By Dianna Stampfler
As fall colors begin to transform the treetops around Michigan, it becomes an invitation to wander off the beaten path and explore the rustic trails that wind through the state’s nearly 18.6 million acres of forests—on horseback.
The state’s most recognized equestrian route was developed in the early 1960s, now stretching 220-miles along the top of the Lower Peninsula. The Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail—which runs between Empire on Lake Michigan and Oscoda on Lake Huron—traverses among towering hardwoods like aspen, birch, sumac, maple and oak, rich in their colorful hues of orange, red and gold.
Passing through the Boardman River valley and following the Au Sable River for some 50 miles, nearly half of the Shore-to-Shore Trail also lies within the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
Add to the silent sport experience by pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars at one of the campgrounds found along the trail. The next morning, take time to cast a line in a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream and, if you’re new to fly fishing, plan ahead by hiring a local guide to lend a hand.
Riding takes an historic turn at Heritage Hills Horseback Riding between Ishpeming and Negaunee in the Upper Peninsula. Joni and Phil Gleason began developing their trails in what was part of the original Wawonowin Country Club, built in 1896 by mining executives.
The first clubhouse and course were constructed atop numerous underground mining operations and today, riders pass over the old greens and tee boxes, past remnants of abandoned mines, alongside two popular ski jumps from the early 1900s and near the old Union Park race track where it is said Buffalo Bill once performed.
There are more than 200 miles of equestrian trails and dozens of horse-friendly campgrounds as part of the Michigan state park and forest system. Riding stables with horse rentals are also offered at a handful of facilities in southeast Michigan, including Maybury State Park in Northville.
Here, riders will find 11 miles of bridle trails with group rides planned Tuesday through Sunday afternoons throughout the fall season. The park is also home to Maybury Farm, offering year-round demonstrations of life in the early 1900s such as grain harvesting, sheep shearing and honey extracting.
Several riding options can be found as part of the Allegan County Equestrian Trail System, where 60 miles of marked and mapped designated horse trails make it easier for locals and visitors alike to explore the area. The routes are part of the 50,000-acre Allegan State Game Area, and consist of two distinct networks.
Located near Hamilton, 30 miles of trails connect to the Silver Creek Equestrian Campground and Park, where both day riding and overnight camping are available. An additional 30 miles are found south of M-40, with one staging area located at Swan Creek Pond and the other at Ely Lake Campground, which also allows for overnighting.
Note: horse trails throughout Michigan are closed November 15-30 due to firearm dear season.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
(search “Equestrian Trails”)
Additional Riding Options:
Call ahead for seasonal hours.
Boyne Mountain, Boyne Falls
Cindy’s Riding Stables, Mackinac Island
Dana’s Lakeside Resort, Au Train
Double JJ Ranch, Rothbury
Healey’s Outback Ranch & Guesthouse, Standish
Maple Ridge Stables, Vanderbilt
Outrider Horseback Riding, Lake Ann
Rainbow Ranch, New Era
Ranch Rudolf, Traverse City
Upper Peninsula Equestrian Center, Marquette
Wild West Ranch, South Haven
(Reprinted from the Fall 2017 issue of Michigan BLUE Magazine)