Michigan Hiking Trails: A Cultural Keystone

By March 24, 2023 No Comments

Michigan is widely known as “The Great Lakes State” and is recognized for its uniquely beautiful natural scenery. One of the best ways to experience that iconic scenery is on foot. Hiking allows you to get up close to nature and to take it all in at an unhurried pace. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, numerous active hiking groups, and many professionalized organizations dedicated to promoting outdoor recreation throughout the state, it’s no wonder Michigan has a second nickname: “The Trails State”. Hiking has become a cultural phenomenon in Michigan, and Chippewa Watershed Conservancy is happy to be a part of that lifestyle.

Trail systems throughout Michigan cover a variety of terrain including forests, beaches, dunes, and way up north, even mountains. The North Country Trail, one of the nations longest hiking trails, passes through Michigan, offering hikers a chance to explore Michigan’s diverse landscapes on foot. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park are two popular hiking destinations that feature both scenic views and challenging terrain. Bringing it closer to home, CWC offers roughly 10 miles of publicly accessible hiking trails throughout Central Michigan’s gently rolling terrain. Some of these trails meander along the Chippewa River, which flows through the center of our region both physically and historically. Trails create a relationship with place by getting us more deeply connected to our surroundings. Heritage trails, historic trails, interpretive trails, water trails, and rail trails all have cultural connections to the history and current way of life in our state.

Michigan has a strong hiking community with numerous hiking clubs, land management organizations, and other groups that host hiking events throughout the four seasons.These hiking events and meetups are dedicated to both promoting hiking and preserving our state’s beautiful natural resources. Hikers of all ages and abilities can find new friends to explore with, while seasoned hikers share expertise with new enthusiasts. Michigan even has an Annual Trail Week in honor of the state’s hiking trails. The celebration, which takes place in September, encourages residents to utilize public trails to enjoy the splendor of their state.

Chippewa Watershed Conservancy typically hosts at least two group hiking events each month. These events range from family friendly outings, to hikes at night under the full moon. CWC hikes are hosted at a variety of our 24 public nature preserves, but are most often held at our four largest public properties. These “Big 4” preserves are Bundy Hill Preserve, Sylvan Solace Preserve, Hall’s Lake Natural Area and Audubon Woods Preserve. CWC’s preserves offer a variety of hiking opportunities ranging from leisurely strolls to challenging uphill hikes and showcase unique features like wetlands, rivers, forests and lakes. These events are frequently attended by community members and sometimes people drive from surrounding cities like Grand Rapids or Midland to join the fun and explore a new outdoor space. According to our 2022 annual usage study, approximately 15,000 visitors hiked the trails at CWC preserves last year, with a couple hundred of those individuals having joined organized group hiking events.

Hiking has been a cultural cornerstone in Michigan for decades, but is seeing a boom in recent years. It is an activity that is excellent for physical health and mental wellness, and also provides an outlet to connect with like minded explorers, and to experience our state’s natural features up close. Because hiking is one of the best ways to connect with the landscape, it often goes hand in hand with the protection and preservation of natural resources. Learning and loving the landscape are often prerequisites to protecting it, and hiking is one of the surest ways to study and grow to love Michigan’s natural landscapes. Chippewa Watershed Conservancy’s hiking opportunities are just one example of the many ways organizations and groups are working to preserve and promote outdoor recreation in Michigan. Whether you’re a veteran hiker or breaking in your first ever set of trail runners, Michigan’s hiking trails offer something for everyone. We recommend you grab your boots, hit the trails and discover why hiking is such an important part of Michigan’s culture. Visit our nature preserves page for hiking options here in Central Michigan, or check out our events calendar to join us on our next guided outing.