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The nearly 75-mile North Central State Trail offers a multiuse trail adventure into the hills, agricultural areas, woods, and waterways of Michigan, with connections to well-established tourist towns at both ends. For those seeking a longer adventure, the trail helps to make up the developing 2,000-plus-mile Iron Belle Trail, which stretches from Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula to Detroit.
From the northern end, the trail starts just south of the famed Mackinac Bridge spanning 5 miles across the Straits of Mackinac (pronounced “Mackinaw”) to join the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. The trailhead offers parking, restrooms, and water and also serves as the northeast terminus for the 32-mile North Western State Trail to Petoskey.
Starting in Mackinaw and heading south, the trail is paved and well used for the first half mile, after which its surface turns to well-maintained crushed stone, and usage declines. The trail’s route is mostly flat throughout its length, even where there are rolling vistas.
Although the route parallels US 23 for the first 15 miles, it boasts the beautiful northern woods as its backdrop, where you’ll get to spot interesting birds as well as an occasional view of Lake Huron, to the east. Rail buffs may be interested in the remaining railroad tracks and historical markers along the trail, chronicling old rail towns. Snowmobiles use the trail in season, and trailside businesses cater to them.
Usage increases again as the trail reaches Cheboygan, at about mile 16. The Cheboygan trailhead offers parking, restrooms, water, picnic facilities, and an option to head southeast on the North Eastern State Trail just south of Lincoln Avenue. You can also detour off the trail here for food and beverage options. Those planning to continue south should fill their water bottles at the trailhead, as water is scarce between Cheboygan and Gaylord.
Continuing south from Cheboygan, you’ll pass through a popular section of trail that skirts Mullett Lake, a beautiful, 15-mile-long inland lake that stretches to Indian River. A highlight of this segment is the town of Topinabee, which has a public beach, park and playground, parking, and restrooms, as well as a library inside an old railroad depot. Nearby Indian River has restrooms, a market, covered picnic tables, a playground, and a train depot repurposed into a boutique.
Trail users should be extra-vigilant when crossing busy MI 68, south of Indian River, as the trail is located near an entrance ramp from I-75. South of Indian River, the trail feels more solitary and wildlife sightings increase; be on the lookout for turkey, deer, snakes, and frogs.
As you near the trail’s southern endpoint, you’ll pass a state forest campground and then a train depot in Wolverine. You’ll parallel I-75 between Wolverine and Vanderbilt, after which the remote feel of the trail continues until reaching Gaylord. The trail here passes through downtown Gaylord and then continues on to Waters where it ends just after Passenheim Rd, and there is a future trailhead, parking and ammenities planned in the future.
In Gaylord, there is parking along Fairview Rd. In Wolverine, there is parking along Ballard St. at Lumberman's Village Park. In Indian River, there is parking at the corner of Lake St. and S. Straits hgwy. In Cheboygan, there is parking and trail access at the corner of Taylor St. and S Western Ave. In Mackinac City there is parking at the northern endpoint along Mackinaw Crossings Dr.
See TrailLink Map for all options and detailed directions.
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