These 10 off-the-beaten-path hikes in Northern Michigan will take you away from the crowds and into fall color bliss.

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Photo by Cadillac Area Land Conservancy

Waldeck Island Nature Preserve, Cadillac

This 11-acre Cadillac Area Land Conservancy preserve on Stone Ledge Lake offers a 1.2-mile loop trail through quiet woods and diverse swampland—perfect for a quick, accessible family hike. Walking the trail, exploring the shoreline and visiting the viewing platform typically takes about an hour (maybe longer if you’re peeping the vibrant color displays). Located off M-115, this nature preserve is a widely unknown hidden gem and one of the most scenic trails in the Cadillac area.

Photo by Leelanau Conservancy

Krumwiede Forest Reserve, Maple City

The hardwood canopy at this 110-acre Leelanau Conservancy reserve shines with an array of golden hues in the fall—hike through a forest flush with sugar maples, American beech, hemlock, red oak and colonies of golden aspen. Perched on top of a high ridge between two pastoral valleys, the two-mile trail system features mild to steep terrain that includes a gradual accent to the ridgeline and a steep descent back to the valley floor. As the leaves begin to fall, visitors can catch a glimpse of Good Harbor Bay.

Photo by Nate Richardson

Maplehurst Natural Area, Kewadin

Hike through stands of hardwood covered in orange and gold foliage at this 389-acre Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy property—one of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels near Torch Lake. More than five miles of trails take visitors along the 60-acre spring-fed Lake Maplehurst and through 150 acres of forested bluffs and open meadows surrounding the lake. Plus, the preserve’s position on high ground offers stunning views of Torch Lake, Elk Lake and Grand Traverse Bay.

Related Read: 2022 Fall Color Map: Peak Fall Color in Northern Michigan

Photo by HeadWaters Land Conservancy

Big Lake Preserve, Gaylord

A favorite of HeadWaters Land Conservancy, Big Lake Preserve in Otsego County is home to hardwoods that glow in autumn. The hike here isn’t long—the 8.26-acre preserve is more of a “pack a picnic and do some nature journaling” kind of spot. Big Lake is also great for kayaking: enjoy gorgeous fall color views of the preserve (at the southern tip) and along the entire lake. Public lake access is on Big Lake Road; the preserve’s the main entrance is off of Oley Lake Road.

Photo by Todd Parker

Boyd B. Banwell Nature Preserve, Afton

This Little Traverse Conservancy (LTC) property is another beauty in the fall, and it’s only 10 minutes off of I-75 east of Indian River. The 400-acre preserve follows the Pigeon River for nearly three miles and features majestic oak and pine trees along its steep bluffs. Adjacent to the Agnes S. Andreae Nature Preserve, there are more than five miles of trails to explore between the two properties. Bonus: Crawl inside the wooden Nature Megaphone, lie still and soak in the amplified sounds of the forest.

Vielmetti-Peters Reserve, Marquette

With nearly four miles of trails and some of the best fall color displays near Marquette, this 123-acre Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy (UPLC) reserve is not to be missed in late September and early October. A hike through this autumnal oasis will take you through a variety of terrain and some small waterfalls as two creeks make their way to the nearby Dead River. UPLC hosts fall color hikes and mushroom hikes at the reserve each year—for up-to-date info, visit their website and Facebook page.

Did you come here from the print edition? Keep scrolling for four bonus fall color hikes, a MyNorth online exclusive.

Photo by Preston McGregor

Elmer Johnston Nature Preserve, Harbor Springs

Just a few minutes off of the M-119 Tunnel of Trees, and a few minutes inland from Good Hart, this 220-acre LTC preserve offers two miles of hiking through a mix of meadowlands and rolling hardwood forest dominated by beech, sugar maple, and red oak.

Photo by Up North Imaging

Taylor Horton Creek Nature Preserve Complex, Boyne City

Nearly three miles of trails wind through mature hardwood forests and young pin cherry stands in this 335-acre preserve, with hemlock and yellow birch towering along the edge of the creek. Fun Fact: Ernest Hemingway loved to fish for trout on Horton Creek. He refers to it in several stories and memoirs, and it appears to be the model for the creek mentioned in the Nick Adams stories “Summer People” and “The Last Good Country.”

Photo by UPLC

Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve, Harvey

This 13-acre UPLC nature preserve, situated between Deerton and Marquette, has autumnal color galore and is a short and easy half-mile hike. The wetlands here act as a stopover for migrating birds and are home to mink, muskrat, black bear, dear, rare herons and eagles.

Photo by UPLC

Tory’s Woods Nature Preserve, Deerton

Nestled between Au Train and Marquette, this UPLC preserve boasts 230 acres of mixed forest and wetlands, which act as a significant wildlife corridor. If you take on the rugged Jacobsville Sandstone bedrock terrain of Tory’s Woods, you’ll be rewarded with an oak-maple forest on the west side that positively glows yellow when the colors peak. There are interpretive signs designed by NMU students at the preserve, spaced along an approximately four-mile trail. Note: There’s not much elevation gain, but the ground can be quite rugged in spots, and the fallen leaves can disguise the loose rocky surface. This area is also prone to flooding after heavy rains.

Photo(s) by UPLC