One of the best ways to experience the beauty of fall in Northern Michigan is to get out into the woods and go for a walk. Emmet County has many trails that provide an opportunity to see autumn color up close and personal. Several trails also offer scenic views of sparkling, blue, Lake Michigan, the perfect back drop for the trees’ brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow. From easy strolls along paved pathways to more difficult trails for experienced hikers, everyone can find a way to enjoy the outdoors in Emmet County this fall.
1. The Headlands
The Headlands features five miles of well-groomed trails through 600 acres of old growth forest. You can spend hours here walking among hardwoods and forest greenery. One trail takes you through a magical cedar swamp and past the picturesque McCormick Pond. Another trails leads through a thick fern wood and up a large rock bluff. The Headlands is also an International Dark Sky Park. The main drive offers an easy, educational walk with planetary stations placed every tenth mile with information about the the planets and our solar system. You’ll also find two miles of undeveloped shoreline along Lake Michigan where you can stroll by day and stargaze at night.
2. Wilderness State Park
With 10,500 acres of undeveloped land, Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula. A 38 mile-long network of trails winds through the park, including an 11.4 mile section of the North Country Trail. You’ll find yourself deep in an old growth forest where vehicles are prohibited. Walk-in campsites provide an opportunity for overnight hikes. A natural area in the park that draws over 100 different species of birds throughout the year is a popular place for birdwatching. Other wildlife in the park include whitetail deer, black bear and beaver. The park also boasts 26 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay.
3. Little Traverse Conservancy Nature Preserves
The nonprofit Little Traverse Conservancy oversees over 80 preserves in Emmet County. Its mission is protect and preserve open spaces, wildlife habitat and scenic views while providing opportunities for people to enjoy them without causing damage. Many of their preserves have marked trails. Their flagship preserve, The Thorne Swift Nature Preserve, shows off Michigan’s unique, freshwater, coastal landscape with a mix of upland dunes and lowland cedar swamps resting on Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The trail is 1.5 miles long with a dune observation platform and pond observation platform. To find more preserves in the LTC, visit their website.
4. Petoskey State Park
Petoskey State Park sits on Little Traverse Bay, halfway between the lake shore cities of Petoskey and Harbor Springs. The 303-acre park is a favorite place to watch the sunset. Another popular activity at the park is strolling the 1.25 miles of beach in search of the famous Petoskey Stone. A 2.2 mile trail takes you through old dunes covered in deciduous forests and small stands of conifers. You’ll make your way to an observation platform at the top of Old Baldy, a sand dune that is the highest point in the park.
5. Bear River Valley Recreation Area and Whitewater Park
Just minutes from downtown Petoskey, the Bear River Valley Recreation Area features 36 acres and a scenic river valley. A 1.1-mile paved trail runs runs along the Bear River Rapids and through a steep ravine and natural area. Recently the rapids were returned to their natural state, creating a whitewater park and one of Michigan’s best swift water experiences. There are also several unpaved trails in the park.
6. Little Traverse Wheelway
The Little Traverse Wheelway runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Charlevoix to Petoskey to Harbor Springs for 28 miles. Non-motorized and mostly paved, it was designed as a bike trail, but runners and walkers use the path also. It features scenic views of the Lake Michigan and several parks along the way. It also passes right through Petoskey where you can head downtown for unique shopping and dining experiences.