Activities

Iron Belle Trail – The Long Distance Hiking & Biking Trails in Michigan

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Practically everybody knows about the great long trails, like Appalachian, Continental Divide or Pacific Crest Trail. But do you know that we have some grand, long distance, hiking and biking trails in Great Lake region? Yes, there two long trails, one biking, one hiking, under a common name – Iron Belle Trail! And they are in the center of Great Lakes, in Michigan.

 

Iron Belle Trail

Iron Belle Trail – hiking and biking routes.

 

Iron Belle Trail – Long distance hiking & biking trails in Michigan

 

The 1,273-mile (some info sites 1,259) hiking route follows for 1,150 mikes the North Country National Scenic Trail. It traverses the west side of the Lower Peninsula, and borders Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula.

The 791-mile (again, some sources quote 773) bicycling route utilizes existing trails that were developed by local governments, counties or state. In Upper Peninsula the route follows US-2, which is a designated national biking route.

Both trails begin on Belle Isle on Detroit River, almost across from downtown Detroit.  And they end all the way in Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula by the Wisconsin border.

These relatively new Michigan hiking and biking trails let you explore state’s natural, cultural and historic resources. They pass by some of Michigan’s scenic rivers and lakes and through extended patches of forest. They let you enjoy some big cities like Detroit, Ann Arbor, Saginaw and Bay City. But they also let you experience the climate of small “Up North” towns like Gaylord, Cheboygan, Mackinaw City and Escanaba.

For more information about Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail, visit http://www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails.

For information about Michigan state parks and DNR trails, visit the www.michigan.gov/recreationsearch.

 

Iron Belle Trail

Belle Isle Conservatory

 

The hiking route is about 69% complete, according to the Michigan DNR, and the bicycle route is at about 64% complete. Therefore, if you plan an epic journey, either hiking or biking, along one of the trails, plan your route carefully and check for the latest updates from MDNR to avoid unpleasant surprises.

The easiest way to stay up-to-date is to visit www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails and click the red envelope to sign up for email updates.

 

Iron Belle Trail

Bicycles parked along the main street on Mackinac Island.

 

Crossing the Straights of Mackinac

One of the often asked questions, when it comes to the trail that routes through the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan, is how one can get across the Straights of Mackinac. Since you cannot walk or ride a bicycle across the Mackinac Bridge, there has to be some other way of getting across… And there are two options available.

 

Mackinac Bridge Authority

First option is to use the Mackinac Bridge Authority transport services. The transportation service across the bridge is offered 24/7. The fee is $5 per bicycle (includes one person per bike) and $3.50 for a pedestrian to ride in a Mackinac Bridge Authority vehicle. For northbound users, there is a phone at the south end of the bridge. Instructions for using the phone are posted in the phone box. If you are going southbound, you need to visit the Authority service window in the administration building on the north end of the Mackinac Bridge on the east side of the toll plaza.

Transport service is provided on an as-needed basis, and service is normally provided within ½ hour of the call.

 

Iron Belle Trail

Hikers on a section of a trail in Northern Lower Peninsula.

 

Mackinac Island Ferries

The other option is more time consuming and more expensive, but offers many attractions. It simply means that instead of trying to cross the bridge, you take a ferry to Mackinac Island (from Mackinaw City). Then (after visiting the island) you take another ferry to St Ignace on the shore of the Upper Peninsula, or vice-versa, if you are traveling southbound.

The Mackinac Island Ferry service takes approximately 25 minutes from dock to dock, but is only provided at scheduled times. To find out schedules and prices of available ferry services visit www.mackinacisland.org/transportation. 

 

Iron Belle Trail

Ferry on the way to Mackinac Island.

 

Learn more about Michigan’s trails at www.michigan.gov/dnrtrails . You can, also, sign up for email updates by clicking the red envelope.

 

Here is the link to the Iron Belle Trail brochure.

 

Iron Belle Trail

Tourists enjoy the beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

 

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While I have hiked and bike small sections of the trail, both, in Lower and Upper Peninsulas, I have not yet had a time to embark on journey that would encompass the entire length or even a significant portion of the trail. So, if you will have a chance to do that, or you’ve already done so, please, share your impressions and observations by commenting below.

 

Iron Belle Trail

Iron Belle Trail logo.

 

 

Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

2 Comments

  1. gardiangg.com

    July 4, 2017 at 3:08 PM

    Wondering what the Iron Belle Trail is and how it relates to the North Country Trail?

    • Rich S.

      July 28, 2017 at 11:18 PM

      The Iron Belle Trail (the hiking trail) joins the North Country Trail in Calhoun County and follow the route into Gogebic County on the Wisconsin border where the NCT heads west and the Iron Belle heads down to Ironwood. Therefore, the NCT, in fact, is the major part of the Iron Belle Trail. Only relatively short section in the southeast Michigan, from Detroit to Albion, and a very short section at the end, by Ironwood, MI, are different trails.

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