Great trails: Shared traits

From expansive vistas to historic discoveries, the best extend something special.
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autumn leaves covered path

By Jim DuFresne

The first edition of my book, “50 Hikes In Michigan” (The Countryman Press) appeared in 1991. The latest edition — which is also Michigan’s first full-color trail guidebook, is digitally intergraded with the internet and features 10 extra walks — was released this June. That’s almost a quarter century of searching for good trails. 

Good hikes share certain tangible characteristics. Following are five reasons a trail made this book’s pages.

Awe-Inspiring Panoramas. There’s nothing like following a trail and suddenly arriving at a view so powerful that it forces you to take an unscheduled 30-minute break to contemplate the creation of the universe. Or, at least, Michigan. We’re blessed to have numerous such hikes like Sleeping Bear Point Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Within 15 minutes of the trailhead you’re gifted with a 360-degree panorama of open dunes and golden beaches, the freighter-filled Manitou Passage and the Manitou Islands floating in Lake Michigan’s mist (michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/130/).

Bountiful Wildlife. Shhh! There’s something just ahead! Trails with numerous wildlife sightings are always a treat.  The 4.8-mile Tobico Marsh at Bay City State Recreation Area surrounds the largest remaining wetland along Saginaw Bay. More than 25,000 birds and waterfowl have been known to gather at one time during the peak of fall migration. The trail begins at the park’s Saginaw Bay Visitor Center and includes two observation towers and four viewing decks, some with sighting scopes and interpretive plaques (michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/23/). 

Family-Friendly. Made with young children in mind, the easy, 2-mile round-trip Ledges Trail begins at Eaton County’s Fitzgerald Park, which has a nature center, and includes intriguing scenery. On one side of the path is the Grand River, while unique sandstone cliffs, the Grand Ledges, rise on the other. Across the river it’s possible, at times, to watch daredevil rock climbers. It’s even educational: Part of the trail  is an interpretive path — but don’t tell the kids that (michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/186/).

A Sense of History. The 7-mile Highbanks Trail in the Huron National Forest skirts the bluffs above the Au Sable River, making it one of the most scenic trails in the Lower Peninsula. But it’s also an interesting stroll through Michigan’s Native American and logging history. The most popular stretch is the 4-mile walk from Largo Springs to Lumberman’s Monument. It begins at the gurgling springs, site of past tribal powwows, and ends at an interpretive area with replicas of a rollway and logjam plus a hands-on exhibit that lets you turn logs with a peavey (michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/216/).

A Total Escape. The most remote state park in the Lower Peninsula is Negwegon north of Harrison. It’s a challenge just driving the rutted, sandy road to the trailhead of its Chippewa Trail. Within 2.5 miles the trail reaches South Point, which provides hikers with an almost 360-degree view of Lake Huron. To the north are Bird and Scarecrow islands while across Thunder Bay you spot the water towers of Alpena. To the south is Negwegon’s jagged shoreline. With just a turn of the head you can gaze over miles of shoreline, acres of water and not see a single person. There’s also a walk-in campsite nearby, in case you want to stay awhile. (michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/213/).

To learn more about these and other trails, visit MichiganTrailMaps.com, where larger and more detailed maps for every hike in the book can be downloaded.

BLUE “Top 5” columnist Jim DuFresne is a Clarkston-based travel writer and main contributor to MichiganTrailMaps.

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