Seniors in Otesego County are choosing to embrace the elements in Northern Michigan. Through a partnership with HeadWaters Land Conservancy and Otsego County Commission on Aging, learn how guided year-round hikes are keeping local seniors happy and healthy. Plus senior-friendly hiking trails in Northern Michigan.

No matter the wintry weather—frigid and sunny, blizzard-like and blowing—Sam Cornelius, 69, tries to head outdoors and move his body every day.

“I’ll get out for a little bit of a walk in the woods, a walk with my dog,” says Cornelius, who is retired and lives in Livingston Township near Gaylord. “It’s good to get out there as often as you can—just a walk around the backyard is better than nothing.”

Come winter, Cornelius is often on snowshoes, enjoying trails throughout Northern Michigan with family and friends. And a few years ago, he played an important role in helping HeadWaters Land Conservancy secure a grant to purchase snowshoes, says Dianne Farner, community engagement and development coordinator for the conservancy. Through a partnership with the Otsego County Commission on Aging, the conservancy provides these snowshoes to seniors who participate in a winter hiking program.

“The commission sets their own hike dates and we bring the snowshoes,” Farner says. “We plan one guided snowshoe hike a month in the winter, starting in January going through March.”

These hikes, geared toward retirees, typically take place around 10 a.m. Organizers try to mix up the locations, with a popular spot being the Groen Nature Preserve near Johannesburg. The event attracts hikers of all abilities who are looking for ways to keep moving while also connecting with others in their communities.

“We’ve got people who are living alone or who maybe don’t have family around, so it’s just good to be able to help people get out there,” says Farner, whose own mother—in her 70s and who snowshoes often—serves as an inspiration.

The hikes are also great for anyone who has dealt with health issues that kept them indoors for some time, Farner says. Now they’re ready to get exploring again, and the groomed, relatively flat trails provide a safe way to return to an exercise routine.

Seniors Hiking in the snow in Otsego County

Photo by Headwaters Land Conservancy

“It’s breaking down a barrier—maybe you got knee replacement surgery last year, or you have other health issues or you’re living alone. It’s helping people get out and stay active, and the group situations are nice,” Farner says.

For Cornelius, revisiting pathways and trails, and seeing how they change through the year, is a big motivator for staying active.

“Find places you like and go back to them many times. Have your favorites,” he says. “You get to know them better and get to see changes with weather and the seasons and the time of day—you’ve got that favorite curve, that nice downslope when you know the terrain well. It adds to the richness of being outdoors.”

And always remember the importance of dressing in layers and having the appropriate gear, which may include shoe traction when hiking slippery trail conditions and walking poles or ski poles for stability, the latter of which “can increase your workout because you get to use your arms and your legs,” Cornelius says, adding, “We have to know what we need to be comfortable and safe.”

Great Trails to Explore Across the North

Sam Cornelius, who retired from a career in early childhood and family-based services, helped start the volunteer group Kids Outdoors Otsego (KOO) in 2011 to promote outside activity in nature for young children with their parents. (Learn more about this group by searching Kids Outdoors Otsego on Facebook.) Cornelius is passionate about people of all ages spending time outdoors and recommends these spots for exploring in the Otsego County area, whether you’re spending time with your children and grandchildren or friends:

It’s groomed throughout winter. Features include Johannesburg Lake, woods, fields.

Accessible by taking Old 27 North to Whitmarsh Road and going three miles east to the parking area (which is along the road).

This multiuse trail has features including the Pigeon River and forested ridges.

Off Livingston Boulevard, in Gaylord. This Otsego County Conservation District nature spot has lots of different garden areas, a paved walk, wooded trails and more.

Seniors Hiking in Otsego County

Photo by Headwaters Land Conservancy

More Senior-Friendly Trails in Northern Michigan

A paved pathway connecting Suttons Bay to Traverse City. Running through the last of Leelanau County’s former railroad corridors, the Leelanau Trail features picturesque forests, farms, vineyards, lakes and ponds.

At the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, in Grand Traverse County, which is surrounded by five acres of wooded township land and hundreds of acres of state land—all with miles of trails. Find trail maps in the park. Enjoy spectacular views of the beach and deep forest views on these trails, which are open year-round and until 10 p.m. daily.

From the Little Traverse Wheelway, access the Bear River Valley Recreation Area by crossing West Lake Street at the fire station/city hall complex. Snowshoe the 1.5-mile paved path along Bear River trail that runs from Sheridan Avenue to Lake Street.

Check the HeadWaters Land Conservancy calendar of events to learn more about upcoming snowshoe hikes. Find information about year-round hiking opportunities for seniors on the OCCOA website

Heather Johnson Durocher writes from Traverse City, where she lives with her husband Joe and their three kids. She is the founder of the travel and active lifestyle site and also hosts a weekly podcast.

Photo(s) by Headwaters Land Conservancy