13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island via Instagram

By Claire Mainprize

September 14, 2023

These 13 trails offer spectacular views and warm, autumnal hues.

Fall in Michigan is hard to beat. From apple picking to cider sipping and leaf peeping, there’s tons to do and see during these autumnal months. But one of the best ways to experience the season is to take a hike or bike ride in the great outdoors.

The Upper Peninsula did snag the No. 1 spot in USA Today’s list of the 10 best destinations for fall foliage, but most of the trails on this list are in the Lower Peninsula, so we divided them up by region to make it easier for walkers and riders to find the trail that best fits them and their itinerary.

Get reading, then get outside to enjoy everything autumn that the Mitten State has to offer.

Upper Peninsula

Escarpment Trail

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor

Being one of the hardest hikes on this list, Escarpment Trail isn’t for the faint of heart.

The 8.4-mile out-and-back trail in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has a total elevation gain of 1,666 feet. Your legs will almost certainly be on fire by the time you reach the top, but you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views in Michigan—especially during the fall.

To enter the state park, you must have the Michigan Recreation Passport, which you can purchase online.

Arch Rock

The unique limestone formation called Arch Rock is a must-see Mackinac Island destination, especially when the leaves change. The 2.1-mile out-and-back trail takes less than an hour on foot, but it’s also a popular trail for road biking and horseback riding.

However you get there, the views under or above the arch are stunning. One AllTrails reviewer wrote, “So pretty through the woods. The sound of horses on the road adds to the magic! The arch was stunning as well as the beautiful clear water.”

Chapel Loop

Chapel Loop is one of the best day hikes available at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The full loop is 10.5 miles long and passes picturesque scenic spots like Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Mosquito River Beach, and Mosquito Falls. You’ll also follow the edge of Pictured Rock’s famous cliffs, where the fall views are nothing short of spectacular. We won’t blame you if you want to whip out your camera to snap some photos—just be careful where you step.

Unfortunately, no pets are allowed on this one.

Lower Peninsula

North

Old Mission Point Park

If you want to get excellent views of Lake Michigan in the fall, you must find time to hike this 6.1-mile trail near Traverse City. It’s got a little bit of everything: wildlife, woods, beaches, offshoots, and even a historic lighthouse at the middle point (the ideal backdrop for the perfect autumn Insta pic).

One AllTrails reviewer wrote, “Easy, peaceful, and beautiful 2+-hour walk through ridge-line forest, meadow, and beach. The trail is well marked with so many loop options to adjust length of walk.”

Wildwood Hills Pathway

If you’re looking for a moderately difficult and quiet path surrounded by trees, check out Wildwood Hills Pathway in the rolling hills bordering Cheboygan and Emmet counties. The 11-mile trail system has three different loops that each accommodate both hikers and bikers (and even cross-country skiers in the wintertime).

According to Michigan Trail Maps, “Wildwood Hills lacks the panoramic views so many other trails feature in this rugged corner of the Lower Peninsula. But the hardwoods and pines make for a pleasant ride, especially in early October when the fall colors are peaking.”

The coolest part about this site is that it used to be an entire town. Called Wildwood, the tiny village was built during the timber boom but later became a ghost town. Now, it’s the perfect place to take an autumn ride.

Jordan Valley Pathway

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of Visit Charlevoix

This 18-mile trail follows the Jordan River through the Mackinaw State Forest. Plenty of Michiganders will tell you about the beauty of this trail, and even the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says, “This scenic valley is well worth a trip in any season, however fall colors are noteworthy due to its rich hardwood forests.” Take it from the pros.

If you want to make a weekend out of it, you can break the hike up into two days and camp at the Pinney Bridge State Forest Campground.

Au Sable River Trail

Because it contains one of the few old-growth forests remaining in Michigan, Hartwick Pines State Park in Crawford County is a gorgeous place to get active when the leaves put on a show in autumn.

The park has seven excellent trails, but AllTrails reviewers claim Au Sable River Trail is the cream of the crop. One reviewer gave it a full five stars and wrote, “This is a great trail for all skill levels … There’s so much to see that one hike on this trail isn’t enough.”

The 3.2-mile loop near Grayling takes about an hour to complete and is accessible to wheelchairs, strollers, and dogs (your canine buddies can even be off-leash in some areas).

West

Luton Park

This gorgeous trail near Rockford is kind of like the Choose Your Own Adventure book of hiking trails. There are six different trails (each labeled with a different color) that all connect into a 9.7-mile stacked loop.

It’s a very popular spot for mountain biking, one reason being that the 10 Mile Road entrance includes a changing station, bike pump, and water. If you’re going on foot, reviewers suggest going counter-clockwise so you can see the bikers coming, but it’s enjoyable either way.

Pickerel Lake Trail

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of AllTrails

This popular 2-mile loop makes for a leisurely stroll (or ride) around the picturesque Pickerel Lake. Although AllTrails considers it a moderately difficult hike, the trail is well-maintained and flat all the way around. There’s also a 900-foot boardwalk that crosses over the water, which is a unique feature.

Scores of reviewers say this hike is a great option for kids and is most impressive in the fall. The various types of trees that line the water really put on a show this time of year, offering green, red, orange, and yellow hues.

However, note that you’ll have to leave your dogs and bikes at home.

Mt. Pisgah Dune Boardwalk

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of Holland Michigan

For the most spectacular views of Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa in the fall, head up the boardwalk of Mt. Pisgah Dune near Holland. The system of boardwalks and stairs (279, to be exact) only takes about 12 minutes to complete, and there are breathtaking views once you reach the top. Plus, there are landings along the way where you can give your quads a rest.

If you don’t see parking right by the trailhead, don’t freak out, there’s public parking just 800 feet away at an Ottawa County parking lot near Black Lake Avenue and Ottawa Beach Road.

The Matrix

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of Mosquito Creek Trails via Instagram

Mosquito Creek is a new, multi-use trail system that is already a major hit with mountain bikers all year round. Of the project’s six trails (and all the other biking trails in Muskegon County), Trailforks rated The Matrix as No. 1.

The 3.1-mile, moderately difficult, flow-style trail takes you through the north side of Mosquito Creek where you’ll be surrounded by trees and their changing leaves.

East

Rouge River Gateway Trail

If you want to get outside and experience the season but avoid hiking at all costs, the Rouge River Trail in Dearborn will be right up your alley. The 6.9-mile out-and-back trail is paved, flat, and in town, making it ideal for an easy bike ride or long autumn walk.

The tree-lined “trail” takes you along the river by UM-Dearborn and the Henry Ford Estate, then under and across bridges. Many visitors report seeing deer and other wildlife along the way.

Paint Creek Trail

13 Michigan Hiking & Biking Trails That Must Be Experienced In The Fall

Photo courtesy of Paint Creek Trail

If you look up photos of Paint Creek Trail near Rochester—which happens to be Michigan’s first non-motorized “rail-to-trail”—you’ll immediately notice that the majority of them were taken in the fall. The autumnal months are simply the best time to experience this 10-mile, wide-gravel trail that starts in Lake Orion and ends in Rochester. It’s great for walking, running, and biking, so the choice is yours.

One Yelp reviewer and cyclist said, “Fall seemed like the prettiest time to roll through as it’s when the leaves are painted and indeed it was a sight to see and the crisp autumn air was invigorating.” Can you think of a better way to spend a fall afternoon?

 

READ MORE: 9 of Our Favorite Chinese Restaurants in Michigan and What to Order When You’re There

Author

  • Claire Mainprize

    Claire Mainprize is a writer and editor who covers the intersections of pop culture, lifestyle, and spirituality. Find more of her work at ClaireMainprize.com.

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