While most of the County Antrim Chain of Lakes paddlers have hung up their boats for the year, we encourage you to continue exploring northern Michigan’s natural areas by land. There are so many great family hikes and opportunities for snowshoeing or cross country skiing in this area with lovely views of the pristine waterways. Below are some of the year round hiking and skiing options. All of these trails are non-motorized. Go out and explore!
Thanks to Paddle Antrim for sharing these hikes with us!
Skegemog Lake Wildlife Reserve
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 the Torch River. There are four different parking lots to access the trails – my family and I explored the Rapid City parking lot. This flat, straight round-trip hike is wooded and suitable for children and strollers, making it a fun family adventure. It takes about 1.5 miles to reach some nice views of Skegemog Lake. The pines along the trail give the impression of going through a long tunnel, but watch out for low branches (especially if you are walking with a child on your shoulders)!
Rapid City car park location: Travel east of Turtle Creek Casino on M-72 for approximately 10 miles. Turn left on Hill Road. At the end of Hill Road, turn left onto Rapid City NW and head north 2.5 miles. Wildlife reserve to the left of Chemin Schneider.
Maplehurst Natural Area
Opened to the public in 2019, the Maplehurst Natural Area is a great addition to the list of incredible protected natural areas of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. This 389 acre property is a great place to explore with the whole family year round. With a variety of trail options and all-new trail signage, you can create your own adventure with short kid-friendly adventures or longer hikes. Take a brisk walk (or run) down the hill towards Maplehurst Lake for beautiful scenery, a small beach, and large boulders to jump on. Take a tour of the lake and head to the wooded area for a very different but equally picturesque perspective. There are some elevation changes which means it’s a bit more difficult than some of the other hikes in the area, but with that comes the great payoff of spectacular views of Torch Lake, Elk Lake, and Grand Traverse Bay. For fans of Glacial Hills, this area will be particularly familiar and enjoyable!
Site: Turn east on Winter’s Rd off of US-31 at Kewadin, just north of Birch Lake. Continue on Waring Road. Maplehurst Natural Area will be on the right.
Grass River Natural Area
No hiking list in the Chain of Lakes region would be complete without the Grass River Natural Area. Covering all of the GRNA’s offerings would be a blog post or two on its own, so this will focus on hiking. In total, there are seven miles of trails that can be broken down into shorter hikes. You can easily create your own adventure with the large signage in place to help walkers / hikers find their way. There are both walking and hiking trails throughout the natural area. The promenade gives you great views of the wetland and the Grass River, and they are suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.
Site: The entrance to the Grass River Natural Area 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 reserve is also accessible by boat from the Grass River dock located at the southern end of the Grass River between Clam Lake and Bellaire Lake.