The leaves are changing, the temperatures are dipping, and Halloween costumes are popping up on grocery store shelves. It’s shaping up to be another beautiful fall in West Michigan! One of the best ways to take advantage of the autumn weather is to get off the couch, off the pavement, and perhaps even off the grid. Thankfully in Grand Rapids, we have no shortage of hiking trails just minutes from downtown. If ghost towns, bayous, hidden beaches, and the longest trail in America pique your interest, take some time this season to check out these 15 hiking trails near Grand Rapids you need to explore:

Aman Park

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Aman Park is one of those places that seem to magnify whatever season it is. In the spring, the scent of budding flowers is almost intoxicating. In summer, the amount of lush greenery is staggering. In autumn, the fall colors are overwhelmingly vivid. In winter, snow sticks to the trees and the banks of Sand Creek in a way only Robert Frost could describe.

Located just seven miles west of Grand Rapids, Aman Park features 339 acres of wooded bottomland and towering bluffs. A meandering trail network allows hikers to observe various ecosystems all while feeling far removed from the city.

Knapp Valley Forest

hiking trails Grand Rapids

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Become one with the forest on Grand Rapids’ hilly northeast side. Knapp Valley Forest’s 87 acres of secluded trails provide the perfect daily dose of nature for anyone looking for a quick hike close to the city. Kent County Parks has done an excellent job keeping this quiet tract undeveloped, and under the radar.

Crahen Valley Park

hiking trails Grand Rapids

One of the best overlooks in the Grand Rapids area can be found at Crahen Valley Park, where biking and hiking trails traverse the hilly terrain just northeast of town. You might be able to see farther in the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, but the fall color explosion is hard to beat. The trail heads down a steep bank into Crahen Valley. You’re free to roam the numerous ravines, creeks, ponds, and prairies, before coming back up on the other side. As of now, Crahen Valley is mostly undeveloped, but there are big plans for the future. This includes a snowboarding hill, paved bike paths, and a fat-tire mountain bike trail. Until that happens, hikers are free to explore this unspoiled valley undisturbed.

Cascade Peace Park

Hiking Trail Grand Rapids

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Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” inscribed on a large boulder, makes for a romantic first impression as one enters the wooded sanctuary of Cascade Peace Park. Topping out at almost 200 acres, there is plenty to explore along the wooded ravines of the Grand River valley. Four miles of trails wind through forest glades, spacious meadows, and leafy views of the river down below.

Lepard Nature Preserve

Hiking Trail Grand Rapids

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Don’t let the name scare you away; the only leopards you’ll find in Caledonia’s Lepard Preserve are of the amphibious kind. It’s a smaller park that often gets overlooked. If you’ve ever driven south on the East Beltline and noticed a stretch of woods gilded in October gold, chances are you’ve peered into the enchanting Lepard Preserve. A short loop follows a seasonal creek bed through deciduous trees and gently sloped ravines. When you get your fill of exploring, head down the road to EB Coffee & Pub, a combination coffee shop/brewery for some après-hike beverages.

Grand River Park

Hiking Trails Grand Rapids

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On the southwest side of Grand Rapids, Grand River Park has three miles of trails that showcase a wide range of scenery. The low-lying, riverside paths offer great views of the river, wetlands, and meadows blooming with wildflowers. Head further in, and you’ll find the higher elevation trails, where you can get an overview of the entire park through the fall foliage. The westernmost hiking trails give hikers a taste of “ravine country,” a local ecosystem of steep riverbank bluffs that line the Grand from Jenison all the way up past Allendale.

Grand Ravines Park

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Just a couple miles downstream from Grand River Park, the ravines reach their most dramatic depths at the aptly named Grand Ravines Park. This is one of the most magical places to take in fall colors in West Michigan. The trails here include long, steep hiking trails to the heart of the ravines, a hundred feet below the bluffs’ sharply defined edges. Hiking the ravines during or after a heavy rainstorm is particularly satisfying, as the trickling creeks turn into torrents and temporary waterfalls.

Ottawa County Parks is fully invested in making Grand Ravines accessible for everyone, including off-leash dogs and those in wheelchairs. In addition to the dog park and paved trails, Grand Ravines also features a covered bridge, a kayak launch, and a 70-foot high suspension bridge. There’s always a new way to explore Grand Ravines!

Provin Hiking Trails

hiking trails Grand Rapids

If you’re ready to take your hiking game to the next level, Provin Trails are your provin’ grounds. The hills are steep, the hiking trails are sandy, and the routes are numerous. If you’re gearing up for a long day-hike, a big backpacking expedition, or if you’re trying snowshoes for the first time, a few laps at Provin Trails might be just what you need to test your readiness. The sandy, hilly terrain is a perfect match for the wilderness that awaits in Northern Michigan. It’s all right here on Grand Rapids’ northeast side. After your hike, reward yourself with some homemade cider or wine from Robinette’s Apple Haus, which is adjacent to the park.

North Country Trail

hiking trails Grand Rapids

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If you didn’t think backpacking was possible in Kent County, you’d be wrong. Did you know that the longest trail in the United States travels right through Grand Rapids’ backyard? The North Country National Scenic Trail is over 4,600 miles long—more than twice the length of the Appalachian—showcasing America’s northern tier of states from North Dakota to Vermont. It’s crazy to think that while on a walk in West Michigan’s woods, you’re on the same trail that stretches from the Missouri River badlands to the Appalachian Mountains. In addition, the NCT’s national headquarters are located right here in Lowell, MI!

Locally, the trail meanders through the Rogue River, Lowell, Middleville, and Barry State Game Areas, as well as a number of Kent County Parks. In addition to numerous private campgrounds adjacent to the trail, you can also camp for free in Game Areas between September 10 and May 15. Click here to see a map of the NCT’s route across West Michigan.

Seidman Park

hiking trails Grand Rapids

Another Kent County Park gem, Seidman Park showcases a plethora of habitats along its extensive trail system. Boardwalk trails traverse wetlands and paved hiking trails line the park’s perimeter, but the majority of pathways are natural-surfaced hiking trails. Boulder-strewn Honey Creek surges through the southern portion of the park. The hilly northern half hosts sweeping meadows, towering forests, and even an inland sand dune. The North Country Trail meanders through Seidman’s 435 acres. There’s always a chance you might stumble across a troupe of backpackers during their 4,600-mile journey.

For those who enjoy a spookier walk in the woods as Halloween nears, Seidman also delivers, as it’s reputed to be haunted by the ghost of the “Ada Witch.” Maybe do a double-take when looking over your shoulder!

Yankee Springs State Recreation Area

hiking trails Grand Rapids

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Yankee Springs is one of GR’s nearest units in the Michigan State Park system, and the designation is well-deserved. There isn’t much you can’t do at Yankee Springs. The 5,200-acre park is loaded with options for camping, skiing, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, paddleboarding, mountain biking, and backpacking. The park includes several miles of Gun Lake shoreline, widely regarded as one of the best recreation lakes in southern Michigan. It also has some of the highest elevation in the area. The North Country Trail weaves through it all, passing places like McDonald Lake, Graves Hill, Devil’s Soup Bowl, and Turner Creek.

Eastmanville Bayou

Grand Rapids hiking

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If you haven’t explored West Michigan’s bayou country yet, you’re in for a treat. The Grand River widens and slows as it nears Lake Michigan, creating brackish backwater lakes, the ideal habitat for turtles, herons, and bluegill. These bayous are often given colorful names, like Jubb, Dermo, Ripps, and Lloyd. You can find them on either side of the river as far upstream as Allendale. Eastmanville Bayou is one of the more developed parks, with trails running the narrow ridge of land between the bayou and the river. You’ll be transported straight into the southern Louisiana swampland, without having to watch out for alligators!

Pro tip: Wait till winter, when the mosquitos have died off and the ice is thick enough. You can hike back on the frozen bayou for a unique perspective.

Hemlock Crossing

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As you head out closer to the lakeshore, you’ll notice that wind and sand are the primary factors that shape the land. This is true at Hemlock Crossing in West Olive, where you’ll notice two things: The trails become sandy and hilly, much like the dunes that rise out of Lake Michigan, and also the Pigeon River begins to wind, widen, and slow down—more bayou country. The trails are well marked and scenic. You can supplement your hike with a visit to Ottawa County’s Nature Education Center, located on site. They are open year-round and are happy to rent a pair of snowshoes for anyone looking to dabble in winter hiking.

Rosy Mound Natural Area

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Thirty miles west of Grand Rapids you’ll find the golden sunset shores of Lake Michigan, nicknamed the ‘Gold Coast’ for a good reason. The lakeshore is filled with hidden gems like Rosy Mound, a park with a one-mile trail that leads back to a hidden beach. It’s a short hike, but a mile over sand dunes is about the toughest mile there is, so don’t underestimate the trail.

The sweeping view of Lake Michigan is well worth the effort. Depending on the lake temperature, the lakeshore can either be the first place or last place to experience fall color changes. This makes a trip to Rosy Mound feel kind of like a “bonus” week of peak color out of season. Whether you’re high up on the dunes or down at the waterline, sunsets at the Mound are always rosy.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park

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A little further south, Saugatuck Dunes features a windswept, wilderness-like haven for hikers seeking that “off-the-grid” feeling. Along with the North Country Trail, Saugatuck Dunes is another local area where you can really rack up the distance. The park features thirteen miles of trails, not counting the lakeshore.

Lake Michigan has been high in recent years. This has created some spectacular sand cliffs along the shore, some higher than ten feet. If that’s not indicative enough of nature’s power, consider the fact that Michigan’s most famous ghost town was once swallowed up by the very sand dunes on which you tread, buried a couple hundred feet below the surface of the hiking trails.

The woods are beautiful and the weather’s even better. Get out on those beautiful hiking trails and explore!

About the Author

Nick Meekhof  graduated from Calvin College with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.Follow Nick’s adventures on Instagram: @puremichiganguy

 

 

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