Head north to explore spectacular St. Ignace trails for fall color hiking in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
As we laced our boots in the damp gravel parking lot, a flock of geese honked above us as they headed south. It’s fall—our favorite time of year—and there are few places we’d rather be than the Upper Peninsula.
On a Friday night, my wife and I craved the brisk air only autumn brings and decided to pack our bags and head out the next morning. We were leaving our home downstate where the trees were still green and vibrant and going in search of fall colors (if you can’t wait for fall to arrive in the lower reaches of Michigan, a trip to higher latitudes is the perfect remedy).
Conveniently located just on the north side of the Mackinac Bridge, St. Ignace was the perfect basecamp for our long weekend. We had no goals in mind and enjoyed the careless cadence of a weekend with few plans or reservations.
The quaint town of St. Ignace has quickly become our go-to destination for last-minute weekend plans. And a trip across the bridge was the reset we needed after a long, stressful week. We left early Saturday morning before the sun came up, anxious with anticipation of some autumn trail time in our favorite town.
We paid the bridge fare with the rising sun then headed west on Highway 2 toward Brevort. To begin our trip, we decided to stretch our legs on the Cut River Bridge trail. This 1.2-mile trail skirts the riverbank, runs underneath the highway overpass and ends on the Lake Michigan shoreline. I recommend taking the staircase down to the ravine and the dirt pathway that runs along the river back up to the parking lot.
With the lake still holding onto summer’s warmth, we took a quick swim to freshen up before heading to Java Joes for coffee and breakfast. With more than 15 pancake options and other breakfast foods served all day, you won’t leave hungry. We even got to chat with Joe (the owner) who came up to us to talk while we enjoyed our meal. Tip: Get here early to avoid a wait in this colorful and quirky diner.
To work off breakfast, we drove to the Michigan Welcome Center to begin hiking on the North Country Trail which runs right through downtown St. Ignace. This trail system is the longest National Trail System in the United States with more than 4,700 miles of trail in eight states.
The caffeine and pancakes were doing their job and we finally found our rhythm. The dirt path winds through a young forest where skinny hardwoods mingle with mats of green moss and scraggly jack pines. We eventually arrived at Straits State Park and continued north toward St. Ignace. Once we got to St. Ignace, we hiked the boardwalk that runs along the shore of Lake Huron. The boardwalk passes Wawatam Lighthouse where we sat on a bench and took in the views. We considered continuing on the boardwalk to do the Historical Walking Tour—it was a good day for it and we were intrigued by the audio guides we could use on our phones at each of 29 stops. But we were ready for lunch.
Craving a burger, we grabbed a table at The Gangplank. My wife dared me to try the famous “Walk the Plank” burger featuring two patties, fried pickles, bacon, pulled pork and fried onion rings. The thought of hiking back to the car with that in my belly convinced me otherwise. My wife ordered a salad and I settled on a burger that wasn’t the size of a cantaloupe.
After lunch, we tightened our boots, loosed our belts and slowly worked our way back toward the car on the North Country Trail. The high afternoon sun broke through the autumn canopy casting jagged shadows on the trail that danced with the northern breeze as the miles ticked by. Once we got back to the car, we made plans for a nightcap in town at a local watering hole before pitching our tent at a campground nearby.
Whether you need a weekend to entertain the kids or somewhere to escape with your partner, St. Ignace caters to everyone. The local’s laidback attitude and welcoming presence encourage visitors to relax. Soak it in, grab a beer, go for a hike or take nap and remember times like these are just a short drive away. We’ll never forget.
Read on for more St. Ignace trail suggestions, plus restaurants for a post-hike bite.
More Hiking Trails in St. Ignace
If you’re in town for more than a day there are plenty of other options. Whether you just need to stretch your legs or you want to rack up the miles, select a trail that fits your fancy and have fun. The longer hikes can be split up into shorter sections or cut short and hiked as an out-and-back.
Short Hikes (1-2 miles)
The Hiawatha National Forest is just outside St. Ignace and provides plenty of recreation opportunities, no matter the season. The St. Ignace Sand Dunes Trail is a short 2-mile loop near Lake Michigan. You can also easily extend this hike on the well-marked trail system that consists of different-sized loops.
Medium Hikes (2-5 miles)
If you’re looking for a bit more distance, head to the Little Brevort Lake Trail. This 5.6-mile out-and-back trail winds along the shoreline of Little Brevort Lake which is just east of St. Ignace near the small town of Brevort. From swamps and dunes to lowland forest you get a bit of everything on this trail.
Longer Hikes (6+ Miles)
The St. Ignace Trout Lake Trail is a 27-mile trail that follows an abandoned stretch of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad. The trail passes by wetlands, Hay Lake and the Carp River. The first section of the trail is shared with the North County Trail. After Castle Rock, the trail becomes a wide and straight crushed gravel and limestone path that is also popular with mountain bikers and ORVs. The trail ends at Trout Lake, a popular fishing, camping, swimming and recreation area. There are no designated campgrounds on this trail until you reach Trout Lake. The trail passes through the small town of Moran if you want to leave a shuttle car there for an 8-mile hike from St. Ignace.
More Places to Eat After Hiking
There are several options in downtown St. Ignace depending on what you’re in the mood for. A trip to the Yoop wouldn’t be complete without some Whitefish. The Driftwood serves baked whitefish on a maple plank with a medley of vegetables. The Poorman’s Whitefish at Mackinac Grille is brushed with butter and herbs and baked in foil with vegetables.
If you just need a libation or two, The Club at the Breakers Hotel sits right on the beach. Enjoy cocktails and appetizers with a view of Lake Huron and Mackinac Island.
Colors begin to turn early September in the U.P. Peak fall color is usually around the end of September. For the most up-to-date information call the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau at (906) 643-6950 for a real-time color report before your trip.