GET OUT: Awesome Outdoor Alternatives for (Extended) Spring Break
The best hikes right now.
By Ross Boissoneau | March 21, 2020
While we’re facing a situation that’s unprecedented and unanticipated, there are many things we can do to mitigate it. Maybe it’s as uncomplicated as this: Keep calm and start walking.
Sound simplistic? With vacations canceled, gatherings frowned upon (if not outright banned), and favorite destinations closed, going for a good, hard hike might be the ideal option. After all, the weather is mild, it’s a great family activity, and you can keep practicing that social distancing.
So here are a few suggestions:
Betsie Valley Trail
The Betsie Valley Trail extends from Frankfort to Thompsonville along the former Ann Arbor Railroad. It offers great views: Betsie Bay, the Betsie River and its surrounding marshland, and Crystal Lake. There are many places to access the trail and several established trailheads with parking.
While the DNR-owned trail officially starts at 10th Street, it informally starts at the the Lake Michigan beach in Frankfort and passes through Cannon Park. It then follows Waterfront Street along Betsie Bay, which is the only section to share the road, and passes through Frankfort's waterfront parks.
The scenic trail between Frankfort and Beulah is the most frequently used. Beyond Beulah, the trail is more heavily wooded and remote. It is owned by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and maintained by Benzie County and The Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail. It includes three miles along Crystal Lake and some beach access — though it’s probably still a bit too cold for much splashing in the water. Total length is 22 miles, but it’s easy to just traverse smaller sections. Start at www.betsievalleytrail.org.
Seven Bridges, Kalkaska County
With rustic wooden bridges across the Rapid River and many meandering tributaries, the 314-acre nature preserve in Kalkaska, a few miles from Rapid City, is a hiker’s dream. The natural area has over one mile of frontage along a scenic, cold-water trout stream and roughly one mile of trail and boardwalk. Most of the hike is through floodplain forest, primarily tamaracks, cedars and hemlock.
It was saved from development by a concerted effort spearheaded by friends LouAnn Taylor, Virginia Sorenson and Helen Milliken, who in 1994 had gone to one of their favorite spots for a picnic and were horrified to find stakes in the ground denoting planned development. They approached the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, which was able to obtain a grant from the state to purchase it from the owner before it was developed.
Despite its name, only four bridges remain today. The picturesque remains of a sawmill built by the original owners in 1882 can still be seen when crossing the first three bridges. Its brief length — a .3 mile trail — is made up for by its beauty. Start at www.gtrlc.org and click on the List View under Preserves and Trails.
Avalanche Mountain Preserve
The preserve is comprised of 300-plus acres of woodland on the southern border of Boyne City and beyond into Wilson Township. Mostly wooded, the entirety is mostly sloping terrain. It offers 2.6 miles of trail and stunning scenic views of Lake Charlevoix.
Thought the trail is rated as moderate, in addition it also includes a hefty hike up stairs to a lookout — 462 steps, to be precise. No worries, though, as there are several benches along the way if you need a break. From the top you can see over Boyne City and the lake beyond. The nearby mountain bike trail at Avalanche Preserve Recreation Area is a 4.2-mile loop that winds around over the 1,023-foot-high namesake ridge that rises above Boyne City.
Grass River Natural Area
Located near Bellaire on Antrim County's Chain of Lakes, this area comprises 1,325 acres along the pristine Grass River. It’s an excellent area for wildlife viewing, which, along with its relatively easy terrain, makes it an excellent choice for families.
This exquisite cluster of trails and boardwalks wends through forests, stream corridors, swamps, creeks, and floating sedges, courtesy of numerous boardwalks. It also boasts numerous observation platforms and benches throughout its 7.5 mile length.
Though the Grass River Center is closed and its programs are on hiatus, the trail remains open and lovely as ever. Start at www.grassriver.org.
Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve
Arcadia Marsh Preserve, just south of Arcadia, offers visitors access to an increasingly rare Great Lakes coastal marsh. These marshes are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and it is estimated that over 80 percent of the original Great Lakes marshes have been destroyed. Arcadia Marsh is one of only 15 or so remaining coastal marshes along Lake Michigan’s Lower Peninsula shoreline.
Arcadia Marsh is now the site of a universal access (UA) trail that extends about three-quarters of a mile from the parking area on M-22 to St. Pierre Road. This trail is suitable for people of all ages and abilities and meets all UA and ADA standards.
Note: A central portion of this new boardwalk trail is closed each year from April 15 through July 15 in an effort to avoid disturbance of several species of birds as they nest in this critical habitat. That makes now an ideal time to check out the trail in its entirety. Start at www.gtrlc.org and click on the List View under Preserves and Trails.
Pine Baron Pathway
This trail near Gaylord is the best of two low-key worlds: It’s rated easy and offers various loop choices, from two miles to a total of 6.2 miles in length. Though technically considered part of the Mackinaw State Forest, the Pine Baron is located on the edge of Gaylord. Named for the lumber barons who clear-cut the region in the late 1800s, Pine Baron was built in 1978 primarily as a cross-country ski trail.
The trail heads from the parking area into hardwoods and pine trees. The Highline Loop (2.5 miles), Relic Pine Loop (2 miles) and Hemlock Loop (2.25 miles) are relatively flat, while the Whoopsy Loop (2 miles) offers some climbs and descents. Start at www.michigantrailmaps.com and search for Pine Baron Pathway.