One of the best parts of autumn is being able to get out hiking in cooler weather.
Gone are the stifling hot summer days. In the fall, you can go hiking almost any time of the day. Even better, the leaves of the hardwood trees transform, giving hikers a distinctive trail experience. There are hundreds of miles of trails in the state, and you really can’t go wrong as long as you’re enjoying the fresh air, but here are some top picks from across Michigan to hike this autumn.
- Escarpment Trail, Porcupine Mountains: A favorite and likely most scenic short hike in Michigan, Escarpment Trail runs along the bluffs above the Lake of the Clouds. The views are nothing short of heavenly, especially in the fall, when the crisp blue of the water contrasts against the fiery colors of the autumn leaves. The trail edge is often along rocky cliffs and most of the hike is in the open so make sure to layer appropriately. This hike to and from using the same trail takes about two hours.
- Chapel Loop, Munising: Of the 100 miles of hiking trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Chapel Loop is a 10-mile day hike that passes popular sights including Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach, and Mosquito Falls. The waterfalls are of particular beauty in the fall as they cascade downward against a dramatic backdrop.
- Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, Copper Harbor: This 508-acre sanctuary consists of old-growth white pines that are hundreds of years old. Though not dressed in red, yellow, or orange, the pines are majestic as you hike among the giants in the crisp fall air.
Northern Lower Michigan
- Highbanks Trail, Oscoda: A seven-mile hike along the bluffs of the Au Sable River gives you some of the best views of the Au Sable River and even Lake Huron is some areas on a clear day. You can choose to climb some dunes, too, or take a side trail to make your way to the water. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.
- Empire Bluffs Trail, Empire: This short trail is a relatively easy walk although some portions are sandy. The trail meets a wooden boardwalk, which will take you the rest of the way. From the bluffs you can see the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mama Bear looking out over Lake Michigan in careful watch over her cubs. For a marvelous experience, make the hike in the evening with the intent of reaching the overlook in time for sunset.
- Rockport State Recreation Area, Alpena: Historically, this was Michigan’s 100th state park. It’s also an official Dark Sky Preserve. Even though it is beautiful to take in the night sky here, it’s not the point of a fall hike. The harbor, natural area, and old limestone quarry add visual interest along the way, and the canopy of branches above usher you through with regal colors.
- Chippewa Nature Center, Midland: This pristine area, named the Greatest Trail or Park by Great Lakes Bay Regional Magazine readers, has 19 miles of hiking trails and diverse ecosystems. Among the choices is the River Point Trail, two miles of hemlock and birch woodland as well as a pond and river. The River Trail is the longest trail along the rivers at 2.7 miles, including through beautiful beech-maple woods.
- Fitzgerald Park, Lansing: Fall colors are on full display here, making this a favorite spot for family pictures because of the stunning backdrops. There are three miles of nature trails, including the Ledges along Grand River (don’t miss it!). Enjoy a picnic or visit the fish ladder.
- For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum, Burton: A gem of Genesee County, this former dairy farm was donated back in 1970. Enjoy meadows, ponds, and color-changing trees during your hike. There’s a visitor’s center, too, with hands on experience with live animals and many displays. It’s handicapped accessible, and the kids will enjoy a visit to the Nelson Treehouse that overlooks Kearsley Creek.
Southern Lower Michigan
- Rosy Mound Natural Area, Grand Haven: According to the website, “Rosy Mound is a classic Great Lakes dune system including high wooded dunes, foredunes, beach and a dune blowout.” There is a hiking trail less than a mile long that takes you to the pristine shoreline, over some dunes, and in the midst of scenic coastline views. For the most incredible view in the Rosy Mound Natural Area, climb the nearly 400 stairs to the Dune Overlook. There are other trails as well, including Acorn Trail, which runs through more dunes and a hardwood forest.
- Bloomer Unit Loop, Ortonville Recreation Area This beautifully maintained trail is perfect for a moderate hike. There are several hills you’ll encounter along the way, which will get your heart rate up. Just shy of three miles, the loop goes through a network of hardwood trees that are more than willing to show off in the fall.
- Huron River Drive, Ann Arbor/Dexter: Okay, technically not a hike but it’s too good to pass up and there are places to stop at to walk around. A picturesque 10-mile drive in the heart of Wolverine country, Huron River Drive runs between Ann Arbor and the quaint town of Dexter. Two recommended photo op spots ideal for autumn are between Barton Park and Delhi Metropark, and on the East Delhi Road bridge.
Mix it up! You’ve probably noticed that many of these hikes run alongside or within visual distance of some of Michigan’s rivers and streams. For a fresh and original view of the fall colors, choose to kayak or canoe instead.