Springtime in Michigan: All hail to the trails, from foot to water to ATV and beyond

Many hiking trails run through Michigan state parks, like this one in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Trails across the state potentially are in line for a more funding. (Michigan DNR)

With spring now sprung, a sleeping Michigan giant is waking up – and now is a great opportunity for residents and visitors to see it.

Much like Gulliver, tied down to the ground by the Lilliputians, when this giant awakes, the tendrils holding it stretch a great distance – 12,500 miles, in fact.

However, this giant isn’t Lemuel Gulliver, Paul Bunyan or even Babe the Blue Ox.

It’s Michigan’s growing system of designated trails, ready for endless spring and summertime opportunities to relax, have fun, travel, learn and explore.

From hiking beside beautiful streams through the secluded forests of the Upper Peninsula, to riding side-by-side over a scenic trail in the northern Lower Peninsula, to biking and kayaking and riding a horse, Michigan is known nationally as “The Trails State” because our trails system is – giant.

Fresh off the snowmobile and cross-country skiing season, Michigan Department of Natural Resources trails staff is ready for spring.

Michigan is home to 12,500 miles of state-designated trails – including both motorized and non-motorized – and more than 2,600 miles of rail trails (the most of any state in nation).

Hiking in Michigan can be an adventure just in itself, with trails that run the gamut from paved, flat surfaces to tough, rugged terrain that requires boots.

Trails are everywhere – from local parks to regional or state parks or trails.

Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail, for example, is the longest state-designated trail in the nation, covering about 2,064 miles from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.

Featuring two routes, one for hiking and one for biking, the Iron Belle runs through 48 Michigan counties and 240 townships, making it easy for anyone in the state to hit the trail.

More than 1,200 miles of the Iron Belle Trail are designated as hiking trails.

On the western side of Michigan, the hiking route mostly follows the North Country National Scenic Trail, traversing the west side of the Lower Peninsula and bordering the south shore of Lake Superior in the northern part of the Upper Peninsula.

The Iron Belle Trail – intended as Michigan’s signature trail – continues to expand as partners throughout the state plan and develop more and more trail segments.

More than $34 million in federal, state and local funds has been invested in the trail since 2013.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund approved about $5 million in grants for Iron Belle Trail projects in December, and the DNR recently awarded $350,000 in grant dollars to 16 communities across the state for further Iron Belle Trail development.

The DNR encourages Scout groups to hit the trail with the third annual Iron Belle Challenge, set for Saturday, June 3.

The challenge, a hiking event offered in conjunction with National Trails Day, highlights the Iron Belle Trail and offers Scouts the opportunity to earn a commemorative patch for participating.

Last year’s hike attracted nearly 1,100 hikers who trekked more than 6,000 miles.

“The past two years we have had great participation from both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts USA,” said Ray Rustem, DNR youth programs specialist. “The Iron Belle Challenge has welcomed Scouts to hike all over the state, in locations like Detroit, Battle Creek, Cheboygan and Ironwood, to name just a few.”

Registration forms for the Iron Belle Challenge can be found at michigan.gov/dnrscouting.

In addition to the Iron Belle Trail, Michigan offers a wide variety of hiking trails across the state. The DNR maintains many of these trails, which can be found in Michigan state parks, on state forest lands or within wildlife preserves.

Many of the DNR hiking trails are called “pathways” because they loop through forests and along ridges, rivers and lakes. Many of the pathways are located near or are adjacent to state forest (rustic) campgrounds and in state parks and recreation areas – making for a perfect weekend getaway.

The state’s trail system also includes several linear trails. Linear trails – also called “out-and-back” or “destination” trails – go from one point to another and typically follow an old railroad track, river or other land feature. They cover long distances.

More information about the wide range of Michigan hiking trails is available on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails.

Aside from the chance to get out and enjoy Michigan’s great outdoors, hiking trails also offer an easy and inexpensive way to get some exercise.

Opportunities to explore Michigan on trails don’t stop with hiking – there are trails for a variety of outdoor interests, including biking and mountain biking trails, equestrian trails, water trails and off-road vehicle trails.

The DNR asks that, if you mountain bike or ride horses, avoid trails if they are very wet and muddy so as not to damage the trails and the environment.

For maps and other information on Michigan’s trails, visit www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails.

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