Whether on dirt paths or playing in the waves, there are endless ways to enjoy Northern Michigan’s outstanding outdoors! Explore the 2022 Red Hot Best winners for scenic hiking trails, fun places to paddle and beautiful beaches.

Take a Red Hot Best Road Trip! Grab the June issue with ALL the Red Hot Best winners and take the list with you as you make your way across Northern Michigan this summer. Find out what makes each winner RED HOT BEST! Available for a limited time only, grab your RHB issue here.

Best of the Above the Bridge Region

–Hiking Trail: Mackinac Island State Park

With over 70 miles of hiking and biking trails, there are seemingly endless ways to explore Mackinac Island. Bike the scenic route to take in the coastal views around the island’s perimeter or hike through the lush hardwood forests to find impressive rock formations and other natural wonders. Among its many other attractions, including historic monuments and shopping, Mackinac Island is the perfect place for a day outdoors.

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

What better way to experience the truly one-of-a-kind Pictured Rocks than up close on the water? Kayak or canoe around the lakeshore to catch unbelievable views of one of Michigan’s most unique landmarks. Guided group tours allow less experienced visitors to kayak Pictured Rocks safely. For solo kayakers, the National Parks Service recommends traveling with caution, as the lake conditions can change quickly.

Beach: Chapel Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Travel southeast of Pictured Rocks to find a beach with spectacular views and geographic features of its own. Chapel Rock is a popularly photographed formation for the lone tree that sits atop it, roots suspended over open air as it connects to the rest of the cliffside. The hike from the parking area to Chapel Beach is about 3 miles, and pets are prohibited from trails and beaches in this area.

Matt kayaking Pictured Rocks

Photo by Rachel Soulliere

Kayaking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

View the full list of the Above the Bridge Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Best of the Benzie & Leelanau Region

Hiking Trail: Empire Bluff Trail

On the boardwalk of Empire Bluff Trail, take in gorgeous, elevated views of Lake Michigan, witness some of the most spectacular sunsets and look north to spot Sleeping Bear Dunes. Only a 1.5 mile round trip, the hike to the bluffs is perfect for families. Since the landscape is beautiful in any season, hikers should take advantage of the unique views during the colder, quieter months.

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Platte River

Spanning nearly 30 miles — including 10 lakes — Platte River offers plenty of areas for water fun. For fast-paced kayaking, try Upper Platte River, where rapid currents and quick turns challenge the more adventurous travelers. Those looking for a leisurely experience should take their canoes and paddle boards to Lower Platte River, which passes through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and offers gorgeous views of shallow, crystal clear waters.

Beach: Good Harbor Bay Beach

With a sandy shoreline, views of the Manitou Islands, and an area exclusively for guests with pets, this secluded beach offers something for everyone. There are conveniently located bathrooms and parking areas, and its close proximity to Glen Arbor makes it a great place for families to spend a day on the water. A park pass is required to access.

Photo by Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau

Empire Bluff Trail near Sleeping Bear Dunes.

View the full list of the Benzie & Leelanau Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Best of the Cadillac, Manistee & Ludington Region

Hiking Trail: Ludington State Park

With eight trails varying in difficulty, length and terrain, Ludington State Park is great for hikers of all ages and experience levels. Walk the three-mile Lighthouse Trail through rolling sand dunes to find the gorgeous Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which is open daily from May to October for guests to tour, or take to the sky on the elevated Skyline Trail that has picturesque views of sand dunes and Lake Michigan.

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Little Manistee River

Paddle or float through Northern Michigan’s wonderful wetlands on Little Manistee River. Along the river are multiple access spots that allow visitors to have experiences of varying lengths and difficulties. The northern end of the river features swift currents and tight turns, making for a more exciting trip; whereas the southern end is peaceful and perfect for paddle boarding.

Beach: Fifth Avenue Beach

Want to play, picnic and parade along a pier all in one stop? Look no further than Fifth Avenue Beach! Attractions like a playground and a lighthouse make the beach fun for young kids, and conveniently located amenities — including a snack shack and free WiFi — allow visitors to comfortably spend the whole day on the beach. Plus, stay late to witness a stunning sunset over the water.

ludington state park, trail, hike, hiking

A hiking trail at Ludington State Park.

View the full list of the Cadillac, Manistee and Ludington Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Best of Charlevoix & The Chain of Lakes Region

Hiking Trail: Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area

Explore the woodlands of Bellaire along Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area. From light hikes through pine tree forests to a steep climb up to Lake Bellaire Overlook, there are several ways to trek through the area and discover its natural wonders. The dense woodland also makes it a gorgeous hike during the fall.

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Jordan Valley Outfitters

Jordan Valley Outfitters is perfect for travelers without their own kayaks and water equipment. Offering a variety of summer activities—from paddling a canoe to floating in a tube—there’s a way for everyone to play on Jordan River. For an especially unique experience, go on a guided Winter River Rafting Adventure to spot woodland creatures like beavers, river otters, bald eagles and more.

Beach: Young State Park

Head to the eastern shore of Lake Charlevoix for beautiful beaches, hiking trails and more. Encompassing three campgrounds, Young State Park holds some of the best of Northern Michigan’s inland wonders. Families can picnic and play on the beach while older guests can rent boats and engage in watersports. Visit for the day or stay in one of the park’s three campgrounds or two cabins, which are available to rent.

Daily Photo

Photo by Shane Wyatt

The beach at Young State Park in Charlevoix County.

View the full list of the Charlevoix and The Chain of Lakes Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Best of the Kalkaska, Gaylord & Grayling Region

Hiking Trail: Hartwick Pines State Park

Grayling’s Hartwick Pines is one of the largest State Parks in the Lower Peninsula, spanning nearly 10,000 acres of gorgeous Northern Michigan landscape. This means there are an abundance of hiking trails for any outing: short, breezy paths by Au Sable River, seven-mile loops through dense woodlands and more. A Michigan State Parks Recreation Passport is required for entry.

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Shel-Haven Canoe Rental

Shel-Haven Canoe Rental promises a good time for guests of all ages. Kayaks and canoes are available for those looking for more activity, and inflatable tube boats are great for lounging with a drink in hand. The rental shop is open and shuttles guests to Manistee River access point every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so visitors can cruise down the stream all summer long.

Beach: Otsego Lake State Park

With over half a mile of sandy beach in Otsego Lake State Park, there is plenty of space to relax and play in the sun. On the beach, guests visiting for the day can enjoy picnic tables and grilling stations, a fishing pier and volleyball nets. There is also a boat launch for visitors to bring their watercraft and cruise around lovely, quaint Otsego Lake.

Hiking along a trail at Hartwick State Park.

View the full list of the Kalkaska, Gaylord and Grayling Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Best of Petoskey, Harbor Springs & The Straits Region

Hiking Trail: Wilderness State Park

Spend the day trekking the trails but stay to stargaze at night. One of Wilderness State Park’s unique features is its designated dark sky preserve, a prime area for celestial viewing due to its lack of artificial light, and it’s the perfect way to end a summer evening. During the day, pondside and lakeside trails offer great views of the water while hiking near Big Stone Bay.

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Walloon Lake

Walloon Lake’s gorgeous blue waters and sandy bottom makes it an inviting and visually stunning place to spend a day on the waves. Bring your kayaks, canoes and SUPs to the public beach to enjoy a peaceful paddle along the serene coastline. If you don’t have your own water equipment, head over to Tommy’s Walloon Lake for rentals of kayaks, paddle boards, boats and more.

Beach: Petoskey State Park

Situated along the crystalline coast of Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey State Park offers soft, sandy beaches, spectacular sunsets and an endless array of ways to have fun in the sun. From hunting for Petoskey stones to beach volleyball, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, and with concessions and water equipment rentals conveniently located on-site, you can stay all day stress free.

Sunset in Petoskey

Photo by Rachel Haggerty

View the full list of the Petoskey, Harbor Springs and The Straits Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Best of Traverse City

Hiking Trail: TART Trails

TART Trails are woven throughout Traverse City, so you can find a great hiking, running or biking trail no matter where you are in the area. From 3K loops in the woodlands to paths that cut right through Downtown TC, each route is easily navigable and properly maintained. Since TART Trails is continuously adding more routes to extend its network, make sure to check back on its website for the latest trails to try!

Place to Kayak/Canoe/SUP: Boardman River

Lush green banks and a plethora of wildlife make paddling Boardman River an exciting experience for any visitor. Keystone Rapids, a stretch of white water and swift moving currents, offers a challenge for experienced kayakers, but for those looking for a lazy paddle, head to the upper end near Downtown Traverse City. Group rentals and tours, such as Kayak Brewery Tours, provide unique experiences on the river.

Beach: Haserot Beach

If you’re looking for a more serene, secluded beach near Traverse City, head North to Haserot Beach on Old Mission Peninsula. Its location, tucked into a bay that protects from chilly winds, makes this sandy beach feel like paradise. While Haserot Beach is smaller than those downtown, the playground adds some activity for kids, and the on-site boat launch lets you hit the waters. Plus, make sure to check out the historical Mission Point Lighthouse nearby.

Tour de Tart

Photo by TART Trails

Children biking a TART trail in Traverse City.

View the full list of the Traverse City Red Hot Best winners to find the best breweries, events and more.

Photo(s) by Tess Crowley