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Winters last just short of forever in the northern reaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, so when frosty winds stop nipping noses, outdoor enthusiasts are eager for some big-time trail trekking. That calls for…well, a big-time trail, like the 220-mile Michigan Riding and Hiking Trail, which crosses the state along river courses like the Au Sable and Manistee. Because the trail is so long, you can start a hike in dozens of places, but one of the best is at Hanson Hills Recreation Area near the trail’s halfway point.
Hanson Hills features a series of five looped trails, ranging in length from 1 to 8 miles. These sections can be used in tandem with the Riding and Hiking Trail to form weekend-length routes that are short on backtracking and long on diversions to forest groves, scenic overlooks, and placid lakes. With 25 miles of trails to choose from, you can opt for tough treks over steep oak and maple ridges or amble at lower elevations through forests of white, red, and jack pine.
If you really need to shake off the winter blues, hike the Michigan Riding and Hiking Trail east from Hanson Hills for five days to the sunrise shores of Lake Huron or west for five days to the sunset beaches of Lake Michigan.
Where: 200 miles north of Detroit and 315 miles northeast of Chicago. The trailhead is on Old Lake Road, 1 mile west of Grayling on MI 72.
Maps: You’ll find free trail maps at area headquarters (see below).
Trail Info: Hanson Hills Recreation Area, (517) 348-9266.