Michigan has over 1,000 miles of designated equestrian trails, plus more than 20 horse-friendly campgrounds. Add in all the trail riding opportunities offered at the many commercial stables, and it’s pretty clear that “The Trails State” caters heavily to folks who think the best view is always from high in the saddle.
We’ve cast the spotlight on a handful of Michigan’s amazing equestrian trails and campgrounds that offer extended multi-day experiences, interesting day trips, and excellent facilities for horse camping. But there are many more that deserve their fair share of attention. For now, though, these are good places to start.
200-Mile Trail Ride
The granddaddy of all Michigan equestrian trails, the Shore-to-Shore Trail, was established in the early 1960s by connecting and marking existing trails, two-tracks and forest roads. Today, it stretches 220 miles across eight counties in the northern Lower Peninsula — from the village of Empire on Lake Michigan, all the way to Lake Huron near Oscoda, MI.
It has the distinction of being the longest continuous trail in the Lower Peninsula, passing through upland and lowland areas, along backroads and byways. Then, its eastern leg follows the beautiful AuSable River as it flows to Lake Huron.
With trail camps established at roughly 25-mile intervals, the Shore-to-Shore Trail offers a unique opportunity for long-distance rides. In fact, the Michigan Trail Riders Association, which supports and maintains the trail, sponsors several organized multi-day rides for its members each year. Individual riders or groups should check campground availability and accommodations when planning a trip.
A short drive on U.S. 23 from the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti urban complex, the Pinckney Recreation Area encompasses 1,000 acres of woods, wetlands and meadows, and offers equestrians 13 miles of riding trails to explore.
An oasis of natural splendor in a semi-rural landscape, the area is popular among bikers, hikers and campers, as well as trail riders. The Pinckney Trail Riders Association develops and cares for the trail system, which is classified as moderately hilly with a section traversing glacial ridges that offers exceptionally stunning scenery, especially during spring and fall. And if riders want to extend their day, they can connect with the Lakelands Trail State Park and its 13 miles of gravel trail through rolling hills to the village of Stockbridge.
Plus, access to the Pinckney trails is easy; riders can disembark directly from campsites at Hell Creek Campgrounds, or from the Monks Road staging area, which boasts many rider-friendly amenities such as a pavilion, picnic tables, picket posts, a water source and more.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Named for Yankee Bill Lewis, who owned a hotel on the stagecoach route between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo in the 1800s, the 5,200-acre Yankee Springs Recreation Area has several lakes and streams, and it’s open to campers, hikers, bikers and other outdoor recreation seekers. Overall, the terrain is fairly rugged, with a mixture of upland areas, bogs and marshes.
It also offers three equestrian loop trails — 4-Mile, 6-Mile and 9-Mile — cared for by the Yankee Springs Trail Riders Association, the longest of which extends into the adjacent Barry State Game Area. The trails pass through woodland areas and along lakes and streams, making for a varied and challenging riding experience.
Riders looking for a multi-day excursion can reserve a spot at The Horseman’s Camp, built by association member-volunteers. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring and picket posts, while a picnic shelter and community fire ring offer opportunities to mingle with fellow riders.
Among the Elk
One of Michigan’s top equestrian destinations is the Elk Hill Equestrian State Forest Campground and Trail Camp in Otsego County. Situated on the famous Shore-to-Shore Trail’s North Spur, it’s nestled in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, which is home to the largest herd of free-roaming elk in the eastern U.S.
From there, riders can head south on the North Spur to connect with the Shore-to-Shore Trail, or ride north toward Cheboygan, MI. They can also choose to ride any of the beautiful loop trails through the state forest.
The campgrounds have 11 sites for tent and small trailer use, and six of them can accommodate a 40-foot vehicle. Reservations must be made at least 72 hours in advance.
Riding in the UP
While Michigan’s Upper Peninsula recalls many things — from the imposing scenery of the Lake Superior shoreline, to Mackinac Island’s famous fudge shops, and seemingly endless miles of pristine forest — it’s also a place where the equestrian lifestyle is alive and healthy.
There are a number of places riders can enjoy Mother Nature’s best in the UP, however, a couple of them stand out. The Bay de Noc/Grand Island National Recreation Trail is historically significant, while the Headquarters Lake Equestrian Campground is designed especially for camping with horses.
Stretching 40 miles from Rapid River, MI, at the tip of Lake Michigan’s Little Bay de Noc, all the way Munising, MI, on the Lake Superior coast, the Bay de Noc/Grand Island trail was used first by American Indians, then later by early fur traders to transport supplies and wares between the two big lakes.
The trail travels through the Hiawatha National Forest, and is fairly level at the south end as it passes stands of pine and aspen and the occasional natural meadow, and features several river crossings. It also parallels the Whitefish River, offering several views of the river valley. Farther north, the terrain turns more glacial, with scattered rolling hills with level stretches in between.
Riders can access the Bay de Noc/Grand Island trail at any of three staging areas where they can find parking, tethering areas, water wells and camping.
Among Michigan’s newer equestrian facilities is Headquarters Lake Campground near Newberry, MI, in Luce County. Central to many trails through state forest lands, the campground has six sites for overnighters that are available on a first-come/first-served basis. Water, vault toilets and a community fire ring are all provided, as is access to some excellent trail riding opportunities. Though the number of camp sites is limited, the campground also has day-use staging areas, where riders out for the day can park and stage their equipment.