Hiking in Michigan: Where to Go and How to Start 

Did you know that Michigan is home to more than 12,500 miles of state-designated trails? Hiking in Michigan offers residents and visitors a way to connect with nature and experience beautiful scenery ranging from dunes, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests and all the plants and animals that live in those locales.

As you would suspect, there are more places to hike in Michigan than we could ever possibly list here, but here’s a roundup of some of the best hiking trails in Michigan, separated by region:

If you’re just starting to explore Michigan hiking trails, it’s not as simple as throwing on a pair of boots and walking out the door. You’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right gear, ample food and water, and the know-how to stay safe.

What to Pack for a Successful Hiking Trip

The first step to a great trip is packing the right gear.

You may not need all of these items if you’re just going for a quick outing on trails you’re familiar with, but if you’re going someplace new or know you’ll be out for a few hours or more, consider the following essentials as you get ready.

  • Shoes or boots. Okay, technically you’ll wear these, but make sure your footwear is up to the challenge of the trail you’ll be hiking. Consider hiking boots for longer, more treacherous treks.
  • Extra clothes. The forecast might not be calling for rain, but it’s always a great idea to have some waterproof gear on hand and some extra layers for added warmth in case you end up out on the trail longer than anticipated.
  • Navigation help. Wrong turns happen. Make sure your hiking plans aren’t completely derailed by carrying a trail map and compass.
  • Safety stuff. Even for short trips, pack a small first aid kit, a flashlight or headlamp, and matches or a lighter to start a fire just in case. A knife or multi-purpose tool could also come in handy, as could an emergency blanket or shelter if you get caught out overnight. It’s also a good idea to pack any medication you may need.
  • Sun protection. Sunscreen and sunglasses will save your skin and your eyesight.
  • Bathroom supplies. If you’re traveling a trail that doesn’t have public restrooms, you’re going to want to be prepared for the inevitable. Pack wipes or toilet paper in a freezer bag and carry a spare bag to hold any soiled wipes. Hand sanitizer is also recommended. Check online for trail etiquette where you’ll be hiking – if it’s required or recommended to do so, you might want to invest in a trowel that would allow you to dig a hole to dispose of your waste.
  • A pack to put it all in. Choose a backpack that fits you well and that you can wear comfortably for the duration of your trip.

Hungry Hiking: Guidelines for How Much Food and Drink You’ll Need

Although hiking seems like a somewhat leisurely pursuit, it can be hard work and burns through your body’s energy reserves rather quickly.

Proper nourishment before, during and after a hike will help you stay strong and energized throughout your adventure. We’ve answered frequently asked questions to help you figure out the amounts and types of foods and drinks you should consider packing.

  • What’s the best way to stay hydrated on a hike? Water is the easiest and least expensive drink to pack. However, if you plan to be out for an extended hike, consider bringing electrolyte tablets to add to your H2 A device to purify water.
  • How much water should I drink and bring along? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends drinking at least four cups of water pre-hike and then planning to consume two cups for every hour you’re on the trail.
  • How much food will I need to pack? For an all-day trip, REI recommends 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food (about 2,500 to 4,500 calories) “per person per day depending on your size, weight and exertion level.” If you’re going for half the day, simply plan to halve those calories and for shorter hikes, plan for a quarter of that amount. Better to have more food than not enough in case you get stuck due to weather or other unforeseen factors.
  • What types of food should I pack? Since you’ll have to carry everything you want to eat in your backpack, go for foods that are energy-dense but lightweight. Nuts, dried fruits, store bought or homemade granola/cereal bars or energy bites, and jerky all make great snacks. If you know you’ll be out during lunch or dinnertime, pack whole wheat tortillas and fill them with tuna or chicken pouches topped with small condiment packets. If you don’t mind them getting squished, peanut butter and honey sandwiches are another convenient, filling meal idea.

Overall, pack foods you’re familiar with and that you like to eat. A hike is not an ideal time to experiment with foods you’re unsure of as you don’t want to experience gastrointestinal distress on the trail.

Hike Safely: How to Avoid Harm on Michigan Trails

Hiking with a group is a smart safety move.

Besides having the right gear and having enough food and drink, it’s important to consider your personal safety out on the trail. Stay safe on your hike by following these tips.

  • Know your limits. Choose a trail that matches your physical ability level. There’s no shame in taking an easier route, especially if doing so helps you avoid injury.
  • Partner up. Two – or three or more – heads are often better than one. Hiking with a group can help ensure you don’t get lost and can even help keep curious mammals away because of the extra noise.
  • Tell someone where you’re going. The American Hiking Society advises that you let a friend or family member know where you’ll be hiking and for how long. For extended hikes, leave an itinerary and planned route and make plans for when and how you’ll be in touch.
  • Be wary of wildlife. Although there aren’t many creatures in Michigan that will do you harm, it’s always a good idea to be prepared.
  • Watch out for nature’s critters. Black bears typically won’t bother you, but they might try to check you out by coming closer. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers tips for how to stay calm and avoid an attack. If you happen to see a wolf or coyote while hiking in Michigan, it’s best to stay clear. While these animals rarely attack humans, they are wild and will act on instinct if they feel threatened. Never feed any wild animal on the trail.
  • Careful around snakes. Michigan’s only venomous snake is the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. According to the DNR, the snake tends to avoid confrontation with humans. Compared to other rattlesnakes, the massasauga is the smallest and has the least toxic venom. They’re only found in the Lower Peninsula and are quite rare. However, if you’re bitten, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
  • Watch for ticks, which sometimes carry Lyme disease, while on the trail. Here’s a helpful guide for how to spot them, how to prevent bites and how to effectively remove them from your skin.
  • Know when hunting season starts. The DNR provides a calendar that lets you easily see current hunting events happening in the state. If you live in an area or are planning to hike in an area where you suspect hunting will be happening nearby, plan to wear hunter orange clothing and hats to make yourself visible or consider taking a different route.

Are you an experienced hiker? Share your best hiking tips and favorite hiking trails in Michigan in the comments.

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Read 3 Comments

  1. Hi, Julie! This is another great and very useful article that you brought us. Some of these tips can be life- saving, especially for hikers who never hiked in Michigan. I was wondering, what do you think is the best time of year to go exploring these trails?

    1. I hike with people all yr around! Different seasons mean you need to think ahead. Wearing layers in the winter, bug spray in spring and summer and extra shoes in the spring if trails are muddy.

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