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Exploring the Chain of Lakes

While most paddlers have hung up their boats for the year, we encourage you to still get out and explore the area by land. There are so many great, family friendly hikes in the region with beautiful views of our pristine waterways. Below are just a few of the year-round hiking options. All of these trails are non-motorized and allow snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter months. We are lucky to be in a region with so much access to nature and we hope you all get out and explore!

Skegemog Lake Wildlife Area
This 3,300-acre wildlife area is co-managed by the Michigan DNR and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and includes over seven miles of shoreline on Skegemog Lake and Torch River. There are four different parking areas to access the trails – my family and I explored from the Rapid City parking area. This flat and straight out-and-back hike is wooded and kid/stroller friendly, making it a fun family adventure. It’s about 1.5 miles to reach beautiful Lake Skegemog views. The pine trees along the trail make it feel like you are walking through a long tunnel – but watch out for low hanging branches (especially if you hike with a kid on your shoulders)!

Rapid City parking location: Travel M-72 east of Turtle Creek Casino for about 10 miles. Turn left onto Hill Road. When Hill Road ends, turn left onto Rapid City NW and head north 2.5 miles. Wildlife Area on the left off of Schneider Road.

Maplehurst Natural Area
Opened to the public in 2019, Maplehurst Natural Area is a great addition to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s roster of amazing protected natural areas. This 389-acre property is a great spot to explore with the whole family year-round. With a variety of different trail options and brand new trail signage, you can create your own adventure with short kid friendly adventures or longer hikes. Take a quick walk (or run) down the hill towards Maplehurst Lake for beautiful scenery, a small beach area, and some large rocks to jump around on. Wrap around the lake and head up into the wooded area for a very different but equally scenic perspective. There is some elevation change, which means it’s a bit more challenging than some of the other hikes in the region, but it comes with the great reward of spectacular views of Torch Lake, Elk Lake and Grand Traverse Bay. For fans of Glacial Hills, this area will feel especially familiar and enjoyable!

Location: Turn east onto Winter’s Rd off of US-31 in Kewadin, just north of Birch Lake. Continue onto Waring Rd. Maplehurst Natural Area will be on the right.

Grass River Natural Area
No Chain of Lakes region hiking list would be complete without the Grass River Natural Area. Covering all the offerings of the GRNA would be a blog post or two in itself, so this will focus on the hiking. In total there are seven miles of trails which can be broken up into shorter hikes. You can easily create your own adventure with the great signage in place to help walkers/hikers find their way. There are both boardwalk trails and footpaths throughout the natural area. The boardwalk gives you beautiful views of the wetland and the Grass River, and they are wheelchair and stroller friendly.

Location: The Grass River Natural Area entrance is at 6500 Alden Highway (Co. Road 618), 4 miles northeast of Alden, 6 miles south of Bellaire and 8 miles west of Mancelona. The preserve is also accessible by boat from the Grass River dock located on the south end of Grass River between Clam Lake and Lake Bellaire.

Be Good Stewards

  • Be on the look-out for invasive species. CAKE CISMA has a comprehensive list of priority species of concern in our region and they give resources on how users can report these.
  • Remove any mud or plant matter from your hiking gear as you go from place to place. Many trails have a boot brushing station you can use – they are there for a reason – use them before and after your hike!
  • Take care of any trash you bring and pick-up trash you see on the trail.
  • Be friendly to other hikers on the trail and be sure to give them plenty of space to pass by.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Wear orange or bright colors – all of these trails allow hunting during the season.
  • Dress appropriately – it’s getting colder, be sure to bundle up and bring extra clothing just in case it gets colder during your hike.
  • Due to COVID-19 many restrooms are closed. Be sure to have a restroom plan before you go.
  • And always #RecreateResponsibly

Written by our friends at Paddle Antrim. To learn more about them, click here. 


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