Our Favorite Kid-Friendly Trails in West Michigan

west-michigan-trails-pinterestI love outdoor adventures, and with varying success, I have tried to pass on that love for outdoor fun to my children. Today, I thought I would talk about what types of trails my family is most likely to enjoy and share a list of our favorite trails around the West Michigan area.

Here are a few tips and tricks I have learned to guarantee hiking/biking success for family excursions:

  • Keep it short!  It’s difficult to keep the kids interested during long hikes even on the most exciting of trails.  So, I choose short trails for our excursions.  My general rule is 1.5 miles round trip (or less) when hiking, and 5 miles (or less) for bike rides.  My youngest children are ages 4 and 7.  Older children are more likely to tolerate longer trails better.
  • Keep it easy. Consider the level of difficulty.  Like adults, most children would consider steep inclines and rough terrain to be challenging. And if it is too challenging, they may not find it fun.  That’s why I usually stick to trails that are easy or moderate in difficulty, especially when the littlest ones are coming along.
  • Keep it interesting.  Find an unusual terrain. Hiking on a dirt trail through a field may seem dull to the kids but walking along a boardwalk through a bog is an out-of-the-norm exciting adventure.  Or, choose a trail with interesting sights along the way. Whether it is a waterfall or neat wildlife, find something that will pique the kids’ interest.

Quick Tip: Sometimes, all you need to make a hike interesting for children is a creative name.  Look for trails with fun names that will spark your children’s imaginations (or use your own imagination to make up a fun name).  If your kids are like mine, they are easily impressed with cool names.  My kids always prefer the trails that sound like the most fun – the skyway trail instead of the hilltop trail, the enchanted forest trail instead of the pine forest trail or the lost lake trail instead of the pond path.

  • Keep them energized and hydrated.  Don’t forget the drinks and snacks!  When the kids seem hot and tired and a little sluggish, a drink of water and a small snack can usually re-energize them.  Bring along a lightweight backpack to carry a couple of water bottles and a handful of granola bars.

With the first three criteria listed above in mind, here are a few of our favorite trails in the West Michigan area:

Two silos are a unique and distinctive feature of Roselle Park's fun playground.

Two silos are a unique and distinctive feature of Roselle Park’s fun playground.

Roselle Park in Ada Township, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking and Biking
  • Length:  Varies
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Variety of terrains to explore, lots of wildlife, and a unique playground at the trailhead

This park is fun for so many reasons!  At the trailhead, there is a very unique playground featuring silos and climbing structures.  My kids love earning extra playground time as a reward for completing our hike or bike ride.

Roselle Park is a great place to hike because it has so many terrains to explore – wooded areas, river shoreline, prairie fields, and wetlands.  Not to mention, there is a ton of wildlife to observe.  We have seen turtles, frogs, colorful butterflies, crickets and more.  Once we found a large beautiful spiderweb up high in some tree branches; it was an amazing sight to behold as it glistened with dew in the early morning sunshine.  One of the walking trails is a boardwalk into the park wetland. (My children always think boardwalks are extra fun.)

Roselle Park is also a great place for the kids to ride their bikes.  Many of the trails are paved and there is little to no incline. Thus, it is an easy ride for any age.  Additionally, you can make the ride as long or as short as you would like.  The paved trail is set up as a series of circuits so it is easy to loop back towards the trailhead when the kids begin to feel tired.

My kids and I are always impressed with the handiwork of the Pickerel Lake beaver community.

My kids and I are always impressed with the handiwork of the Pickerel Lake beaver community.

Pickerel Lake in Cannonsburg, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking
  • Length:  Varies
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Lots of wildlife and a wide variety of terrains to explore

My father-in-law introduced us to this little known gem a couple of years ago, and I am so glad he did.  Pickerel Lake has a ton of wildlife for the children to marvel at. (I’m guessing you will be impressed with the wildlife, too. I always am.) A portion of the trail is a boardwalk that goes over part of the lake.  From this boardwalk, you can see swans and other water fowl (and of course, fish).  A great portion of their trails go through wooded areas where you can find evidence of their very active beaver community.  My children are always amazed by the fallen logs and the still standing half eaten tree trunks.  It really is a neat thing to see.

Ludington State Park in Ludington, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking and Biking
  • Length:  Varies
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Variety of terrains to explore, lots of wildlife, fun trail names, neat sights to see.

I may be biased (because I made some amazing family memories here as a child myself) but I think Ludington State Park is THE BEST place to hike with your family.  My absolute favorite hike there is the Skyline Trail. It’s a wooden boardwalk at the very top of the dunes; you are literally walking along the skyline.  Additionally, there are other neat trails with fun names (Lost Lake Trail, Island Trail and others) and interesting sights to see (sand dunes, a lighthouse, a dam, and beaches).

Also, there are several paved bike paths through the park.  Quite often, you can see deer and other wildlife right from these paths.  The last time we were there, we saw a doe and two fawn without ever leaving the paved trail.

We always stop to admire the dam in Rockford when riding bikes along the White Pine Trail.

We always stop to admire the dam in Rockford when riding bikes along the White Pine Trail.

White Pine Trail which passes through Rockford, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking and Biking
  • Length:  Varies
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Fun end destination

Our family enjoys riding bikes along the White Pine Trail.  This is a 92-mile linear trail state park that runs through Michigan from Cadillac to Comstock Park.  We typically ride on the paved flat section between Belmont and Rockford.  This portion of the trail is mostly shaded by trees so you don’t have the sun beating down on you the entire time.  The trail itself is not terribly exciting but the kids love it anyways because it passes through Rockford where we find a spot to rest near the dam and treat ourselves to a hot dog lunch from Dam Dogs and ice cream from Custard by the Dam – both located right along the trail by the dam. It’s a bustling area teeming with people and surrounded by beautifully landscaped parks.  The kids enjoy admiring the dam, my husband and I enjoy the people watching, and we all enjoy the yummy eats.

Outdoor Discovery Center in Holland, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking
  • Length:  Varies
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Variety of terrains to explore, lots of wildlife, and a unique play area in the middle of the woods

We have just recently discovered the Outdoor Discovery Center, and I know that we will be going back there to hike often.  They have easy to follow trails with lots of neat stuff to see along the way – a replica of a Native American summer village, a playground-like section called Imagination Forest, ponds, a birds of prey exhibit area, and more. The paths are all interwoven with one another which makes it easy to plan a hike for whatever length you prefer.  Additionally, the visitor center is filled with interesting exhibits for all ages. Seriously, if you haven’t been here yet, you need to check it out.

This mill water wheel is one of several unique sights to see at Dwight Lydell Park.

This mill waterwheel is one of several unique sights to see at Dwight Lydell Park.

Dwight Lydell Park in Comstock Park, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking and Biking
  • Length:  Short
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Interesting sights to see and a fun playground

Dwight Lydell Park may seem small but it is jam-packed full of interesting sights to see – a mill waterwheel, a cute little creek with a bridge crossing it, old fish ponds (this location had been a fish hatchery many years ago), and even an old train depot building tucked away in the back of the park.  Additionally, it has lots of green spaces to roam and a couple of playgrounds.  The trails are paved making them great for walking or biking.  One of my favorite things about this park is that there is a paved loop that goes around the giant playground area.  This allows me to keep an eye on all of my kids at the same time – the kids riding their bikes along that paved loop and the ones who opt to play on the playground equipment.

Hiking the ledges at Fitzgerald Park is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure!

Hiking the ledges at Fitzgerald Park is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure!

***Bonus Trail***  The Ledges Trail at Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge, Michigan

  • Great Place for Hiking
  • Length:  Short
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
  • Fun/Interest Factor: Unique terrain, wildlife, interesting sights along the path and a fun end destination

I know, I know… this park is not really in West Michigan (it’s in Mid-Michigan) but it is definitely worth a day trip sometime.  We love the Ledges Trail in Fitzgerald Park. As the name implies, it is a trail along the rocky ledges that follow the shore of the Grand River.  There is a lot to see along this trail including a train trestle, interesting rock formations and several islands.  And, it feels like a real adventure because of the crazy terrain that you traverse. Please be sure to keep close watch over your littlest ones as there are a few harrowing narrow/uneven spots along this trail as well as some steep dropoffs.  The trail ends at another Grand Ledge park (Island Park) where you can walk onto a pretty little gazebo-clad island to admire duck and geese before making the return trip to the trailhead.  The last time we were here we saw a variety of wildlife – mostly water fowl, turtles, chipmunks and squirrels.  We even saw a squirrel swim across the river!  (That was something none of us had ever seen before!)

 So those are my favorite local trails for kids.  Where do you like to hike or bike with your children?

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