Everyone thinks of water when they think of the Petoskey area. But there’s so much to love about the land! Carnivorous plants, delicate orchids, towering dunes, cedar cathedrals, blackberry thickets, and beautiful vistas await folks who tread the hiking paths that thread across this region’s landscape.

Though we can’t describe every single trail to you (and trust us, we want to), we’ve provided this handy list of summer hikes to acquaint you with recreation beyond the life aquatic. Each of these parks has something special to offer, and a few feature stunning viewscapes.

1.  Wilderness State Park

If you’re looking for the crown jewel of northern Michigan, look no further than Wilderness State Park. With 26 miles of shoreline and 38 miles of trail, this 10,000+ acre park is a hiker’s paradise. Treks can easily be tailored to individual or group needs.

For those looking to gain elevation, Mt. Nebo is a popular destination. The Hemlock Trail loops off the Nebo Trail and passes through a majestic grove of old-growth hemlock before climbing Nebo, which comes in at a little over 650 feet in elevation.

A quick jaunt up Nebo and back clocks in at just a little over a mile. But here’s the versatility of the Wilderness trail system: connect Nebo with the Old South Boundary Trail, Swamp Line Road, and the Red Pine Trail to create a hike that’s over eight miles long.

Waugoshance Point in Wilderness is an otherworldly landscape. Carnivorous plants called butterworts and myriad wildflowers inhabit the wet clay marl, along with endangered piping plovers. Standing water might get your feet wet, but the wide-open terrain is easy to navigate.

While you’re hiking at Wilderness, visit gorgeous Sturgeon Bay, with hiking trails that follow the shoreline back to the park proper.

Wilderness State Park is a designated dark sky preserve located a stone’s throw away from the Headlands Dark Sky Park. Just south of the park is Bliss, location of the famed summer Blissfest and home of the Bliss Store, open during the summer season. Supplies are also available directly outside the park at the Cecil Bay Trading Post. Although the park feels remote, Mackinaw City and the bridge are just 10 miles away.

There’s nothing like swimming and sunbathing at Sturgeon Bay on a sunny day. Parallel to the shore are beautiful hiking trails that lead back into Wilderness State Park. Photo credit: Jen DeMoss 

2. Avalanche Mountain Preserve

Yes, Avalanche Mountain Preserve is also featured in our winter hikes section and other parts of the website. There’s a reason for that: Avalanche has something to offer for every season.

Avalanche is a challenging hike with a few options for the approach. The easiest route is to take the staircase, located straight up the hill from the parking area, all the way up to the viewing platform. Or, spend some time amongst the shady maples by starting your ascent at the trailhead located on the east side of the park (to the left of the main parking area).

Yes, it’s a steep hike, and you’ll need to bring water. But the payoff is incredible. Hikers are rewarded by a breathtaking view of Lake Charlevoix straight from a painting. Words can’t describe how the verdant greenery contrasts with the deep ultramarine water.

Disc golfers can amble their way through the preserve at a more leisurely pace to reach each of the 18 holes. And Avalanche is one of many mountain biking options in the Petoskey area.

For a pre-hike warmup, check out the Boyne City Farmers Market. Wednesday and Saturday mornings, you can grab a freshly-made crêpe, locally-grown berries, cinnamon rolls, veggies, eggs, and an abundance of other goodies.

After your hike, why don’t you stay awhile? Lake Street Market, Gildas’ Lake Street Bakery, and Sunnyside are all fabulous spots for lunch. Grab dinner at Café Santé, Red Mesa Grill, or Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen. Provisions carries an enormous selection of alcoholic beverages to sip back home, and their deli and lounge can take care of all of your noshing needs.

This photo of the view of Avalanche Mountain Preserve doesn’t do it justice. It’s a challenging hike to the top, but well worth it. Photo credit: Jen DeMoss


3. Offield Family Viewlands

A golf course turned into a nature preserve? Absolutely. Little Traverse Conservancy’s (LTC) Offield Family Viewlands contains over four miles of trails and counting in the 280-acre parcel. Even better are the vantage points that make this Harbor Springs preserve an area favorite, with scenic views of the Little Traverse Bay and Inland Waterway.

Since taking ownership of the property, LTC has performed prescribed burns and planted native trees and wildflowers. As of 2024, the nonprofit has planted over 10,000 trees.

What are the trails like? Imagine meandering across rolling hills with spectacular, wide-open vistas. Those in a meditative headspace can walk the reflection labyrinth, accessible by a barrier-free trail off the lower parking area. Or visit the Viewlands at night for spectacular views of the night sky.

When you’re done soaking in the scenery, take a trip into town. Petoskey Cheese, a mainstay for artisanal cheeses, crackers, flatbreads, and party trays, has made their move to Harbor Springs. Their daily sandwich specials are delectable.

In Harbor Springs proper, you can find outdoor gear at The Outfitter, summer vacation reads at Between the Covers, and quick sandwiches and libations for later at Gurney’s Bottle Shop. Harbor features delectable bakeries, detailed in our bakery guide, as well as iconic restaurants like Paper Station Bistro, The New York Restaurant, and Small Batch at the Cupola.

Rolling Hills at LTC’s Offield Family Viewlands make views like this one possible. Photo credit: Todd Parker


4. Thorne Swift

At only 30 acres, Thorne Swift is a fairly small preserve. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character and beauty.

The first thing you’ll notice when entering the parking lot is the caretaker’s cottage, with a caretaker who provides seasonal guided programs and advice on enjoying the preserve.

Thorne Swift includes a rare stretch of public Lake Michigan shoreline. The beach isn’t huge, but it’s also not typically crowded, and there are great views of Harbor Springs and dune habitat.

Over a mile of fairly easy paths lead through varied terrain, including upland dunes and a cedar swamp with elevated trails. There’s a pond observation platform for wildlife viewing, and a dune observation deck to take in the shoreline. Be sure to note the giant purple-stemmed angelica that grow throughout the park.

Located along the Tunnel of Trees, Thorne Swift is a great spot to begin your scenic drive towards Cross Village. Pond Hill Farm is just a few miles away from the preserve, with great food, drinks, and kid-friendly activities.

The Tunnel of Trees on M-119 leads to scenic outlooks and other hiking options. Just past Pond Hill Farm, take a quick hike at Seberon “Boo” Litzenburger Nature Preserve on a trail that crosses Five Mile Creek. Or, visit Hoogland Family Nature Preserve, with a gorgeous 1.5-mile loop across a hilly forested landscape.

As you make your way further north, be sure to hit Good Hart General Store, a purveyor of high-quality gifts and good eats. In Cross Village, take a gander at the exquisite arts and crafts available at Three Pines Studio. Polish food abounds at iconic Legs Inn, and you can wash your pierogis down with a refreshing beverage at Petoskey Brewing Cross Village.

The woods at Thorne Swift are lovely, dark, and deep. Photo Credit: TM Petersen

5. Bear River Valley Recreation Area

Right in the heart of Petoskey lies a trail that borders the Bear River as it rushes towards the bay. It’s one of the most popular trails in town, for good reason. There are ample opportunities, not just to hike, but to sit down and enjoy a picnic lunch, fish, and watch whitewater kayakers ply the waters of downtown Petoskey.

Bear River was once a center of industry, lined with sawmills and heavily dammed. Now, the river offers peace and contemplation away from the bustle of downtown, with 1.5 miles of trails meandering through the recreation area.

If you continue your hike towards the river’s mouth and bay, you’ll find yourself in Bayfront Park, with the view of an open body of glittering water on sunny days. Keep walking northeast on the sidewalk and enjoy the waterfall in Sunset Park, a scenic overlook for pictures, and a staircase down to the beach.

Downtown Petoskey is a haven for hungry visitors and shoppers. Beards Brewery, Roast & Toast, Petoskey Pretzel Company, Duffy’s Garage and Grill, Jose’s Authentic Mexican, and Lost Village Pierogi are all located near Bear River, with many more restaurants to choose from as you wander. For gift shopping, McLean & Eakin bookstore, The Katydid, Grandpa Shorter’s, American Spoon, and Northgoods are fan favorites. Ample art galleries abound in Petoskey, and don’t forget to round out your day with ice cream and fudge at Kilwin’s or Murdick’s.

Drone photo of the Bear River Valley Recreation Trails in Petoskey, Michigan. Photo credit: Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau


About the Author: Jen DeMoss is a newcomer to the Petoskey area and loves northern Michigan. You can catch her paddling a canoe, hiking a trail, or swimming in Lake Michigan as often as the weather cooperates. She’d love to help you make the most of your time in this paradise she now calls home.