With spring now sprung, a sleeping Michigan giant is waking up – and now is a great opportunity for residents and visitors to see it. Much like Gulliver, tied down to the ground by the Lilliputians, when this giant awakes, the tendrils holding it stretch a great distance – 12,500 miles, in fact.
However, this giant isn’t Lemuel Gulliver, Paul Bunyan or even Babe the Blue Ox. It’s Michigan’s growing system of designated trails, ready for endless spring and summertime opportunities to relax, have fun, travel, learn and explore.
From hiking beside beautiful streams through the secluded forests of the Upper Peninsula, to riding side-by-side over a scenic trail in the northern Lower Peninsula, to biking and kayaking and riding a horse, Michigan is known nationally as “The Trails State” because our trails system is – giant.
Fresh off the snowmobile and cross-country skiing season, Michigan Department of Natural Resources trails staff is ready for spring.
“It’s been a long, gray winter, but things are springing to life on Michigan’s trails,” said Paul Yauk, the statewide trails coordinator for the DNR. “It’s a new season. The birds are migrating north, animals are peeking out of forests, the morels are coming soon … what an amazing time to get out onto the trails and see what is out there.”
Michigan is home to 12,500 miles of state-designated trails – including both motorized and non-motorized – and more than 2,600 miles of rail trails (the most of any state in nation).
Hiking in Michigan can be an adventure just in itself, with trails that run the gamut from paved, flat surfaces to tough, rugged terrain that requires boots.
“Public lands provide a wide variety of experiences and levels of difficulty,” Yauk said. “Put those boots on and get out there.
“Hiking is fun for everybody, a family adventure. Take a friend, ask a neighbor. Grab someone you know and take a walk or a hike,” he said. “Michigan’s natural resources are second-to-none. Now’s a great time to see for yourself.”
Hiking is a wonderful way to experience the state’s unique array of scenic views, abundant wildlife, cultural resources and vibrant communities.
Trails are everywhere – from local parks to regional or state parks or trails.
Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail, for example, is the longest state-designated trail in the nation, covering about 2,064 miles from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.
Featuring two routes, one for hiking and one for biking, the Iron Belle runs through 48 Michigan counties and 240 townships, making it easy for anyone in the state to hit the trail.
More than 1,200 miles of the Iron Belle Trail are designated as hiking trails.
On the western side of Michigan, the hiking route mostly follows the North Country National Scenic Trail, traversing the west side of the Lower Peninsula and bordering the south shore of Lake Superior in the northern part of the Upper Peninsula.
The Iron Belle Trail – intended as Michigan’s signature trail – continues to expand as partners throughout the state plan and develop more and more trail segments. More than $34 million in federal, state and local funds have been invested in the trail since 2013.
“The Iron Belle Trail is a perfect example of communities and partners coming together for a common reason – to make this trail a one-of-a-kind destination,” Yauk said.
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund approved about $5 million in grants for Iron Belle Trail projects in December, and the DNR recently awarded $350,000 in grant dollars to 16 communities across the state for further Iron Belle Trail development.
The DNR encourages Scout groups to hit the trail with the third annual Iron Belle Challenge, set for Saturday, June 3.
The challenge, a hiking event offered in conjunction with National Trails Day, highlights the Iron Belle Trail and offers Scouts the opportunity to earn a commemorative patch for participating.
Last year’s hike attracted nearly 1,100 hikers who trekked more than 6,000 miles.
“The past two years we have had great participation from both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts USA,” said Ray Rustem, DNR youth programs specialist. “The Iron Belle Challenge has welcomed Scouts to hike all over the state, in locations like Detroit, Battle Creek, Cheboygan and Ironwood, to name just a few.”
Registration forms for the Iron Belle Challenge can be found at michigan.gov/dnrscouting.
In addition to the Iron Belle Trail, Michigan offers a wide variety of hiking trails across the state. The DNR maintains many of these trails, which can be found in Michigan state parks, on state forest lands or within wildlife preserves.
Many of the DNR hiking trails are called “pathways” because they loop through forests and along ridges, rivers and lakes. Many of the pathways are located near or are adjacent to state forest (rustic) campgrounds and in state parks and recreation areas – making for a perfect weekend getaway.
The state’s trail system also includes several linear trails. Linear trails – also called “out-and-back” or “destination” trails – go from one point to another and typically follow an old railroad track, river or other land feature. They cover long distances.
More information about the wide range of Michigan hiking trails is available on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails.
Aside from the chance to get out and enjoy Michigan’s great outdoors, hiking trails also offer an easy and inexpensive way to get some exercise.
Outdoor exercise has some unique advantages over a gym, according to DNR statewide recreation programmer Maia Turek.
“There are plenty of reasons to take your workout outside,” Turek said. “Enjoying nature’s scenery will distract from your effort or fatigue, so you’ll work out longer. You’ll burn more calories because the varied terrain of a park or trail helps keep you out of a fitness rut and you’ll be happier – breathing fresh air can create a feeling of euphoria.”
Opportunities to explore Michigan on trails don’t stop with hiking – there are trails for a variety of outdoor interests, including biking and mountain biking trails, equestrian trails, water trails and off-road vehicle trails.
Yauk said Michigan has something to offer for everyone, especially in the spring.
“It’s something you have to see for yourself,” he said. “Michigan offers so many opportunities to get outdoors and walk or bike or kayak. We have 103 state parks to explore and thousands of miles of trails. Michigan is waking up, and this is the season to see it.”
One caveat to keep in mind before hitting the trail, Yauk added. If you mountain bike or ride horses, please avoid trails if they are very wet and muddy so as not to damage the trails and the environment.
For maps and other information on Michigan’s trails, visit www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails.