Get stoked on Michigan’s fall color with a walk in the woods
Words by: Erica Zazo
Sometimes the hardest part about planning a fall-color hike in Michigan isn’t finding a trail explore – it’s narrowing down which one to pick.
Maybe you’re looking for a path that follows the shoreline with a kaleidoscope of fall color that pops against Lake Michigan. Or maybe you’d rather pack your way through the forest during the day and cozy up around a backcountry fire on a crisp night.
We’re hoping this list of our favorite fall trails in West Michigan will make your choice a little easier:
Ludington State Park – Lighthouse Trail (3-mile loop)
Most people make the trek out to Big Sable Point Lighthouse at Ludington State Park in the summertime. But we’d argue the best time to hike the Lighthouse Trail is in the fall. Not only does the foliage and dune grass glow with Autumn color, but you’re almost guaranteed solitude out at the lighthouse since peak tourist season slows by October.
The first section of this trail – a 1.8 mile stroll out to the lighthouse – follows a flat and smooth gravel path. It’s a great hike for families with small kids or folks looking for an accessible trail. Once you reach the lighthouse retrace your steps back to the parking lot and/or campground, or continue another 1.2 miles to sync up with the Logging Trail, Ridge Trail, or Lost Lake Trail. From there, you can complete the loop or chart an even longer hiking adventure.
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park – Homestead Trail (2.7-mile loop)
The Homestead Trail at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park is dreamy for a few reasons:
1) it’s particularly jaw-dropping during the fall, after the trees have turned and the summer crowds have died down
2) the campground makes it a convenient spot to hold-up for a whole weekend full of day hiking
3) it’s a quintessential outdoorsy Michigan escape – from the stretches of Lake Michigan shoreline to hundreds of acres of forests fit for exploring.
Hit the trailhead at the Gillette Visitor Center, but don’t forget to pit-stop inside before or after the hike. The center was built in 1976 to commemorate some of Michigan’s most notable natural marvels – the sand dunes. Along the way, you’ll pass through hilly ravines, over boardwalks, along dune ridges, and even hike a .5-mile stretch of beach. And near the start of the trail, you have the option to climb up 190+ stairs to the Dune Overlook, which towers 100+ feet above Lake Michigan.
If you’re looking for a shorter hike – or an add-on for your weekend camping trip – check out the Walk-a-Mile Trail. This one-mile loop features a similar terrain in half the distance. (But don’t think it’s any less beautiful with less miles – it’s just as stunning).
Fennville – Virtue Cider Hiking Trails (~1.5-miles of winding trail)
Sip on craft cider and explore 48 acres of french-inspired farmland, winding hiking trails, and a full-blown taproom and bottle shop, at Virtue Cider in Fennville. No really, you can take your drink with you on Virtue’s trails as you explore the property. It’s pretty rad.
About 1.5 miles of trails wind through grassy meadows and thick stretches of trees. A few shade gardens and adirondack chairs circling fire pits are also tucked away in the woods – which make it feel like your miles away (but really only a few hundred steps from your next pint).
Manistee National Forest – Manistee River Trail & North Country Trail (23-mile loop)
Manistee National Forest is an ideal Autumn escape – especially when you gear up for a loop around the Manistee River Trail and North Country Trail. It’s perfect for a 2-night, 3-day backpacking trip. Have your pick of 20+ picturesque campsites spotted along the trail – some with vista views above the Manistee River and some creekside that will put you to sleep with the sound of rushing water.
We recommend hiking the loop clockwise, starting on the south end of the trail and hiking north. From Red Bridge River Access parking lot, hike 8-miles along the North Country Trail and spend the night creekside. The next morning, hike up and over a long suspension bridge near mile 13 to jump on the Manistee River Trail. Spend your second night near mile 18 on top of a lookout over the river. Hang your hammock between the trees and gaze out across the treetops smattered with oranges, yellows and reds. You won’t regret it. Promise.
2 Bonus Trails (From Woosah Founder, Erica Lang)
Straits State Park
While I've only camped here once, I've stopped here a dozen times. Nearly every time I'm headed back down from the Upper Peninsula I pass the on-ramp to the bridge and head to Straits State Park to take in the view, one last time. You can park at the campsite restrooms and hop on the trail from there, or you can follow the camp loop around and pick your own spot to park and hop out to start your hike. It's not technically a full loop, unless you count hiking on the campground road. Either way, it's a beautiful view.
Heads Up: If you're not a resident of Michigan here is a $9 charge to get in to this park.
Presque Isle Park (2.2 mile loop)
If you're looking for a scenic trail with views that will blow your socks off, this is it. Last Fall while camping in Marquette, we drove out to Presque Isle to check out the infamous Black Rocks. We met a sweet dude in the parking lot with a ride equally as nifty as ours, shared some cookies and stories then headed out for the trail.
What we didn't expect was to find ourselves on a decently secluded, dirt trail that ran along the lakeshore 90% of the time. It was the kind of hike that you have to stop and pinch yourself, feeling genuinely grateful to have stumbled across such a beautiful place. While this trail is heavily trafficked, we only saw 3 or 4 other folks while hiking the loop in Mid-October.
Good to know: Dogs are not allowed on the trail and must remain in your vehicle.
We hopped around on Black Rocks and took everything in before we found our way back on the looped trail. As fate would have it, we arrived at Sunset Point just as the sun was setting. We were greeted by some locals (white tail deer) on our way back to our car. Our hearts full and eyes happy.
We just dropped a brand new fall line to keep you warm on your hikes and outdoor adventures. Cozy up in a crew-neck fleece or Woosah hoodie. Our headlamps also make good travel companions on the trail.
Kelly rockin' our Woosah x Third Eye Headlamps Pines lamp!