The Best Trails to Backpack in Northern Lower Peninsula

One of the best parts of a Michigan summer is camping, but have you ever tried something a little more rustic? Backpacking is a great summer activity that allows you to shed some extra calories and explore nature while doing so.

Backpacking is similar to camping, only a camper carries all of their belongings on their back as they travel—hence the name. Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula offers some of the best backpacking trails in the state.

Below are some prime backpacking trails campers may want to look into for their next backpacking trip:

  • Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail Loop, Cadillac, MI
    • The Manistee River trail spans 11 miles of hardwood forests and rolling hills. It connects to 8.5 miles of the North Country Trail Loop via a 245-foot suspension bridge that spans the Manistee River. Backpackers could spend two to three days hiking the rugged terrain and enjoying the natural waterfalls, camping at Seaton Creek National Forest Campground or the Red Bridge Access Site in between.
  • The Jordan River Trail, Antrim County, MI
    • The Jordan River Valley is home to one of the state’s oldest protected rivers, the Jordan River. This path contains several loops and is considered moderate to difficult by the Michigan DNR. Mink, otters, heron and other wildlife dot the trail. Camping is only allowed at one of the two campgrounds in the area. See the Michigan DNR’s webpage for more information.
  • Pigeon River Country State Forest: Green Timbers, Vanderbilt, MI
    • On this trail a hiker will experience 19.6 miles of wilderness, including large elk at the right time of year. Blue ribbon trout streams crisscross the trails, as well as unmarked pathways perfect for the adventurous spirit.
  • Huron Sunrise Trail, Rogers City, MI
    • This trail starts in Rogers City and runs 11.1 miles along Lake Huron’s shoreline, ending in Hoeft State Park. Here, families can complete their backpacking day with a night at the campground. Not far from the trail, hikers will find the 270-acre forested property of the Volger Conservation Area, in case they wish to expand their trip.
  • Sand Lakes Quiet Area, between Williamsburg and Kalkaska, MI
    • Deer, turkeys, woodland songbirds and more inhabit the Pere Marquette State Forest where this trail can be found. Motorized vehicles are prohibited, making for a serene vacation separated from the hustle and bustle of work life. This trail allows campers to walk along five marl lakes and camp at the Guernsey Lake State Forest Campground at the end of their trip.
  • Negwegon State Park, Harrisville, MI
    • 10.1 miles of undeveloped state park open for back country camping. This includes a stretch of rustic sandy beach on Lake Huron. To find information on making reservations, designated sites, and backcountry camping best practices, visit the DNR’s Negwegon State Park Backcountry Guide.
  • Leelanau State Park Trails, Northport, MI
    • These trails are located at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula. There are 8.5 miles of trails to hike within the state park, and backpackers can enjoy sights such as the endangered Piper Plovers flitting around the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Find more hidden hiking gems by listening to this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast. Host Chuck Gaidica is joined by Dan Muncey, onsite well-being coordinator at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Paul Yauk, trail coordinator for the State of Michigan to discuss the best locales.


Northern Lower Peninsula hiking and backpacking trails are mapped by the Top of Michigan Trails Council. If you are looking for more trails or planning a trip for yourself and some friends, visit the Up North Trails Map for more information.

Photo Credit: Justin Meissen

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Read 13 Comments

    1. Hi, Stephanie.
      If you’re new to backpacking, I would recommend the Huron-Manistee National Forest. The Hoist Lakes area is great for beginners because it is a smaller area, only 19 miles of crossing trails and without much elevation change. You can find more information here:
      I hope you find this helpful! Let us how your first experience goes.

  1. Some good trails in Allegan State Game Area are in Ely Lake Campground. Enough trails for a day or two. Easy to spend a couple of nights in the campground. Northwest Trail Loop or Wakazoo Trail, as the boy scouts call it, is about 15 miles long and takes you through the wooded forest.

    Ely Lake Campground is open all year, so if you’re looking for place to winter camp, here you go. It’s less than 3 hours from Chicago.

  2. I want to backpack the manistee/nct trail this summer. I am new to backpacking but and will try Huron-Manistee National Forest first. But I am wondering, are you allowed to camp on the west side of the trail at all? I noticed there are no designated campsites but I am new to this!

    1. That sounds amazing, Corrie! Based on our research, primitive camping is permitted as long as tents are 200 feet from the trail or any source of water. If you have more specific questions, we recommend contacting the Manistee Ranger District of the Manistee Forest (231-723-2211) or the North Country Trail Association (866-445-3628). You can find more details here:
      Make sure to tell us how it goes!

      1. Thanks so much Julie! In case anyone else was curious, from the research I did as well, I believe you can have a campfire in the designated camp areas on the East side of the Manisteee but only flameless cooking when primitive camping. Does that sound correct?

  3. How best to protect against those nasty ticks? 🙁 I love the idea of walking in the woods, but I’m kinda a sissy when it comes to ticks…..

  4. The Manistee River trail is much closer to Manistee than Cadillac and it is in Manistee County, a great hiking trail but getting very popular.

  5. Any recommendations for trails in the Lowe part of Michigan? I am from Detroit and looking to get away for a day or two, but not looking to drive more than two hours.

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