What are Michigan's Top 10 Trails? We Ask Those in the Know...

Posted 11/20/13 by Nancy Krupiarz in America's Trails

Photo © TrailLink.com

The trails of Michigan are marked by their diversity. With more miles of rail-trails than any other state in the nation, Michigan boasts recreational options for everyone, from the snow travelers to the bird watchers, history buffs and long distance riders of horses and bikes. 

Possibly the only thing these dramatically different trails share in common is the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, whose advocacy and local organization for many years has supported trail building all over the state.

No one knows Michigan Trails like the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. So, we decided to ask the expert - MTGA Executive Director Nancy Krupiarz.

Organized by section of the state, here is a list of top 10 trails in Michigan...

Upper Peninsula

Iron Ore Heritage Trail - 30 miles: Marquette County

  • Unique mining heritage interpretation with artfully designed markers.
  • Enjoyed by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and road and mountain bikers.
  • Surface is a combination of asphalt paving and crushed granite.
  • Next stage, from Winthrop Junction to Republic, is open to the public but not developed.

"The Recreation Authority, which includes the county, three cities and five townships, was successful at passing a property tax rate increase in order to build and maintain the trail. This ensured the trail had a strong foundation for moving ahead."

Northern Lower

Photo © TrailLink.com

Little Traverse Wheelway - 26 miles: Charlevoix and Emmet counties (below)

  • Paved except for a .6-mile wooden boardwalk over wooded wetlands, and a sidewalk portion through the historic Bay View neighborhood, dominated by charming Victorian-era homes.
  • Connects to Petoskey State Park and several city parks.
  • Three replicas of historic arches inscribed with "No Teaming or Driving,"  symbolizing pre-railroad times during horse and buggy days. 
  • Connects to Little Traverse History Museum.
  • Tunnel under U.S. 31 connects to the quaint shopping district of Petoskey with many interesting shops and eateries.

"One of the great things about this trail is the variety of wonderful views, from high along a bluff overlooking sparkling Lake Michigan, to right down to the water's edge through elongated grassy parks and through woods."

Leelanau Trail - 15.5 miles: Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties

  • Fully paved, from Traverse City, with terrific shops, breweries and restaurants, to Suttons Bay, a quaint, artsy village.
  • Pure countryside, with rolling hills and scenic panoramic views along with sections of lush woods. 
  • Trail connects at several cross roads to a number of wineries within biking distance.
  • Connects to a network of public hiking trails on Leelanau Conservancy property.

"The Leelanau Trail is managed by TART (Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation) Trails, Inc., a dynamic nonprofit that advocates, builds, maintains, and programs trails.  Their continual engagement with the community is the most successful in the state, with hundreds of locals helping to monitor and maintain the trail, and run events and programs."

Mid Michigan

Lansing River Trail - 13 miles: Ingham County (below)

  • Fully paved, and crosses under several major highways, allowing for smooth passage through the middle of downtown.
  • Follows the river along its entire length.
  • Trail managed by the City of Lansing, but now has a brand new friends group, 40 members strong and ready to help with maintenance and special initiatives.
  • Great in the winter, too.

"The obvious strength of this trail is its wealth of connections. It links major Lansing attractions such as Hawk Island County Park, Potter Park Regional Zoo, Impressions 5 Science Center, the Lansing City Market, downtown Lansing, and Old Town, an artfully renovated historic shopping district, as well as connecting Michigan State University to downtown Lansing."

Pere Marquette Trail - 21 miles: Clare, Lake, Midland and Osceola counties

  • Fully paved, and very well-maintained by Midland County Parks and Recreation. 
  • Beautifully appointed trail following the Tittabawassee River with several nature overlooks.
  • Connects to several cultural attractions here, such as the Dow Historical Museum and a number of historic homes.
  • Runs alongside the beautiful tree-lined campus of Northwood University.

"A definite highlight of this Hall of Fame Rail-Trail is its journey from several small towns into the heart of downtown Midland to the foot of the "Tridge," an impressive 3-spanned bridge at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers."

West Michigan

Kal-Haven Trail - 34.5 miles: Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties (below)

  • The first state-owned rail-trail, and the second rail-trail conversion, in Michigan
  • It's the first segment of the Great Lake to Lake Trail, a cross-state route of more than 250 miles from South Haven to Port Huron.
  • Connects to the popular beach town of South Haven, and ends at a recently constructed trailhead not far from Lake Michigan.
  • Has a covered bridge, much of the trail is tree-canopied, and there is a rustic campground alongside the trail which was developed by Eagle Scouts.
  • At Bloomingdale, the halfway point, the trail runs alongside a restored depot which relates much of the history of the area.
  • Limestone surface often suitable for skinny tires due to its excellent packed condition.
  • Connects to the city of Kalamazoo via the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.

"It's the only trail in Michigan that is managed by a Road Commission, and they do an excellent job."

Muskegon Lakeshore Trail - 12 miles: Muskegon County

  • Trail runs through a variety of landscapes, across Consumers Energy's utility property down to the beach at Lake Michigan.
  • Paved, except for the very long boardwalk through dense woods and over wetlands.
  • Carefully planned and constructed segment by segment over a period of about 10 years by the City of Muskegon Leisure Services Division.

"The Muskegon Lakeshore Trail is the main non-motorized artery running through the city, and will be a major connection to the Fred Meijer Berry Junction Trail to the north and the Musketawa to the south."

East Michigan

Bay City Loop - 17.5 miles: Bay County (below)

  • Paved asphalt, includes an extensive boardwalk system jutting across the Saginaw River. Also includes a wide sidewalk portion through the city, with well-marked wayfinding symbols.
  • Connects to Bay State Recreation Area which is situated on the Saginaw Bay, and the Fred Andersen Nature Trail with a nature center and interpretive hiking trails.
  • Connects to downtown shops, numerous parks, a marina, farmers market, community theater, community center, and many neighborhoods.

"What's remarkable about the Bay City Loop is the variety of terrain it crosses - lakeside tall grasses, downtown hustle and bustle, riverside birding area, and clean, suburban neighborhoods with beautiful gardens."

Southeast Michigan

Downriver Linked Greenways - 50+ miles: Wayne County

  • The Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative started as a community-driven regional vision to coordinate non-motorized transportation in the Downriver area.
  • The North-South Connector has just been completed, a 50-mile connection between Lake Erie Metropark, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Oakwoods Metro Park, Willow Metro Park, and Lower Huron Metro Park.
  • Joins with the I-275 Metro Trail, offering an extension of another 36 miles through Wayne and Oakland counties.
  • Several arterial connections planned.

"This trail offers many metro park activities along the way, including swimming, fishing, kayaking, birding, and many picnic sites. The topography changes often from woods to wetlands to fields, to city, and back again."

Detroit Riverwalk - 3.5 miles: Wayne County (below)

  • Transformed Detroit's former industrial riverfront to one where residents and visitors can now access the water.
  • Owned and managed by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which has raised $121 million toward a $140 million goal of ensuring all components are built and maintained.
  • Home to many festivals and programs, including the annual River Days festival which attracts 150,000 visitors, Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront, and many other regular events.
  • Maintained through a partnership with Clean Detroit.
  • Has spurred many successful private developments, such as the Math and Science High School, Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, Presbyterian Village and Manor and many restaurants and breweries. It has spurred the relocation of major tenants back to the river, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and the U.S. Patent Office.
  • Links to the first urban state park in Michigan, the Milliken State Park and Harbor.

"This Riverwalk had a significant beneficial economic impact to the city, and now holds a prominent place in Detroit's continuing revitalization. A recent study pegs the economic impact of this trail to be $43.7 million."

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