These trails were made for walking: Our top 10 hiking trails in mid-Michigan

Whether you want to stroll through picturesque small towns, along classic Michigan waterways, or sun-dappled woodlands, the Great Lakes Bay Region offers many options. Today, we tell you about 10 of our favorite walking trails in the region.

1. Pere Marquette Rail-Trail

A popular destination for runners, bicyclists, and in-line skaters, the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail is a great walking trail. The 30 mile-long paved pathway (from Midland to Clare) is also handicap accessible and runs across Isabella, Clare, and Midland Counties.

Our top three hiking destinations in Midland County

Midland County isn’t known as a hiking hub, says Catalyst Midland Assistant Editor Crystal Gwizdala. Surprisingly though, it boasts miles of well-maintained and diverse trail systems. Most have defined loops and feature maps and/or trail markers throughout to assist with navigation.

2. Pine Haven Recreational Area

In Sanford, Pine Haven lies just off of the River Road exit on US-10.The towering pines, peaceful ponds, and trickling streams at Pine Haven all make these trails worth the short trip from town. In Sanford, Pine Haven lies just off of the River Road exit on US-10. Because it is near the highway, there can be traffic noise in some legs of the trails. On the other hand, these trails are less frequently visited, affording more privacy. 

The difficulty of the trails is marked both on the map at the entrance and on signs along the trail, so walkers can choose between a casual stroll or a rigorous climb. There are also tracks for mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Evacuation routes are marked, too. One word of caution: this area is owned by the State of Michigan, so hunting is allowed. If you plan on walking during hunting season, wear bright orange. 

3. Midland City Forest

Midland City Forest is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure destination. Midland City Forest is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure destination. Sprawling trails and loops weave through the forest, featuring wide horseback riding trails and maintained mountain biking trails, which are open to hikers too. Walkers looking for a more rustic experience might stick to the biking trails, whereas those who want a more easygoing experience may stick to the main trails. If you venture into the heart of the forest, you’ll find a river flowing through. There are three bridges for crossing. 

Midland City Forest is situated on Monroe Road and Eastman Avenue, north of town. Because Eastman Avenue runs alongside the forest, it can be noisy in some areas. 

In the winter, the mountain bike track is open for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Ice skating is available on a pond at the entrance, and just up the hill is a rentable chalet (COVID-19 contingent). Not too far from the parking lot is a groomed sledding and toboggan hill.

4. Chippewa Nature Center

Chippewa Nature Center has 19+ miles of hiking trails available. Be on the lookout for rivers, marshes, ponds, overlooks, observation towers, and even a canoe/kayak launch.If you’re looking for family fun, the Chippewa Nature Center (CNC) is the place to go. Located off of M-20 a few minutes west of Midland, it isn’t too long of a drive. On the trails are multiple outhouses and restrooms, educational structures, and placards. The CNC also hosts programs, classes, and summer camps for children and adults. 

But CNC isn’t just for families — there are 19+ miles of hiking trails available. The trail systems are not as integrated as Pine Haven or Midland City Forest, but that doesn’t make them any less diverse. There are rivers, marshes, ponds, overlooks, observation towers, and even a canoe/kayak launch. 

Isabella County offers several options for hiking enthusiasts

When it comes to nature trails and walkable pathways, Isabella County and the City of Mt. Pleasant offer residents plenty of opportunities to hit the trails and experience the outdoors, says Epicenter Mt. Pleasant Managing Editor, Liz Fredendall.
5. GKB Riverwalk Trail

A bench along the GKB Riverwalk Trail in Mt. Pleasant offers visitors an opportunity to rest and enjoy the beauty of the Chippewa River. If you’re starting small, enjoy a lazy stroll along the Chippewa River by visiting the GKB Riverwalk Trail right in downtown Mt. Pleasant. The nearly 2 mile-long trail wraps along other city parks such as Island Park and Mill Pond Park, and extends from Pickens Field to Chipp-A-Waters Park.
6. Deerfield Nature Park

For a more immersive nature experience, visit a county park. While Meridian County Park offers 145 acres and plenty of trails for hikers to enjoy, if that’s not enough for you check out Deerfield Nature Park. The 591-acre park has eight miles of trails for visitors to traverse, and a beach should you wish to go for a swim and cool off after a hike.
7. Sylvan Solace Preserve

Located on W. Pickard Road in Mt. Pleasant, Sylvan Solace Preserve consists of 78 acres with well-maintained natural trails.For those looking to explore wildlife while catching some exercise, check out one of the nature preserves maintained by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy (CWC). Sylvan Solace Preserve, located in Deerfield Township, offers nearly two miles of trails with opportunities to learn about the local birds, forestry, wildflowers along the way.

Walking trails lead to ice cream in Bay County

When you’re walking, you burn calories, says Route Bay City Managing Editor Kathy Roberts. That means you need to refuel. With that in mind, here are some Bay County walking trails that take you near ice cream shops.
8. Bay City’s Riverwalk and RailTrail 

The Bay City Railtrail begins near Hotchkiss Road.The Riverwalk and Railtrail consist of more than 17 miles of paved pathways for walkers and non-motorized traffic. The trails extend through the city on both sides of the Saginaw River as well as Portsmouth, Hampton, and Bangor townships.
On the East Side, the walking trails wind along the river, passing through a park and linking to both Downtown and Uptown Bay City. Best of all, they connect you to paths that pass near a couple of popular ice cream spots.
Users of the Railtrail system pass by working farms.In Uptown Bay City, you’ll find Cream and Sugar, 160 Uptown Drive. Just a little up the road, you can make a stop at St. Laurent Brothers, 1101 N. Water St., for ice cream and candy or Artgiano, 815 Saginaw St., for cheese or gelato.

On the West Side, you can stroll past an arboretum, community flower gardens, marinas and boaters, anglers casting for fish, softball games, and kids on playground equipment. Don’t miss Buoy 18, where you can play a round of miniature golf while enjoying an ice cream cone.
9. Bay City State Park

Over by the Bay City State Park, there are trails passing waterways, wooded land, fields, and a marsh. When you’re done hiking, stop at Mussel Beach Drive-In for a treat. Bring cash, though. They don’t accept credit cards.
10. Pinconning area nature preserves

Birds, fish, and wetland animals flourish along trails in the northern portion of Bay County.
In northern Bay County, you’ll find the Wah Sash Kah Moqua Nature Preserve, Pinconning Nature Preserve, and the Bay County Pinconning Park. Pinconning also is home to Purtell’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Shoppe, 409 S. Mable St.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.