Top 8 Backpacking Trails in Michigan

Top 8 Backpacking Trails in Michigan

There is a myth that Michigan's Upper Peninsula is the only part of the state worth hiking. While it does have some breathtaking scenery, the “mitten” has a lot to offer too.

Over half of the state is covered in forest. This includes 5 national forests and 6 state forests. Over 13,000 miles of trails are waiting to be explored. One of these includes the popular North Country Trail. This one is great for section hiking too. Or, there's the Huron-Manistee National Forest. (If you're into spooky outdoor tales, you'll find plenty from here.) The stunning Porcupine Mountains occupy the northwest part of the state. And, of course, you'll find picturesque coastlines of three Great Lakes: Michigan, Superior, and Huron.

That said, Michigan offers plenty of hiking opportunities. Whether you're looking for a quick overnight or a multi-day trip, the Great Lakes State has you covered. Check out our top 8 picks for backpacking below and start planning your next adventure!

Featured Photo: Nordhouse Dunes

Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail

Pictured Rocks Lakeshore

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is arguably one of the most iconic areas of Michigan. This trail, part of the North Country Trail, is 42 miles point-to-point. Don't let the length fool you. It's not terribly strenuous. You'll find lots of beautiful and interesting sights along the way. These include waterfalls, sand dunes, and dramatic cliffs. Twelvemile Beach is also a favorite with its white sands. Be sure to check out the Au Sable Light Station too.

Access to water and campsites isn't an issue here. Unfortunately, beach camping isn't allowed. For all of the details on this trail, head over to our Hike of the Week: Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail article.

Nordhouse Dunes

Looking for a challenge? Head to the Nordhouse Dunes in the lower peninsula. This area juts out into Lake Michigan, offering excellent views. The entire loop is around 13 miles. While not long, the sand makes things more difficult. Then, add the ups and downs and you've got a nice workout!

Make sure to have a good map and wayfinding skills. The trail is unmarked on the dunes. Camping isn't allowed within several hundred feet of any of the bodies of water and the trail. Other than that, dispersed camping is allowed. There are established campsites available too. Be sure to check out the lighthouse before you leave!

Jordan Valley Pathway

For another overnight loop trail, head to the Mackinaw State Forest. There you'll find the 18-mile Jordan Valley Pathway. You won't find any lake views here. But, the terrain is varied enough to keep you interested. You can expect boggy areas with boardwalks and bridges, mossy understories, and quiet overlooks of the river and rolling countryside. If diverse plant life is your thing, spring is a great time to visit. The mixed forest is vibrant with color in the fall. While not strenuous, there are plenty of ups and downs in and out of valleys.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Did you know you can backpack on several islands in the Wolverine State? Isle Royale is a bit adventurous at 46 miles long. Plan on taking 3 to 8 days to finish. Its remote nature will give you the solitude you've been looking for. Enjoy views of Lake Superior, tranquil woods, and lots of inland lakes too. Even though you're on an island, you might see some moose or wolves. Make sure you've got your logistics in order for getting to and from the island. For more info, check out our full Hike of the Week: Isle Royale National Park write-up.

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

For another one of Michigan's lengthier paths, hit up the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. This trail runs 34 miles point-to-point. You'll find plenty of water sources with all of the marshes and kettle lakes along the way. Meadow walks will be a nice change of pace from the dark forest. A unique feature of the trail is the eskers leftover from glacial retreat.

Keep in mind that dispersed camping is not allowed. There are several campgrounds along the way, though. It's also worth noting that cyclists and horseback riders share the trail in some parts.

South Manitou Island

There aren't many things cooler than camping on an island. (Even if it's not in the tropics.) You can do just that on South Manitou Island. Part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you will need a backcountry permit before heading over. Many campsites are available, both individual and group. There is no firewood available, so be prepared to gather some downed wood on the island. (Fires allowed in fire pits only.)

In total, it's a 10-mile loop around the island. It's great for hikers of all experiences with lots to explore. Highlights include sand dunes, a lighthouse, the Lake Michigan shoreline, and shipwreck remains.

Little Carp River Trail

One of Michigan's hidden gems is the Porcupine Mountains. The Little Carp River Trail is a favorite in the area. This 12-mile out-and-back is well-marked. Expect a few river crossings, rocky rapids, slides, small waterfalls, and some boardwalks over the river. You'll also enjoy lush fern undergrowth and old-growth forest. You can get to Lake Superior down another short path. (With camping options nearby.) There are several connecting trails if you want to lengthen your trip. This trail offers blissful isolation with several campsites along the way. And, you're never too far from the river.

Manistee River Trail and North Country Loop

It's hard to go hiking in Michigan without doing at least one section of the North Country Trail. This one is a manageable 20 miles. Its length makes it perfect for a weekend backpacking trip. There are traditional campgrounds at two of the trailheads. (As well as several access points.) Some of its  highlights include the longest suspension bridge in the lower peninsula, a small waterfall, the Hodenpyl Dam, and, of course, overlooks of the Big Manistee River and Udell Hills.

Location Map

The following map shows the location of each trailhead for your reference. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate to each trailhead and see the various trails.

For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.


Whether you're looking for a walk along the coast of a Great Lake or something deep in the woods, you're sure to find a secluded, picturesque trail in Michigan. Have you done any of these hikes? We'd love to hear about your favorite hikes in Michigan in the comments section below!

Read Next

If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Best Backpacking Trips in the Midwest” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.

Hike of the Week: Newport State Park
Hike of the Week: Shawnee Backpack Trail Loop
Hike of the Week: Superior Hiking Trail-Section 6

For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.

The Trailhead - Interactive Map of Backpacking Trips

Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.

Hike of the Week USA Central

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