Colorful leaves crunch under the soles of your shoes with every step you take. Sun peeks through the leaves, the canopy still thick and rich with color. You can smell the air—slightly damp like the dirt path you’re strolling, but somehow crisp like an apple. Breathe in the peacefulness.
Share this experience with your kids this autumn via these 10 family-friendly hiking trails in Northern Michigan.
Finton Natural Area
The tops of tall cedars and white birch trees colored with fall foliage allows a beautiful canopy for a short hike. The flat, half-mile trail through Finton Natural Area at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula is perfect for children and those challenged by climbs. In fact, the Leelanau Conservancy is known for taking child-focused groups through its trail.
Location: Head north on Mill Street 1 mile past downtown Northport. Turns into E. Woolsey Lake Road (CR 629). Continue for 1.5 miles.
Michigan Legacy Art Park
Children connect with outdoor artwork along Michigan Legacy Art Park’s two-mile trail in Benzie County. You’ll see their eyes look at nature in a whole new way thanks to this trail. Bonus: your uphill dedication is rewarded at the top with a gorgeous overlook for parents and exploration stockade for kids.
Location: On the campus of Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.
Take in the crisp autumn air while exploring the new Nagonaba Trail and boardwalk at Northport’s Braman Hill Recreation Area. Helpful tree-identification signage adds a fun educational element!
Location: Head west on Third Street from downtown Northport. Braman Hill is on the left, right after Third Street becomes Melkild Road.
Deadman’s Hill Loop
Talk about a popular hiking spot during the height of fall color! Scenic views of the Jordan River watershed can be admired and achieved via the short 3.1-mile loop here in Antrim County.
Location: 11.5 miles north of Mancelona off US-131.
Avalanche Mountain Preserve
This may not be the easiest “trail” on the list, but the 462 steps to the top of Avalanche are completely worth it. Not up for leg workout? Check out the other trails at the Avalanche Preserve Recreation Area. Either way, expect a long nap from your kids on your drive back home!
Location: 1 mile southwest of Boyne City High School off Wilson Street.
Pelizzari Natural Area
Just north of Traverse City on Old Mission Peninsula, the Pelizzari Trailis a good length for kids. Former orchards, giant hemlocks, and wide fields provide endless beauty throughout the nearly three-mile trail.
Location: A 2-mile drive north on M-37 from E. Front Street at the base of Old Mission Peninsula.
High Rollways Observation Deck
Probably best suitable for families with older children, the High Rollways is a secret spot, home to a significant scenic overlook glancing 200 feet down. Don’t forget your camera on this Northern Michigan hike with Manistee River views!
Location: From the M-37 blinking light in Buckley, head east on Buckley Road to the first stop sign (N17) and turn right. Go to the next stop sign (W4) and turn left. Follow the blacktop about 3.75 miles, and where the road curves sharply left, go straight onto a well-traveled dirt road. Follow it as it winds through forest and meadow. Stop at the Road Ends sign. Overlook is to the right.
Skegemog Lake Wildlife Area
Take an easy kid-friendly hike via the Skegemog Swamp Pathway and reap the rewards of Rapid City. The trail boasts a beautiful lookout point of Lake Skegemog.
Location: Travel east of Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel on M-72 for about 10 miles. Turn left onto Hill Road. When Hill Road ends, turn left onto Rapid City NW and head north 2.5 miles. Wildlife area on the left off of Schneider Road.
Twin Lakes Park
Wooded trails surround North Twin Lake on the west side of Traverse City. Deciduous trees line the dirt paths and a play structure at the park will burn off any energy left in your kiddos’ legs after your hike.
Location: A half-mile east of Moomers Homemade Ice Cream off Long Lake Road in Traverse City.
Houdek Dunes Natural Area
Your toddler’s little legs will do just fine at the Houdek Dunes’ .8-mile loop or 1.5-mile loop. Plus, this trail is great for wearing your baby in a carrier! And the Leelanau County views are breathtaking.
Location: Take M-22 north of Leland for five miles, and look for a Leelanau Conservancy sign on the left.
By COURTNEY JEROME