unique spots in the state — the Headlands Dark Sky Viewing Area, where stars, planets, northern lights and lunar eclipses can be seen under the best possible viewing conditions.
To be frank, visitors can drive to the Viewing Area, but those who walk the trail will encounter several Discovery Stations, each featuring artwork and a display board that interprets man’s relationship with the night sky over the centuries and across several cultures. Additional audible information is available via cell phone by dialing a posted number or scanning a QR Code.
The park also features several miles of woodland and coastal trails that visitors can enjoy before their Dark Sky experience.
Trail of Iron
Visitors to the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula don’t have to wait ‘til journey’s end to enjoy a unique experience. Instead, there’s something all along the 47-mile trail that allows hikers, bikers and off-roaders to immerse themselves in the rich history of an industry that shaped not only the state of Michigan, but also the entire nation.
Running from Marquette on the shores of Lake Superior to the village of Republic, it passes through the Marquette Iron Range where, first with picks and shovels and eventually with modern machinery of the day, miners harvested the ore that helped build the country. Parts of the trail are paved, while others feature crushed rock or natural surfaces, and along the way visitors will encounter interpretive signage, two mining museums, as well as mine shafts, forges, furnaces, structures and other relics of a bygone era.
Near the village of Neguanee the trail crosses an area where the Jackson Mine, the first iron ore mine in the Lake Superior region, is located.
Falls to Falls
Tahquamenon Falls State Park, covering a bit more than 46,000 acres, is the second largest state park in Michigan. Located in the Upper Peninsula’s Chippewa County, its centerpiece is the beautiful and tannic-stained Tahquamenon River. It also features 40 miles of hiking trails, with the most popular and most scenic being the 4-mile Tahquamenon River Trail that connects the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls.
The Upper Falls is more than 200 feet wide with nearly a 50-foot fall, making it one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. The Lower Falls is actually a cascade of smaller waterfalls that sweep around a mid-stream island.
The trail between the two winds through old-growth forest, following the river as it makes its way to Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay. Exposed roots and hilly terrain make it the most challenging of the park’s trails, so hikers should come prepared; sturdy footwear, water and insect repellent are recommended. This trek requires some work, but the reward is worthwhile.
Beauty in the Backcountry
Water, weather and time have carved the sandstone cliffs along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore into a geologic wonder unmatched by anything else on Lake Superior. Overseen by the National Park Service, this protected area welcomes visitors who come to enjoy its beaches, hardwood forests and especially the jaw-dropping lakeshore landscapes. It offers untold recreational opportunities, including 100 miles of hiking trails, wildlife viewing and even drive-to camping.
Yet, among the thousands who visit this pristine natural area, relatively few take on the full length of the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail. It runs 40 some miles between the towns of Grand Marais and Munising, passing massive sand dunes, rugged sandstone cliffs, as well as historic lighthouses and the remnants of old ships that ran aground or were simply overtaken by the sometimes violent lake long ago.
Part of the famous North Country Trail, the Lakeshore Trail is meant for those with the stamina and skills for backcountry hiking and camping. Hikers should plan to be on the trail 4 to 5 days, and must secure a permit for overnight treks. Trail conditions are subject to the weather that could result in trail-blocking blowdowns, trail closure due to erosion and/or unstable terrain, and other impediments and obstacles. As always, hikers must use good trail sense when tackling this trek.