national forests

If you’re in search of an idyllic retreat to immerse yourself in Michigan’s breathtaking natural landscapes, look no further than the splendid national forests scattered throughout the state.

Spanning nearly 20 million acres, Michigan boasts an extensive array of forests that are easily accessible and waiting to be explored.

Beyond their role as sanctuaries for the region’s diverse plant and animal life, Michigan’s national forests offer endless opportunities for wildlife observation, camping, and various outdoor recreational activities.

Moreover, you’ll be delighted to discover the national scenic byways, providing perfect routes for scenic road trips when all you desire is an up-close encounter with nature’s wonders.

Allow me to present an elaborate guide to Michigan’s national forests, unveiling their rich history in the logging industry, the recreational opportunities they present, and the most remarkable sights to behold while embarking on an adventure through these exceptional natural treasures.

Please take note that certain activities, such as utilizing forest campgrounds, may require recreation passports and permits. The specific requirements may vary, so it is advisable to consult the park system for detailed information. Additionally, you can find recreation maps to assist you in navigating these beautiful landscapes.

michigan national forest

Embarking on an Exploration of Michigan’s National Forests

As you ascend the hills along Michigan’s northern highways, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking vistas adorned with endless clusters of trees, stretching as far as the eye can see.

These majestic forests blanket the land, resembling a vast green ocean of foliage, which transforms into a spectacular display of vivid reds, oranges, and yellows during the enchanting autumn season.

Michigan’s expansive national forests offer their allure in every season, ensuring a captivating experience whenever you choose to visit.

Unveiling Michigan’s Lumber Industry: A Historical Perspective

Forests cover approximately half of Michigan’s territory, significantly shaping the state’s identity and playing a vital ecological role comparable to the Great Lakes that surround it. Despite their intrinsic significance, Michigan’s forests boast a complex history that predates the state’s establishment.

Following Michigan’s admission to the Union in 1837, the relationship between its forests and its inhabitants underwent a transformative phase that would forever alter the landscape.

As settlers flocked to the state, the pursuit of conquering the land and exploiting its natural resources took precedence, with timber standing atop the list of priorities.

The presence of abundant northern white pines, densely congregated in the forests alongside large streams, facilitated an efficient and highly profitable logging industry. This allure enticed many to settle in the forests north of the Saginaw Valley, establishing several beloved cities in northern Michigan that we cherish to this day.

By 1869, Michigan had become the nation’s leading lumber supplier, with the industry reaching its zenith in 1890. During this period, Michigan produced and processed billions of feet of lumber, surpassing the combined output of the three other highest-producing lumber states.

While this exponential growth in the industry brought immense wealth and opportunities to the state and its residents, it also exacted a heavy toll. By 1910, much of Michigan’s enchanting old-growth forests had been decimated, leaving the lower peninsula resembling a barren wasteland rather than a vibrant woodland.

national forests ottawa

Preserving Michigan’s Forests: A Path to Redemption

In the aftermath of Michigan’s devastating deforestation, the urgent question of how to restore and sustain new woodlands became paramount.

The American Forestry Association supported a legislative proposal for forest management, but unfortunately, their efforts proved inadequate, leaving Michigan without substantial government assistance for reforestation. However, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt took the initial steps toward reestablishing forests in Michigan by establishing forest reserves within the state.

By the following year, the National Forest Service had designated two areas as national forests in Michigan: Marquette National Forest and Michigan National Forest.

As time passed and reforestation and conservation efforts gained momentum, Michigan’s national forests underwent changes in nomenclature and locations.

The first addition was Huron National Forest in 1928, followed by Hiawatha National Forest and Ottawa National Forest in 1931. The last addition, Manistee National Forest, joined the collection in 1938. Eventually, in 1945, the Huron Manistee National Forest was formed through the merger of the Huron and Manistee National Forests, encompassing the entire lower peninsula as a protected federal forestland.

summer michigan

Reforesting Michigan: Restoring Nature’s Beauty

Acquiring the land was just the first step in the arduous task of reforesting the vast expanses of public land in Michigan, which were once dotted with the remnants of old tree stumps. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a well-thought-out plan in place.

During the challenging era of the Great Depression, FDR directed resources towards combating the economic downturn through a series of programs and reforms known as the New Deal. One such program was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The enactment of the Emergency Conservation Act in 1933 empowered the CCC to enlist young men from urban areas for conservation work across the United States, including Michigan’s forests, parks, and fields. This initiative not only generated new employment opportunities but also led to the creation of new forests.

Between 1933 and 1942, despite Michigan having been the nation’s leading lumber producer from 1860 to 1910, the CCC’s efforts resulted in the planting of more trees in Michigan than in any other state. Approximately 485 million trees took root during this period, predominantly in Michigan’s National Forests.

michigan national forest-

The Purpose and Importance of National Forests

Preserving forests is not merely an aesthetic choice, although the forested regions of Michigan are undeniably some of the state’s most beautiful areas. National Forests serve several crucial purposes, including environmental protection, economic benefits, recreational opportunities, and more.

Michigan’s Thriving Timber Industry

Michigan’s timber industry remains vibrant and robust, although it may have evolved beyond expectations. Today, much of the land is dedicated to planting young trees (saplings) and conducting research on tree growth and forest management.

Forest Service Nurseries play a pivotal role in this process, supplying 97 million seedlings annually to Michigan’s National Forests. In the event that a tree needs to be felled for lumber, the process is now highly regulated and balanced, ensuring sustainable practices.

animal sanctuary michigan

Preserving Michigan’s Wildlife

The consequences of large-scale deforestation were readily apparent in the regions affected. The removal of trees led to ecological damage, causing the displacement of animals that relied on the forest for shelter and depriving fish in streams of the shade and sustenance provided by leaves.

The revitalization of forests in Michigan has provided native wildlife with ample space to thrive, resulting in increased populations. This not only supports ethical hunting and fishing opportunities but also fosters a stable balance among trees, animals, and humans.

Protecting Watersheds

Although it may not seem immediately apparent, there exists a delicate and vital relationship between trees and waterways. The fallen leaves and twigs in forests act as natural ground cover, allowing rainwater to permeate slowly into the soil, thereby preventing excessive runoff.

The forest canopy itself regulates the flow of water, preventing rapid pooling and mitigating the risk of floods that could wash away valuable topsoil, which is challenging to recover. Michigan’s forests play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate water cycle within the Great Lakes Watershed.

Outdoor Recreation in Michigan’s National Forests

Michigan’s nature enthusiasts understand the joys of spending a day amidst the woods. Trails wind through the forests, occasionally leading to hidden waterfalls nestled deep within. One can relish an afternoon picnic under the cool shade or engage in activities such as hunting and fishing for both sport and sustenance. Regardless of the chosen pursuit, Michigan’s National Forests offer a sanctuary for the mind, body, and soul.

huron national forest

Discovering Michigan’s National Forests

Huron National Forest

Spanning approximately 50 miles from the western shore of Lake Huron near Thunder Bay to the heart of the northern lower peninsula, the Huron National Forest provides ample public space for recreational activities.

The AuSable River, stretching from Grayling to Oscoda, offers numerous opportunities for outdoor adventures, including kayaking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and hiking along its many trails. This scenic river is home to several dams and pools, some of which boast swimming beaches along the shore.

In certain areas along the river’s northern shoreline, small sand dunes can be found, adding to the natural beauty. Following the 22-mile National Scenic River Road Byway, which runs parallel to the river, visitors can enjoy multiple vantage points offering breathtaking views, particularly during the fall season.

In recent years, the dedicated recreational spaces within the Huron National Forest have expanded, providing even more fulfilling opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. With dense tree cover, the presence of the Au Sable River, and its remote location, it comes as no surprise that hunting and fishing are among the most popular activities in this forest. Hikers can also embark on the Shore-to-Shore Trail, a picturesque route connecting Oscoda on Lake Huron to Empire on Lake Michigan, with north and south spurs extending towards Cheboygan and Cadillac, respectively.

Must-Visit Landmark: Lumberman’s Monument

huron manistee national forest

Manistee National Forest: A Unique Destination of Reforestation

The merging of the Manistee National Forest with the Huron National Forest in 1945 did not diminish its distinctiveness. Thanks to the extensive reforestation efforts carried out by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), this new-growth forest now showcases neatly aligned rows of trees that extend as far as the eye can see, creating a mesmerizing sight perfect for capturing uncanny photographs.

Snow Sports Haven in Northwest Michigan

Northwest Michigan, blessed with the lake-effect snow from Lake Michigan, has become a highly sought-after destination for snow sports enthusiasts. The Manistee National Forest offers ample opportunities for winter fun, with Caberfae Peaks in the northern part of the forest serving as a prime location. During the warmer months, visitors can indulge in hunting, fishing, and camping along the numerous inland lakes in the area.

Nordhouse Dunes: Majestic Dunes Along Lake Michigan

Located north of Ludington along the scenic shoreline of Lake Michigan, Nordhouse Dunes is home to towering dunes that reach heights of nearly 150 feet. This natural wonder captivates visitors with its awe-inspiring beauty and provides a unique environment for exploration and relaxation. Moreover, the Manistee River, flowing through the forest, offers a popular fishing spot and breathtaking hiking trails. For a memorable experience, consider embarking on a horseback ride along one of the three designated horse trails within the forest.

A Haven for Birders: Kirtland’s Warbler Habitat

Michigan bird enthusiasts should keep a watchful eye for the Kirtland’s Warbler, an endangered species that calls this area home. The Manistee National Forest serves as a vital habitat for this remarkable bird, providing a rare opportunity for birdwatchers to catch a glimpse of this beautiful creature in its natural surroundings.

Must-Visit Landmark: Tunnel of Trees on Caberfae Highway

hiawatha national forest

Hiawatha National Forest: A Natural Escape

The Hiawatha National Forest spans two distinct regions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, stretching from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan. One portion extends from St. Ignace to Whitefish Bay, while the other encompasses the Bays de Noc to Munising. Much of the Hiawatha National Forest has been meticulously preserved in its pristine condition, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in an untouched landscape, seemingly untouched by human hands.

The forest’s cool climate and central location attract visitors from southern Michigan as well as neighboring states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. Hikers, campers, skiers, cross-country skiers, and fishing enthusiasts flock to this magnificent natural wonderland, where they are rewarded with spectacular views of Michigan’s renowned landmarks, including the famous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Additionally, with one area of the forest adjacent to Marquette and the other in close proximity to the iconic Tahquamenon Falls, there are ample opportunities for exploration both within the woods and beyond, in the neighboring towns.

Must-Visit Landmark: Kitch-iti-kipi

ottawa national forest

Ottawa National Forest: A Remote Wilderness

Nestled in the farthest reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Ottawa National Forest stands as one of the most secluded National Forest locations in the state. Due to its remote location, the land has been spared from extensive logging, preserving much of its natural state. Ongoing efforts to plant more trees and foster the growth of forested lands ensure the preservation of this precious natural beauty.

The Ottawa National Forest captivates visitors with its abundant natural wonders, including streams, waterfalls, lakes, and mountains, found around every corner. It offers a true escape into untouched wilderness, providing a serene and secluded experience amidst one of the most remote regions of the state.

western upper peninsula

Wildlife and Recreation in Ottawa Forest

Hunting is a highly popular activity in the Ottawa National Forest, particularly for the state game-mammal, the white-tailed deer. The forest’s abundant waterfowl also attracts numerous bird-hunters, while fishing enthusiasts are drawn to the lakes teeming with muskie, walleye, pike, and various species of trout found in the rivers and streams.

Hikers revel in the opportunity to explore the untouched landscapes, and many extend their adventures to include a visit to Isle Royale National Park, one of the most remote destinations for experiencing virgin wilderness.

Must-Visit Landmark: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Number of National Forests in Michigan

Michigan is home to three national forests: the Ottawa National Forest, the Hiawatha National Forest, and the Huron Manistee National Forest. Each of these forests offers its unique natural wonders and recreational opportunities, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of Michigan’s great outdoors.