9 of the best scenic hikes in Michigan

Destinations

You’re going to need a decent pair of hiking boots to grasp the natural grandeur of Michigan on foot. 

The largest state east of the Mississippi offers thousands of miles of hiking trails that cut through everything from dense forests of scented pines and tumbling cascades to glimmering mountaintop lakes seemingly left there for the gods. The Great Lakes look even greater from some of the state’s hard-hiked vantage points.

For a full list of the state’s routes, visit Michigan Trail Finder, but for a selection of the very best, here are our favorite hikes across the state.

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The Empire Bluff Trail follows Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore © Craig Sterken / Shutterstock

Empire Bluff Trail 

Best hike for year-round adventure

1.5 miles round trip, 30–45 minutes, easy

The Empire Bluff Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is widely considered one of Michigan’s best hikes because of its brevity and beautiful scenery. This easy trek affords fantastic views of Lake Michigan for minimum effort. Although the round trip distance is less than 2 miles, this hike requires a fair amount of dune climbing. 

The bluff itself rises more than 400ft above the sandy shoreline of the lake and is well worth the hike alone as the views of the water come entirely unobstructed. This year-round trail is also good for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in winter. It’s a great hike for families and can generally be completed in under an hour.

Iron Belle Trail (Mackinac Island segment)

Best hike for families

8 miles round trip, 3–4 hours, easy

The Iron Belle is the longest designated state trail in the US, traveling through hundreds of municipalities and crossing through 48 counties in Michigan. The route combines a series of existing trails, networks and connections, creating one long hike that extends more than 2000 miles from the far western tip of the Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle in Detroit.

The route has dedicated passages for bicycling and hiking, but the segment on Mackinac Island is family-friendly, paved and wheelchair accessible. The path runs around the entirety of the island, showcasing the blue-green waters of Lake Huron and the quaint sights of Mackinac Island, including 19th-century buildings and charming old shops. The only obstacles hikers will face are the distracting downtown fudge shops, the chance to peek inside the immaculate Grand Hotel and the horse and carriages that share the trail.

Walk the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, Michigan

Sugarloaf Mountain 

Best hike in the Upper Peninsula 

1 mile round trip,  20–30 minutes, easy

Sugarloaf Mountain is a relatively quick and easy hike that rewards trekkers with some of the most stunning views found in the Upper Peninsula. The peak is roughly 1000ft above sea level, allowing climbers stunning panoramic views of Lake Superior and beyond. 

Hikers have two different routes to get to the top: a steeper path for those who want to power up the hill quickly and a more gradual trail that takes a bit longer to summit. Most hikers summit Sugarloaf for the views, but the journey through the forest canopy during the hike is worthwhile, too.

At the top, three viewing platforms offer slightly different vantage points of the scenery below. The first observation deck faces south toward Marquette with views of the Superior Dome, the Upper Ore Dock and Presque Isle Park. The second is north toward Wetmore Landing and Little Presque Isle island. The third looks west for a nice view of Hogsback Mountain.

A large empty lake lined with tall pine trees with yellowing leaves
Au Sable River Foot Trail runs through Hartwick Pines State Park © ehrlif / Getty Images

Au Sable River Foot Trail

Best hike for nature

3.2 miles round trip, 1–2 hours, moderate

The Au Sable River Foot Trail is set in the heart of northern Michigan in 49 acres of pristine forest known as the Hartwick Pines. This area is something of a rarity, particularly in a state that used to be the biggest supplier of virgin timber in the US. 

Bestowed to Michigan by Karen Hartwick, a lumberman’s daughter, on the understanding that the trees would be protected, hikers can now get a close-up of these extraordinary pines via the Au Sable River Foot Trail, which crosses the Au Sable River twice. If you have time, complete the leisurely Old Growth Forest Trail too. Only 1 mile long, it takes visitors to a reconstructed logging camp (now an educational center) and a Logging Museum.

North Country Scenic Trail

Best long-distance hike

Lengths and durations vary, moderate

The Michigan section of the North Country Scenic Trail is legendary. The hike – one of the longest in the National Trails System – runs for some 4700 miles, taking in eight states from North Dakota to Vermont.

Spanning the entire length of Michigan, including both peninsulas, hikers can start and finish at several points across the state. The trail traverses east to west across the Upper Peninsula for a mighty 550 miles. It then goes over the Mackinac Bridge at the Straits of Mackinac before continuing for another 600 miles to Ohio.

The North Country Trail has numerous camping options, from primitive backcountry sites to established campgrounds and rustic shelters. Hikers can check out the NCT’s interactive map for updated suggestions on where to camp. Always consider backcountry permits, campground fees, fire restrictions and waste disposal. Keep in mind the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

It’s important to prepare properly for this hike. The Michigan section includes some of the most remote, uninhabited territory on the entire trail.

A viewpoint over a lake surrounded by woodland. A small group of hikers stand to the left on a rocky outcrop
The Escarpment Trail passes the stunning Lake of the Clouds overlook © jimfeng / Getty Images

Escarpment Trail 

Best hike for scenery

8.1 miles round trip, 4–5 hours, moderate

Known as the “crown jewel of hikes,” the Escarpment Trail in Upper Michigan is one of the most scenic hikes in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Following the northern ridge of the eponymous peaks, this dog-friendly trail (on-leash only) offers beautiful views and diverse terrain.

Trekkers cut along a ridge that stretches from the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area all the way past the Lake of the Clouds overlook, which has knockout views of the photogenic tarn and vistas out over the sugar maple-covered valley. The terrain is fairly rugged for the first mile as the trail climbs to the ridge, but it levels off at the summit. 

Those who want an easier trek – but with the same stunning views – should start at the overlook and hike down to the parking lot. Shuttle buses take hikers back to the top.

Pyramid Point Loop Trail

Best lakeside hike

3 miles round trip, 2 hours, moderate to challenging

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore boasts more than 100 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to more challenging treks. But its most scenic route goes up to Pyramid Point, a dune that offers spectacular sights of the lake below. It is often less crowded than the other routes, too.

The trek passes through wildflower meadows and forests of paper birch over gently rolling sand dunes. Hikers who make it to the top are rewarded with breathtaking views over Lake Michigan. Beware that the steep ascent can be difficult. 

Dragon Trail 

Best hike in the Lower Peninsula

Lengths and durations varies, challenging

The Dragon Trail in the Eastern Lower Peninsula is unique because it’s growing by the day. The first 21.75 miles of this new route are complete and open to the public. Featuring seven fiberglass truss bridges and several scenic overlooks, hikers will find plenty of variety as it cuts across 400ft of wooden boardwalk and 100ft of rock armoring. For bikers, there’s some 55,000ft of optimized trail, too. 

Construction started on the trail in summer 2019. It has been built with nature in mind, and hikers will get access to lush forest, numerous parks and campgrounds. Its water crossings and scenic overlooks prioritize protecting the existing environment.

Man standing on a rocky outcrop watches the red sky of a sunrise over Lake Superior at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan
The Rock Harbor Trail leads hikers through untouched wilderness on Isle Royale National Park © Carl TerHaar / Getty Images

Rock Harbor Trail

Best hike in a national park

10.7 miles one way, duration varies, challenging

Isle Royale National Park is technically one of the least visited national parks, but it’s one of the most popular for return visitors. Accessible only by private watercraft, seaplane or ferry (reservations recommended), Isle Royale National Park feels like an utterly untouched wilderness. The park has 165 miles of trails, but the Rock Harbor Trail is ideal for hikers who want a short day trek – or for those easing into a longer backcountry excursion. 

This point-to-point trail features views of Mott Island, the park’s summer headquarters, and winds past a collection of campgrounds with a balance of elevation gain and loss. Adventurous hikers won’t find anywhere more rugged and wild in the entire state.

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