Guidebook author and cartographer Jim DuFresne’s extensive collection of travel tales and outdoor advice have helped introduce the world to Michigan’s hiking opportunities. Over the past 40 years, the Clarkston resident has produced more than 20 guidebooks and countless detailed maps covering destinations from New Zealand to Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park to Michigan’s myriad hiking, backpacking, and paddling possibilities.
Along with “Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes,” first released in 1983, titles such as “Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park Guide,” “The Trails of M-22,” “50 Hikes in Michigan,” “Best Hikes with Children in Michigan,” and “Michigan State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide” have become nearly as essential as an ample supply of food and water, the right clothing and gear, and sturdy boots.
Updated editions of his most popular Michigan-related works are published through michigantrailmaps.com, a site DuFresne founded in 2009 with the help of his son and daughter.
“Being able to work with my kids and turn michigantrailmaps.com into a family business has been very special. There’s certainly no way I could have done it without their technical knowledge and the passion they share with me for the outdoors,” DuFresne says.
The site has grown steadily and now features comprehensive descriptions and maps of more than 300 trails. Single maps are just 99 cents. Trail guidebooks and larger, waterproof maps are also available.
“In the end, the books, the site, and maps are all about making it easier for and encouraging people to get outside for activities like hiking and kayaking,” he says. “There are easy ways to search the trail database to find exactly what interests them. Then, they can download maps and detailed trail descriptions to a device, or print the information and go.”
DuFresne’s books are available at stores throughout Michigan and on most major bookselling sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. “The Trails of M-22,” which details the many miles of paths along the famous route, has been the most popular title of late, with sales surpassing 3,000 copies last year.
“The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy approached me about doing the book because they felt their trails were being overshadowed by Sleeping Bear Dunes,” DuFresne says. “The conservancy has done great things in promoting the book and their trails have, indeed, become more popular.”
The same holds true for the Isle Royale guidebook, which sells roughly 2,000 copies annually. The latest edition, released in 2020, includes maps with QR codes for downloading larger, more detailed maps. “It’s hard to believe we’re approaching 40 years that the Isle Royale book has been in continuous publication,” DuFresne says. “It was the first backcountry and paddling guide to the park.”
DuFresne’s first trip to Isle Royale at age 9, with his father, and two excursions to the 141,000-acre Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout helped ignite the Grosse Ile native’s passion for outdoor recreation. Turning that passion into a living, however, didn’t cross his mind growing up. After earning varsity letters in football, wrestling, and track at Grosse Ile High School, DuFresne enrolled in Michigan State’s journalism program and dreamed of becoming a sportswriter.
It was the location of DuFresne’s first job after graduating in 1977 that changed everything. He was hired as sports editor of the Juneau Empire, in Alaska’s capital city, far from any major sports teams. While editing the weekly outdoors section, he immersed himself in all the untamed adventures the area is known for. Often, the locations were only reachable by airplane.
“As someone already so enthusiastic about the outdoors, doing things like flying into remote areas for those cool activities was awesome,” DuFresne says.
He left the Empire in 1980 but remained in Alaska, working for Alaska Discovery specializing in kayak trips in Glacier Bay National Park, among other destinations. During that time, he was living in a flat with several other people; among them was an Australian. She suggested DuFresne would love backpacking in New Zealand.
While in New Zealand, DuFresne began envisioning the fun of writing a guidebook to the country’s hiking trails. He contacted Lonely Planet’s publishing brass and found them receptive. The first edition of “Hiking and Tramping in New Zealand” was released in 1981, the year DuFresne returned to Michigan. It was followed by Lonely Planet’s “Alaska Guide” and “Backpacking in Alaska.” DuFresne then began writing Michigan guidebooks, starting with his Isle Royale guide.
“Once I did that first book for Lonely Planet, I was hooked,” he says. “I loved that they wanted me to return to New Zealand and Alaska about once every four years to update the books.”
Showing few signs of slowing down, the 67-year-old DuFresne began his latest project in 2022, working with the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes to produce an updated, full-color guide to the park’s 15 trails, complete with detailed maps with QR codes for downloading. He expects to release it this spring.
Michigan Trail Maps