Winter in Michigan brings plenty of snowfall and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. For snowmobiling enthusiasts, Michigan’s thousands of miles of scenic trails make it a top destination in the Midwest. But with so many trail options across the state, how do you know where to start?
The best snowmobile trails in Michigan wind through pristine forests, cross rivers and lakes, and lead to breathtaking vistas. This in-depth guide covers 16 of the premier snowmobiling trails across both peninsulas that guarantee an unforgettable and Instagram-worthy ride.
From northern Michigan’s remote wooded trails to fast straightaways downstate, these are the cream of the crop. Read on to discover new trails to add to your must-ride list this winter.
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Scenic Trails Near Lakes Michigan and Superior
Northern Michigan’s snow-covered forests, frigid lakes, and abundant snowfall create a magical wonderland ripe for exploration on skis. Crisscrossing both peninsulas, miles of scenic trails deliver riders to the shores of the Great Lakes and overlooks of rivers and valleys.
1. Iron Belle Trail
As Michigan’s longest designated trail, the Iron Belle stretches over 2,000 miles from Belle Isle Park in Detroit to Ironwood near the Wisconsin border. One particularly scenic segment is the Bill Nicholls Trail that runs through Gladwin County near its junction with the Midland Trail. This peaceful trail winds through the Pere Marquette State Forest with straight stretches offering effortless cruising. As you ride through pine and oak forests frosted in snow, keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers, and ruffed grouse.
2. Trail #3 – Grand Traverse County
For dazzling views of Lake Michigan and access to popular snowmobiling towns like Traverse City, ride along Trail #3 in Grand Traverse County. Starting from Shumsky Corners trailhead, this path winds west through farmland and maple forests in the Pere Marquette State Forest. Straightaways with banked corners lead to scenic overlooks of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The trail passes south of Traverse City near Buckley, allowing you to venture into town for a warm lunch before getting back on the trails.
3. Michigamme Highlands Trail
In Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, the Michigamme Highlands Trail offers 73 miles of challenging terrain with dramatic views. Forming a large loop accessible from multiple trailheads, this path winds through valleys and woods in the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness with climbs up to scenic vistas over Lake Superior. Riding along cliffs towering above the river and navigating tricky downhill switchbacks make this trail best for intermediate and advanced riders.
4. Trail No. 7 – Grand Traverse County
Just east of Traverse City, Trail No. 7 travels for 31 miles through the Pere Marquette State Forest south of Kalkaska. The trail winds through peaceful hardwood forests, over gently rolling hills, and along the banks of the Boardman River. With frequent straightaways and only mild elevation changes, this trail appeals to snowmobilers of all skill levels. The scenery and access to restaurants and lodging in Traverse City add to the appeal.
Epic Rides Through Northern Forests
Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula contain thousands of miles of snowmobile trails that traverse pristine forests rich in wildlife. Long-distance routes connect small towns while weaving through national forests and state parks.
5. North Central State Trail
Stretching 62 miles across the northern Lower Peninsula, the North Central State Trail connects the towns of Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Indian River, and Topinabee. Following an abandoned railroad corridor, the trail delights riders with long straightaways, twists through dense jack pine forests, and bridges over streams and wetlands brimming with wildlife. As Michigan’s longest linear trail, it provides an extended ride between communities nestled in the woods.
6. McClain State Park Trails
Located outside of Jackson, McClain State Park contains over 20 miles of winding wooded trails perfect for days when southern Michigan has adequate snow cover. The trails loop around forested Henry Lake and range from 7 to 23 miles long. Starved Rock and Eagle Point provide panoramic views over this quiet glacial lake. With tight turns wrapping around the shoreline, these trails offer an intermediate challenge.
7. Trail No. 8 – Dickinson County
In Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, Trail No. 8 crosses 47 miles through the Ottawa National Forest near Iron Mountain. Heading south from Trail 5, No. 8 leads through secluded forest roads bisecting ridges, wetlands, and pine barrens. Linking with Trail No. 14 near Beechwood provides opportunities for longer rides through remote backcountry. With some bumpy sections, novice riders will need to take care.
8. Muskegon Winter Sports Complex
With over 20 miles of designated snowmobile trails, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers accessible and family-friendly riding near Muskegon. The trails primarily wind through mixed pine and oak forests accented with birch and maple trees. Straightaways across open meadows and gently curving paths through the woods appeal to beginners. A large heated trailhead building provides shelter to warm up after a long day on the trails.
9. Yankee Springs Recreation Area
Yankee Springs Recreation Area near Grand Rapids includes some of Michigan’s most scenic and high-quality snowmobile trails. The trailhead starts at the Visitor Center at Gun Lake, which has excellent maps and knowledgeable staff. Three loops ranging from 16 to 31 miles wind through pinelands and past Gun Lake, the easternmost lake in the state. Abundant wildlife sightings combined with the picturesque setting make this a top trail system.
10. North Western State Trail
Stretching 136 miles across northern Lower Michigan, the multi-use North Western State Trail connects Cadillac to Mackinaw City. Built along a former railroad corridor, this trail delivers long peaceful stretches through remote forests. Traveling from village to village on this remote trail provides snowmobilers a sense of extended adventure. Highlights include crossing the Manistee River and views of Lake Michigan.
Winding Loops and Straightaways Downstate
While northern Michigan boasts the highest concentration of premier snowmobiling trails, opportunities can also be found across central and southern parts of the Lower Peninsula. When winter conditions permit, these winding loops and leisurely straightaways offer scenic wintry rides.
11. Gladwin Trail System
Located at the strategic junction of the Tittabawassee and Tobacco Rivers northeast of Midland, the Gladwin area offers over 45 miles of snowmobile trails. Groomed trails form looping routes leading through woods and wetland areas brimming with white-tailed deer, foxes, snowshoe hares, and ruffed grouse. With long straightaways and gently curving paths, these relaxing trails near the Gladwin County Fairgrounds appeal to beginners.
12. Trail No. 4 – Grand Traverse County
In the Pere Marquette State Forest west of Kalkaska, Trail No. 4 forms a peaceful 22-mile loop through rolling hardwood forests. Curving through the woods past the Rainbow Bend Pathway trailhead, this route includes scenic bridges over the Rapid River. With long straight sections broken up by turns, the trail provides low-speed cruising suitable for families through snow-laden winter scenery.
13. Trail No. 8 – Newaygo County
In the Manistee National Forest near Fremont, Trail No. 8 offers a 50-mile ride through northern Newaygo County. Heading north from Trail No. 7, it crosses the Muskegon River and winds through pine forests and farmland. Linking trail systems near Croton Dam and Brooks Park outside Newaygo, this path connects riders to more adventures. With some bumpy terrain, it favors intermediate riders.
14. Holly Oaks ORV Park
Near Holly in southeast Michigan, Holly Oaks ORV Park transforms into a snowmobile playground come winter. The park contains over 125 miles of designated trails, including secluded wooded paths, gravel quarry routes, and open fields connecting parking areas. Experienced instructors offer guided tours and snowmobile rentals allow newcomers to experience the trails. Difficulty ranges from gentle trails perfect for beginners and families to the grueling Sick Sense trail over moguls, making this a top pick for all skill levels.
15. Trail No. 7 – Cheboygan County
In Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, Trail No. 7 traverses 85 miles of remote terrain through Pigeon River Country State Forest. Heading south from Indian River, the path winds through wetlands and pine barrens with opportunities to spot wildlife. It connects to Trail No. 5 west of Afton, opening access to an extensive network of surrounding trails. With long winding stretches through secluded forests, this trail entices intermediate and advanced riders.
16. Pine Knob Trail System
Located just 40 minutes from Detroit in Clarkston, Pine Knob’s trail system packs over 20 miles of wide, smoothly groomed trails. The trails appeal to snowmobilers of all experience levels with clearly marked paths that vary from flat and straight to rolling wooded terrain. Gentle trails cut through pine forests and open meadows surrounding Pine Knob ski resort make this trail system conveniently accessible to Detroit metro area residents.
Tips for Snowmobiling in Michigan
- Check trail conditions and closures before heading out as they can change frequently in winter.
- Pack extra clothing, food, water, flashlight, first aid kit, and other emergency supplies.
- Follow all designated trails and obey signs to avoid trespassing on private property.
- Avoid frozen lakes and rivers unless trails are clearly marked across them.
- Let someone know your planned route and expected return time.
- Refuel frequently as the cold weather drains gas tanks faster.
- Practice safe speeds and allow distance between riders to prevent collisions.
- Take breaks to prevent hypothermia and fatigue.
- Obtain proper registration, licensing, and insurance as required.
- Wear a helmet and proper protective gear like goggles, gloves, boots, and multiple layers.
- Don’t ride impaired and avoid excessive speeds. Know your limits.
By being prepared with gear and supplies, riding responsibly, and choosing trails within your ability level, you’ll be set up for an incredible and safe adventure snowmobiling across Michigan’s scenic winter landscape.
Plan Your Michigan Snowmobiling Adventure
With an abundance of scenic trails traversing pristine forests, frozen lakes, and snowy ridges, Michigan ranks among the premier snowmobiling destinations in the Midwest. This guide outlines 16 of the top trails ranging from peaceful cruising to extreme terrain.
Snowmobile rentals and guided tours make many of these trails accessible even if you don’t own a sled. Use the difficulty rating and terrain descriptions to find trails matching your skill level and preferences. And don’t forget to pack extra base layers and hand warmers to stay comfortable while exploring Michigan’s wintry wonderland.
With thousands of miles of trails blanketing forests, valleys, wetlands, and farmland, the toughest part is choosing which ones to experience first. Whether aiming for a short scenic loop near Traverse City or an all-day epic ride through remote woodlands, Michigan’s trails guarantee memories to last until next winter.