The days are getting shorter, but don't resign yourself to settling in for a long, lazy season inside.
One of Grand Rapids' greatest assets is the natural beauty that surrounds this mid-size city, with amenities that you won't even find in many big cities. From small pocket parks to epic-sized Lake Michigan, you're never far away from a wooded trail, a mountain bike path, or a gorgeous beach.
As summer turns to fall, Rapid Growth rounded up ten of West Michigan's best hikes, with hidden urban hiking trails mixed in with cross-country paths that lead to the great lake even in the snowiest of months.
Have an hour or an afternoon? Looking for a hike that can happen within the city limits?
Grand Rapids contains more urban paved trails and hidden hikes than we can count. Savvy West Michiganders already know about the bounty of outdoor experiences at Blandford Nature Center, Provin Trails, Meijer Gardens, and the Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve around the city's edges, plus favorites like Riverside Park and Huff Park right in the city.
Here are a few more in-town walks and hikes to get you started.
1. An accessible urban trail perfect for walking, biking, in-line skating, and wheelchair users, the Grand River Edges Trail is a paved loop right in the city that passes by many of the city's landmarks. With access at Fish Ladder Park, Canal Street Park, or 6th Street Bridge Park, the trail is 5.4 miles long and a great way to squeeze in a short hike or ride on your lunch hour or see the city as a tourist by heading out right from your hotel.
2. The Butterworth Trail, a paved loop that crosses the Grand River via a path over a restored railroad trestle, gives hikers a new view of the downtown skyline in a 3.5-mile hike that connects several neighborhoods. Trail access and parking are on the south side of John Ball Park on Butterworth Street.
3. A favorite of local running groups and those pushing baby strollers, the Reeds Lake Trail is a 4.5-mile loop around Reeds Lake in the heart of East Grand Rapids. The paved trail passes through John Collins Park and Waterfront Park, plus gives runners and walkers a glimpse of wetlands and residential streets. Known for offering idyllic views of sailboats in the summer and ice fishing shanties in the winter, the trial is also close to shopping and restaurants in Gaslight Village. Parking and trail access on Lakeside Drive across from Waterfront Park and throughout East Grand Rapids.
Woods, dirt, and challenges
Looking for a hike that's a little outside city limits, and maybe a little more rugged?
Head out of town just a bit to hit the dirt and find some solitude. In addition to Pickerel Lake Park near Cannonsburg and Roselle Park (paved trails, dogs welcome), making your way just a few miles outside of downtown Grand Rapids gets you out of the city and into a more natural environment.
4.True to its name, Cascade Peace Park Trail in Ada is a woodsy, peaceful trail just off Grand River Drive where you're more likely to encounter a deer than another human. The elevation changes along the dirt path make it a challenging spot for a midday run or hike and a great place to walk Fido after work. Parking and access from Bolt Drive or Grand River Drive.
5. With its linked loops and well-marked, color-coded trails of varying lengths and elevations, Seidman Park in Ada earns high marks from trail runners and cross-country skiers in the know. (No bikers allowed, by the way.) If you combine all the loops, the unpaved trails total 9.7 km and are open from dawn to dusk daily. Parking and trail access from Conservation Road or Honey Creek Avenue.
6. For hikers interested in tackling a segment of the North Country Trail, the 7.8-mile section from Lowell to Fallasburg Park is a good place to start. Beginning at the Main Street Flat River Dam downtown Lowell, the trail brings hikers along the river and offers a mix of paved trails, roads, and off-the-beaten-path sections for a challenging day hike.
Everyone knows Lake Michigan is the place to be on a sunny summer day. But don't discount heading to the water during the cooler months. Several West Michigan trails within an hour's drive of Grand Rapids merit a day trip during the fall to take in the color or an outing in the winter on snowshoes or cross-country skis. Bonus: Now that the weather has cooled down, you'll have the beach to yourself once you make it there.
7. Rosy Mound Natural Area, a county park on Lakeshore Drive just south of Grand Haven, offers a combination of stairs, decks, trails, and boardwalks through the dunes with a short, 0.7 mile hike from the parking area to the beach. With no dogs allowed and a few sets of strenuous stairs, the trail is popular among residents seeking a good workout as well as families looking for a less-crowded beach experience year round.
8. Nestled on the shore just south of Holland, Saugatuck Dunes State Park encompasses 1,000 acres of dune trails ranging in length from 0.6 miles to 5.5 miles. Popular with the beach crowd in the summer (though beach-goers have to carry all their gear in on their backs) and cross-country skiers in the winter, the park has a small picnic area and rustic bathroom facilities. The trails themselves feature moderate to steep elevation changes before ending at Lake Michigan. Parking and trailhead off 138th Ave.
9. P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, on Lake Harbor Road in Muskegon, boasts three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and easy trail hikes ranging in length from one to three miles. The wooded paths are gorgeous in the fall, and the north end of the park, along Little Black Creek, is home to bald eagles in the winter as well as several other species of migrating birds and butterflies during the warmer months. There is also a Visitor's Center and a campground.
10. Farther afield but worth the trip, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, the 3,450-acre park within the Manistee National Forest, is home to several miles of largely unmarked hiking trails that wind through the 4,000-year-old sand dunes and come out along Lake Michigan. With trail access from Nurnberg Road, hikers can expect no facilities (carry your own water and snacks), a few rustic campsites scattered along the trails, and plenty of endangered piping plovers and unique plant life. Most out-and-back hikes and loops range in distance from two to six miles and can be solitary and challenging.
This is not an exhaustive list of what West Michigan has to offer outdoor enthusiasts by any stretch, so for additional resources or ideas, check out these websites:
Many of the local trails also appear when you use Google Maps and choose the"bicycling" option. If you have a favorite trail that we didn't mention, be sure to let our readers know in the comments section.
*This story originally appeared in Rapid Growth Media.