Bayside Trails: Embrace the View

Sittin’ on the dock on the bay is nice, but traversing along it is even better.
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Little Traverse Wheelway
Little Traverse Wheelway // Photography courtesy of Jim DuFresne

A view of the bay, a sunset melting into the bay, dinner overlooking the bay, a room on the bay — everything is better enjoyed along one of Michigan’s beautiful bays, especially trails. Here are my top picks for bayside trails featuring just what every hiker, jogger and cyclist wants: watery views and gentle breezes.

Little Traverse Wheelway. Little Traverse Bay is one of the most beautiful bodies of water in Michigan and there’s a trail along almost its entire shoreline. The Little Traverse Wheelway, an asphalt ribbon stretching 23 miles from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs, includes a half-mile boardwalk through wetland, a tunnel under a golf course entrance and a handful of parks, nature preserves and campgrounds along the way. Best of all is the view. At times you’re so close to Lake Michigan that you can feel the mist rising from the rough surf on a windy day (trailscouncil.org).

Sandy Hook Trail. This loop in Tawas Point State Park is only 1.5-miles long but begins at a historic lighthouse and ends at some of the best beaches along Lake Huron. In between, you hike through low dunes comprising Tawas Bay’s shoreline and can enjoy some of the best birding in Michigan (michigan.gov/tawaspoint).

Manistique Boardwalk. This splendid walkway — a combination of gravel path, paved trail and long boardwalks — stretches for almost two miles along the bay surrounding the mouth of the Upper Peninsula’s Manistique River. Punctuated by fishing piers and interpretive displays about the lake, the Manistique Boardwalk boasts a view anchored by the East Breakwall Light, a faded red lighthouse that guards the entrance to Manistique Harbor. On almost any summer day you can sit on a bench here and watch a steady stream of boats coming and going from the harbor to Lake Michigan (visitmanistique.com).

TART Trail. Only in Cherry Land would you have a trail called TART. The paved TART Trail extends 10.5 miles from Acme Township through the heart of downtown Traverse City and then north on M-22. The best stretch is when the trail wraps around the end of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, along the edge of marinas and the city’s best beaches, then winds through the newly renovated Clinch Park (traversetrails.org).

Horseshoe Bay Trail. Just across the Mackinac Bridge, this 1.2-mile trail begins in Foley Creek Campground and ends at Horseshoe Bay, a federally designated wilderness in the Hiawatha National Forest. Despite being close to I-75 and a casino, this 3,790-acre tract is a true escape from the summer crowds that invade this corner of the Upper Peninsula. The trail will lead you through cedar swamps to the beautiful crescent-moon bay on Lake Huron, where you can continue your hike along the undeveloped beach for another two miles (fs.usda.gov/main/hiawatha).

It’s nice to get off the beaten path now and again, too.


BLUE “Top 5” columnist Jim DuFresne is an international travel writer and main contributor to MichiganTrailMaps.com.

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