Best long trails: Take views to go

Turn scenic footpaths into multiple day adventures, or shorten these routes for day hikes to remember.
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By Jim DuFresne

Last November, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder proposed linking a trail that would stretch from Detroit’s Belle Isle to Wisconsin to showcase the Great Lakes State. That would be one long trail — 924 miles, to be exact.

Following are my top picks for five existing long trails in Michigan. Not a backpacker? The best segments of each for day hikes are noted, too.


Lakeshore Trail. This trail in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore extends 42.5 miles along Lake Superior from Grand Marais to Munising, winding en route through sand dunes, past shipwrecks and a lighthouse and along the edge of colorful famed cliffs. This dramatic pathway is a pilgrimage every Michigan backpacker needs to make at least once (nps.gov/piro).

Day hike: Follow County Road H-58 to the Chapel Falls Trailhead and enjoy the Chapel Loop, a 10-mile trek featuring three scenic waterfalls and four-plus miles along Pictured Rocks.


Manistee River Trail. Located in Manistee National Forest, this easy and level path merges with a rugged segment of the North Country Trail to create a 23-mile, three-day hike on both sides of the scenic Manistee River. Backcountry campsites along this route are the only thing more bountiful than sweeping vistas from the bluffs above it (fs.usda.gov).

Day hike: Follow the trail 3.2 miles from its trailhead in Seaton Creek Campground to one of only two natural cascades in the Lower Peninsula.


Greenstone Ridge Trail.  Hike 42 miles from one end of the largest island in Lake Superior to the other in Isle Royale National Park. Scenic views from high points, great backcountry campgrounds and the possibility of spotting a moose make the Greenstone an excellent choice for anybody’s first extended backpacking adventure (nps.gov/isro).

Day hike: Drop the pack and book a room at Rock Harbor Lodge (isleroyalresort.com). The next morning, take its water taxi to Lookout Louise and hike the scenic10.2-miles back to end the trek with a hot shower and a cold beer.  


Jordan River Pathway. This excursion includes an 18-mile loop on both sides of the pristine Jordan River (a Blue Ribbon trout stream) and a night spent in a walk-in campground. Come early October, brilliant fall foliage here in the rugged Jordan Valley will leave you color blind. 

Day hike: The trailhead is at Deadman’s Hill, a scenic overlook north of Mancelona, where a crossover spur allows you to compress the pathway to a three-mile loop that begins and ends with sweeping views of the valley (989-732-3541; MichiganTrailMaps.com, click “Find a Trail,” then “Antrim”).


Big and Little Carp River Trails. In Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park you can follow the Big Carp River from its beginnings in the mountains to its freshwater sea ending in Lake Superior. Plan in advance, and you can hike this 27-mile, four-day loop from cabin to cabin, reserving a different unit each night (michigan.gov/porkies).

Day hike: The start of this trail — where you trek along the alpine-like Escarpment for 1.5 miles to views of Lake of the Clouds below and rugged ridges on the horizon — is the most scenic segment. Backtrack to your car, and this stretch becomes one of the best day hikes in Michigan.

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

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