Backpacking in Michigan: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in Michigan: A lone hiker navigates a serene forest trail, immersing themselves in the natural beauty of Michigan's wilderness

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Michigan offers immense variety for outdoor enthusiasts, from the dense forests of the Upper Peninsula to the inland lakes and dunes of the Lower Peninsula.

Popular destinations include Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

And that’s what this post is all about – backpacking in Michigan. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this diverse state as well as showcase the TOP 5 multi-day trails.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Michigan

  • What to expect: Southern routes feature easy trails through flat hardwood forests, while northern trails offer more challenging hikes over hilly terrain amid dense conifer forests along Lake Superior. Trails are mostly unpaved with natural surfaces like dirt, gravel, roots, and rocks, providing uneven footing.
  • Essential gear: Equip your backpack with quick-drying synthetic clothing layers, a rain jacket, and pants. Include a basic first aid kit, a bear canister for food safety, and bear mace, which is required for safety in some northern areas.
  • Wildlife: You should be aware of potentially dangerous wildlife, including black bears, grey wolves, moose, deer, and rattlesnakes. While encounters with these species are unlikely, it’s advisable to remain cautious. Additionally, deer carry ticks that can transmit diseases.
  • Wild camping is limited by restrictions on public and private lands. Some designated wilderness zones allow backcountry camping if you get permits and follow regulations on fires, water use, etc. Good options include Nordhouse Dunes, parts of Lake Superior, and remote islands like Isle Royale. Since unattended camp areas are scarce compared to the west, planning ahead for your tent is a must. Though remote treks using long trails are popular, lodging may be needed due to the terrain.
  • Best times to go are early summer when the trails are clear and waterfalls are flowing, and early fall when the crowds have died down and fall colors emerge. Prepare for changeable weather by bringing layers and rain gear. Make reservations for backcountry campsites ahead of time.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Michigan

Explore the most scenic backpacking trails in Michigan for unforgettable adventures:

1. Grand Marais to Munising via North Country Trail

A faded brown tree trunk stands alone in a vast, empty, tan field under a clear blue sky

Length: 42 mi / 67.6 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 2060 ft / 628 m
Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 11 100 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Hartwick Pines Trail offers a stunning 42-mile backpacking route through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You can expect rugged terrain along this section of the North Country Trail, with landscapes ranging from sand dunes to dense forests and rivers. Campsites spaced along allow breaking up the journey. Highlights are Little Beaver Lake’s beautiful sands and waters, and cliff views of vast forest and river valleys. Abundant wildlife and remote solitude make this a premier U.P. backpacking destination.

2. The Manistee River Loop Trail

Lush orange, red, and yellow foliage lines the banks of a winding river below an aging wooden suspension bridge on a late fall day

Photo by Nicholas Klein

Length: 19.2 mi / 30.9 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1824 ft / 556 m
Location: Manistee National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 5800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Manistee River Loop Trail offers a scenic 19.2-mile backpacking route through Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. You will encounter forests, ravines and beautiful river views. Numerous campsites along the multiple trails, including the Manistee River Trail, break up the 7-hour journey. Highlights are cascades, a historic bridge, azure waters and river views from campsites, making this a popular destination.

3. Boardman/Ottaway River Trail

A mix of green coniferous and brown deciduous trees tower over calm dark waters at the edge of a scenic shoreline under an overcast sky

Length: 41.5 mi / 66.8 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1584 ft / 483 m
Location: Traverse City
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 11 000 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Boardman River Trail offers a scenic 41.5-mile loop near Traverse City, Michigan. You can expect moderately challenging terrain ranging from hills to scenic river views. Numerous spots along the trail allow breaking up the 13-hour journey. Highlights include scenic Boardman River vistas, though the hilly route with wooden steps may not suit all visitors. Solitude can still be found during quiet periods on this popular multi-use trail.

4. The Dragon Trail

Vibrant fall foliage colors the forest hills overlooking a calm lake in Huron-Manistee National Forest

Length: 38.6 mi / 62.1 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1519 ft / m
Location: Manistee National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 9200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Musketawa Trail offers a scenic 38.6-mile loop near White Cloud, Michigan. You can expect a moderately challenging route that takes over 12 hours to complete. This multi-use trail is well-maintained and sees few other visitors. Solitude can be found on this route, but a park pass is required. However, self-registration for the day is easily available.

5. North Country Trail: Yankee Springs Segment

Tall wispy grass sways gently under a low-hanging fog-laden sky, enveloping an autumn prairie scene in mystery at Fort Custer State Park in Michigan

Photo by dpenn

Length: 12.6 mi / 20.3 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1092 ft / m
Location: Yankee Springs Recreation Area
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 3800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Yankee Springs section of the North Country Trail offers a scenic 12.6-mile out-and-back near Middleville, Michigan. You can expect moderate terrain along this well-maintained route, passing lakes with scenic views year-round. Highlights include opportunities for birdwatching, camping, and solitary exploration during quiet times.

Annual Weather Averages

Michigan experiences a diverse climate across its various regions. Let’s look at Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula.

Upper Peninsula

  • Spring (March-May): Daytime highs 30-50°F, occasional snow transitioning to milder conditions.
  • Summer (June-August): Averaging 60-75°F, characterized by outdoor activities and pleasant weather.
  • Fall (September-November): Daytime highs 50-65°F, cooler nights, spectacular fall foliage.
  • Winter (December-February): Cold, with highs around 20-30°F, abundant snow for winter sports.

Lower Peninsula

  • Spring (March-May): Daytime highs 40-60°F, occasional rain, blossoming trees and flowers.
  • Summer (June-August): Warm to hot, averaging 75-85°F, often humid, occasional thunderstorms.
  • Fall (September-November): Daytime highs 55-70°F, cooler nights, vibrant fall foliage.
  • Winter (December-February): Milder, highs around 30-40°F, moderate snowfall.

We suggest checking weather forecasts and terrain conditions before heading out. Plan long or exposed hikes on clear days. Begin early to avoid storms and bring a sturdy tent. Always have backup plans in case of severe weather.

Before you grab your backpack, take a look at the weather statistics for Michigan Center:

High °F313445596978827972604736
Low °F182028394958626153433324
Rain/Snow (D*)6579101011109877
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Michigan is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Wisconsin and Indiana.


Can I have a campfire while camping in Michigan? 

When camping in Michigan, you can have campfires, but you need to follow rules. Only use established fire rings in specific campgrounds. Don’t have fires outside of these areas when there’s a high or extreme risk of fire. Check with local authorities about fire bans and restrictions, which can vary by location and time of year.

What are some safety tips for backpackers in Michigan?

For an exploration trip, tell park rangers your route and when you’ll be back. Take a map, compass, or GPS if there’s no phone signal. Watch for sudden weather changes. Bring extra food and layers. Hike with a friend for help if needed. Keep food safe from bears and stay calm around wildlife. If you see a black bear, back away slowly; don’t run from cougars.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while hiking in Michigan?

Exploring the mountains and national parks means you may see black bears, so keep your food and smelly stuff locked up tight. If you spot a bear while exploring, move away slowly and don’t look it in the eyes. Cougar attacks are rare. But be careful around moose, especially if there are babies, while exploring the mountains. If a moose charges you, hide behind a tree. Watch out for poisonous snakes like copperheads and rattlesnakes when exploring the mountains and parks in warm weather. Stay far from all animals while exploring trails. Bringing bear spray gives extra safety while exploring mountains and national parks.

What are some tips for backcountry fishing in Michigan?

When you’re out fishing while backpacking in the beautiful nature of Michigan, focus on catching trout, bass, pike, and panfish. Make sure to pack lightweight and compact fishing gear, such as a collapsible rod and a small tackle box, to fully enjoy the outdoors. Opt for artificial lures and flies, as they are lighter than live bait. Target moving water like rivers and streams, which are abundant in nature and hold more fish. It’s best to fish early in the morning or at dusk when the fish are more active in the great outdoors. For a more secluded experience, consider obtaining a backcountry permit to access remote lakes and streams with less fishing pressure, allowing you to immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature.

How long does it take to hike the Michigan section of the North Country Trail?

The Michigan part of the North Country National Scenic Trail is over 1000 miles long, going through the upper and lower peninsulas. If you walk the whole Michigan part, it takes about 2-3 months, covering 10-15 miles a day. If you’re short on time, you can do 100-200 mile sections in 1-2 weeks. The really beautiful and secluded parts in the western Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula might take longer because of tough terrain.

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Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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