Best Winter Hiking Locations in Michigan

February 2, 2023
winter hiking

Michigan is home to some of the most beautiful and serene winter hiking locations. From scenic nature trails to challenging mountain hikes, there are thousands of miles of groomed trails and natural areas for every hiker to enjoy.

Winter is a wonderful time to explore the Great Lakes State’s trails, with the snow and ice creating a magical and serene atmosphere. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, these 11 incredible locations will provide a memorable and enjoyable winter hiking experience in Michigan.

Clinton River Trail

This multi-use recreational trail stretches over 16 miles of abandoned rail line through the heart of Oakland County and offers a diverse range of landscapes and scenery. The trail runs along the Clinton River, providing hikers with beautiful views of the water and the surrounding woods.

The trail is also home to various wildlife, making it an excellent spot for bird watching and wildlife observation. So as not to disturb the wildlife, your pup must be on a 6-foot leash if they are your hiking companion.

The trail is covered in snow in the winter, making it a perfect destination for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. The trail is well-maintained and marked, making it easy to navigate even in winter.

Holliday Nature Preserve

The William P Holliday Forest & Wildlife Preserve in Westland, Michigan, features over 100 acres of natural habitats including wetlands, meadows, and woodlands. The nature preserve has several miles of trails, and visitors can enjoy the winter scenery and catch a glimpse of some of the preserve’s wildlife such as deer, foxes, and coyotes.

Explore the Tonquish, Beech, and Tulip Loop, a 4.3-km loop trail near Westland, Michigan. Despite being considered moderately difficult, the trail only takes an average of 48 min to complete. This trail is suitable for bird watching, hiking, and running and is less crowded than other trails, making it great for a secluded experience.

In addition to hiking, the preserve also offers several winter activities including a sledding hill and a warming shelter for visitors.

Nichols Arboretum

The Nichols Arboretum, also known as the Matthaei Botanical Garden, is a 123-acre public arboretum located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is part of the University of Michigan.

The Arboretum has several hiking trails, some of which are groomed for cross country skiing and snowshoeing during winter. The Arboretum also has several outdoor sculptures, water features, and gardens worth visiting.

Try the Sue Reichert Discovery Trail, which offers a multisensory experience for visitors of all ages. Along the trail, visitors can discover native plants with closely related fossils dating back to the time of the dinosaurs and explore the natural history of Michigan plants through tree groves and a special sensory trail.

The trail also features animal tracks to follow, a bug meadow full of interesting insects to observe, and spotting scopes to watch the birds, turtles, and muskrats enjoying Willow Pond.

Paint Creek Trails

The Paint Creek Trail is an 8.9-mile non-motorized rail trail in northeastern Oakland County, Michigan, running between Rochester and Lake Orion. The 8-foot wide trail is made of crushed limestone with a 2% slope from south to north. It follows the path of Paint Creek, a picturesque stream that flows toward the Clinton River.

As the first non-motorized rail-to-trail in Michigan, it was converted from the former Penn Central Railroad and offers a peaceful escape from the region’s urban sprawl. Along the way, you’ll find a variety of natural landscapes including ponds, meadows, wetlands, and prairies. Wildlife such as muskrats, herons, snapping turtles, and deer can also be spotted along the trail.

Pictured Rock National Lakeshore

The 100 miles of hiking trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offer visitors a wide range of natural and cultural experiences including cascading waterfalls, sandy beaches, lush forests, historic sites, and spectacular vistas of Lake Superior from towering cliffs. Whether you only have a few minutes to spare or plan a day trip, the Lakeshore has a stunning array of hiking trails to explore.

The Miners Castle Overlook is the most visited spot in the park and can be seen from three different viewing platforms. The upper two platforms are wheelchair accessible and conveniently located near the parking lot while the lower platform requires a walk with stairs and steep inclines.

The 0.5-mile boardwalk trail located opposite Sand Point Beach takes visitors through one of the most picturesque wetlands in the park, featuring old beach ridges, cattail marshes, small ponds, and a variety of plant life such as white cedar and black spruce. The best times to observe wildlife are in the early morning or late evening.

Pigeon Creek Park

Pigeon Creek Park is a nature park located in West Olive, Michigan, that offers a variety of recreational opportunities. It is a 282-acre winter wonderland with an additional 130 acres of open space land. The park features over 10 miles of groomed ski and snowshoe trails winding through various forested landscapes including old pine plantations, old-growth deciduous forests, and floodplain hardwood forests along the Pigeon River.

It is a popular cross country skiing destination, offering groomed trails for classic and ski skating styles, with a sledding hill also available. You can also hit the slopes at night; the sledding hill and three miles of ski trails are well-lit for evening use.

Visitors can also take advantage of Pigeon Creek Lodge, which offers ski rentals and a  concession stand and serves as a warming house.

Pine Baron Pathway

Pine Baron Pathway is a cross country ski trail located in an area of Michigan known for its heavy snowfall, averaging over 180” each winter. The trail features four interconnected loops ranging in length from 2 to 2.5 miles and branching out from a central parking area into a forest of hardwoods and pines. The perimeter of the trail is 6.2 miles, and a system of crossover spurs and two tracks allows for easy customization of the trail distance.

The Highline Loop, Relic Pine Loop, and Hemlock Loop are relatively flat with only minor changes in elevation while the Whoopsy Loop includes a few more descents and climbs but is still suitable for novice skiers.

In winter, the trail is groomed for classic Nordic skiing, making it a popular destination for skiers. The rest of the year mainly attracts mountain bikers, especially those new to off-road riding and looking for a gentle, undulating path.

Pyramid Point Trail

Pyramid Point is a 2.6-mile trail in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an area known for its breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, sand dunes, and islands. The trail offers a unique experience as it offers stunning views and takes visitors through century-old beech-maple forests and old farm fields.

What sets this trail apart is its off-the-beaten-path location, making it an ideal spot to escape the crowds during the summer months while the popular Dune Climb area is bustling. It’s one of the best trails to enjoy the region’s natural beauty. However, the ascent can be challenging, especially during winter, because the trail is not groomed.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a popular destination in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is a vast wilderness area spanning 50,000 acres and stretching over 13 miles. The park is mostly untouched with no roads, buildings, or power lines, and the centerpiece of the park is the Tahquamenon River and its spectacular waterfalls. Visitors can view the falls from the river bank or the island, which can be reached by renting a rowboat from the park concession.

The park features several hiking trails that lead to the beautiful Tahquamenon Falls, which freeze over in the winter. These trails can be slippery and icy during the winter, so visitors should come prepared with appropriate footwear and equipment for winter hiking, such as microspikes or snowshoes.

Tahquamenon also offers track chairs for visitors with mobility challenges, which are off-road, electronic chairs that can easily handle trails, snow, sand, and up to 8” of water. These chairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are free of charge.

Vasa Trail

The Vasa Trail is a 26-mile series of looping trails located in Pere Marquette State Forest outside Traverse City, MI. It’s a popular spot during winter in Michigan where you can enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking on any of the moderately challenging trail systems. The non-profit TART maintains and grooms the trails so they are safe and free of debris.

Families with kids can enjoy the Vasa Skillz Building Loop consisting of two 1-mile single-track loops with features like jumps, table tops, berms, and rock gardens. Or try the 2.5-mile Vasa Snowshoe Trail - three stacked loops meandering through the Acme Creek Valley. Loops are marked every 25 paces with snowshoe blazes, and dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed.

White Pine Trail

The White Pine Trail is a multi-use trail in Michigan that runs 92 miles through West Michigan from Grand Rapids to Cadillac. The trail is open year-round and popular among hikers, bikers, and snowmobilers during the winter.

Most of the trail is covered with asphalt, but there is a 22-mile section that uses natural ballast and hard-packed gravel instead. These trails are not groomed if you plan to visit during the winter to snowshoe or cross country ski. One of the popular attractions of the trail is the number of cafes and breweries that can be found nearby, making stopping and enjoying the area a great day out.

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The diverse terrain and natural beauty make winter hiking in Michigan an unforgettable experience, whether you are a snowshoer, birdwatcher, skier, biker, or backpacker.

At Freedom Fatigues, we fully embrace outdoor life including collaborating with Howl For Wildlife to help protect wildlife and fisheries. Explore our complete collection of winter apparel and accessories like cuffed beanies, sweatshirts, and long-sleeve t-shirts, ideal for keeping you warm and dry as you explore the Great Lake State this winter.