By Kim Schneider | Courtesy 22 North Photography
I’m not a hiker, but I love to saunter. When I amble down a Michigan forest path, especially in fall, I’m the one wandering a bit slower than the crowd, contemplating the way light hits the trees, setting colorful leaves aglow. I revel in the crunch of my shoes on the leaf-covered path, love trailside fun like racing leaves in a flowing stream.
Luckily for fans of what I call the “slow hike” movement, researchers at Stanford found that even a simple walk in a park can literally change the brain — prompting less worry and more focus on the now. The act of getting out, moving at any pace, changes the body for the good, too. Here are some of Michigan’s favorite paths to cure what ails you.
Manistee River Trail, Brethren
One of my first dates with my now-husband was a near-disastrous float and camping trip down the Big Manistee, yet when I think of it now, my memory goes to the bluff view 200 feet up the banks of the stunning fall-painted forest and not to the spilled pan of ramen noodles (the only food my beloved had thought to pack). The Manistee River Trail runs 11 miles and connects with the North Country Trail for a 22-mile loop, which necessitates an overnight if you want to see it all. But it’s also great in small bites. Park at Hodenpyl Dam for an easy amble to a waterfall (at mile marker 3) and suspension bridge — at 245 feet long, the largest in the Lower Peninsula. (visitmanisteecounty.com)
The reward — a 300-foot high bluff view of Lake Michigan — makes the steady climb up the whale’s back exercise you don’t even realize you’re getting. In fall, there’s a colorful canopy over the trail that runs up a moraine formed by glaciers, now managed as a natural area by the Leelanau Conservancy. And the name? It stems from what the ridge resembles from beaches in nearby Fishtown, a great spot for after-hike snacks. (leelanauconservancy.org)
Walks to Pictured Rocks Waterfalls, Grand Marais/Munising
There are long-distance hikes aplenty within this national lakeshore, but you also can opt for a series of strolls that feel like treasure hunts when you follow the waterfall trail map from the visitor center. One must: The hike down along Sable Falls by Grand Marais to the sweet beach where the falls flow into Lake Superior. (nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm)
Paint Creek Trail, Rochester
Michigan’s first nonmotorized rail to trail pathway was first for a good reason: It’s gorgeous. Autumn strolls take hikers along the creek, over rustic bridges and under golden tree canopies. And you can’t beat the midway stop. The Paint Creek Cider and Goodison Cider mills are both there for cider sipping with doughnuts in the midway town of Goodison. (paintcreektrail.org)
Skyline Trail, North Country Trail, Petoskey
This trail that crosses a moraine above Little Traverse Bay has drawn comparisons to the Blue Ridge Mountains and rightly so. The trail rises 600 feet toward a view that surely gave the region the nickname “land of sunsets.” The hike is just 1 mile from the parking lot to overlook platform where you can watch the sun sink over a panorama of distant Harbor Springs, valleys and farms. (petoskeyarea.com) ≈
Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who lives Up North. She shares her travel savvy in every issue of Michigan BLUE.