Losing oneself on a long walk through the wilderness can be enlightening, even therapeutic. But enjoying the outdoors doesn’t necessarily require complete isolation. While challenging hikes can be a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle, not every outing needs to be a test of physical endurance to be enjoyable. For many—especially those with children—easy, fun hikes are the best option.
Many Michigan hiking destinations provide interesting diversions while allowing hikers to immerse themselves among the splendid fall colors. So lace up the sturdy footwear, pack the water bottles and experience some of Michigan’s miles of trails.
TAKE A WALK ON THE WINE SIDE
Being named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABCTV’s Good Morning America probably means Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can’t claim to be a “hidden gem.” Nevertheless, its 100 miles of trails reveal treasures accessible only by foot, and its location in northwest Michigan’s wine country, close to the Traverse City area’s resorts, dining and attractions, make it an ideal destination.
One of the easier trails is a nearly three-mile-long loop system called Pyramid Point, near Glen Arbor. The highlight of this trail is a short uphill climb through a hardwood forest made more gorgeous with fall color, that suddenly and unexpectedly opens to a dramatic overlook of Lake Michigan. Most hikers stop here, but other, less-travelled sections of the trail offer nice views of meadows and dunes.
A little further east is the Good Harbor trail; it’s a relatively flat, partly forested, almost three-mile-long loop that passes between Lake Michigan and Little Traverse Lake.
Slightly inland, the sandy terrain that makes Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore so interesting for hiking changes to a landscape sculpted by the Laurentide glaciers. The receding glaciers that covered this area 10,000 years ago exposed an ancient sea floor that now provides an ideal foundation for growing grapes for cool climate wines.
Laurentide Winery is one of seven wineries on the Sleeping Bear Loop of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. Proprietors Susan and Bill Braymer studied the region’s geologic history for several years before selecting the Lake Leelanau location that would become their vineyard. The winery’s name indicates how important they feel the region’s geology is to the quality of the wine. They view their vineyards as an extension of the land itself; a connection that gives their wine a distinctive taste.
MINES, PINES AND INCLINES
The Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw region has a long and storied history of copper mining that dates to 5000 BC. When copper production slowed at the turn of the 19th century, mining operations ended, leaving ghost towns and abandoned mines where there once was a booming industrial community. The Keweenaw National Historical Park preserves the remains of that era at 21 independently owned Heritage Sites, including three mines that offer tours and an opportunity for an underground walk (through mid-October).
Above ground hikes in Copper Country offer sweeping fall color vistas and something unique: a chance to walk among one of Michigan’s last remaining tracts of virgin white pine.
Professional photographer, retired forestry expert and lifelong Keweenaw resident Charlie Eshbach designed the walking paths for 17 Keweenaw Michigan Nature Association sanctuaries. One of these, Estivant Pines, features eastern white pines that are more than 500 years old, mixed with other old-growth northern hardwoods. Drawing upon his forestry background, Eshbach designed two walking trails through the 510-acre preserve that lead hikers past some of the oldest and largest pines. The connecting loop trails, totaling 2.5 miles in length, can be hiked in less than three hours. “It’s a beautiful walk through a beautiful old forest,” says Eshbach, who offers a family discount on his guided interpretive tours of this and other area trail systems.
TAKE A CIDER AND DONUT HIKE
Fall hikes in southeast Michigan offer the olfactory combination of crisp autumn air and apple cider. Seven cider mills are located on or near a series of rail trails that run through the heart of cider mill country in the northern portions of Oakland and Macomb counties, north of Detroit. The miles-long routes pass through towns and rural and suburban areas and have multiple trailheads, so it’s easy to customize the length of your hikes and choose a tree-lined stretch for a colorful fall outing.
The most popular is the Paint Creek Trail, which receives more than 100,000 visitors annually. About half of the trail’s users are bicyclists but the eight-foot-wide, crushed limestone trail easily accommodates both types of traffic. The linear trail begins in the city of Lake Orion, crosses Paint Creek a dozen times over its 8.9 miles, and ends in charming downtown Rochester, which was settled in 1817 and boasts a busy downtown shopping and dining district.
Kristen Myers, trail manager of the Paint Creek Trailways Commission, says the trail’s proximity to Paint Creek Cider Mill is a big draw for families during the fall because hikers can drop in for freshly pressed cider and cinnamon sugar donuts or ice cream. The cider mill is so popular with fall visitors that it’s a key element of their hikes. “Instead of saying ‘let’s go walk the trail,’ hikers say, ‘let’s go walk the trail and get a donut,’” says Myers.
Find another “cider hike” on this trail network along the Clinton River Trail, which meets the Paint Creek Trail in Rochester and spans 16 miles across northern Oakland County. At the east end hikers can connect to the Macomb Orchard Trail. Yates Cider Mill, another popular fall destination, is located near the intersection of those two trails. Built as a grist mill in 1863, cider-pressing at the water-wheel powered Yates mill began in 1876. Generations have made the big red barn a destination each fall for the cider and donuts plus pony rides, petting zoo and a taste of the past.
This article originally appeared in the 2017 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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