Just because the air starts to turn cooler and the leaves start to turn doesn’t mean it’s time to take refuge indoors just yet. Instead, grab your jacket, lace up your hiking boots, and explore local trails awash in the brilliant colors of autumn. 

Here are some suggestions for trails that are a bit less traveled due to their location or low profile, listed in order of proximity to downtown Grand Rapids. Be sure to bring your camera along to capture some stunning scenery!

Ball Perkins Park

The 1.3-mile out-and-back trail in Ball Perkins Park is about 4.5 miles (10 minutes) northeast of downtown, but it feels like a world away. Generally flat and easy to negotiate, it’s partially paved and heavily wooded, with a small wetland and a few benches along the route. It’s a great option for a short, secluded nature walk close to the city center. Dogs are allowed on a leash.

Huff Park Trail

Just three minutes from Ball Perkins Park is Huff Park, home to another small and not-so-busy trail. The trail consists of two loops, each about 0.5 miles in length, combining a paved path and a boardwalk. The boardwalk passes by a wetland overlook where you can rest your legs and watch for birds and other wildlife. There are also some small unpaved paths that diverge from the main path. Dogs are permitted on a leash here, too.

Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens

Calvin University operates the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens, which offers 1.7 miles of trails traversing 44 acres of forest, meadow and wetlands. (Another 60 acres is given over to a wildlife sanctuary that is not accessible to the public.) Trails are easy to hike and consist primarily of wood-chipped surfaces, and there are no dogs or bikes allowed. Visit the Native Gardens to see more than 200 species of Michigan plants. The Preserve is about 7.8 miles (10 minutes) from downtown.

Aman Park

Aman Park has six moderate trails that take you through picture worthy views.

Photo by Aaron Peterson for Experience GR.

Aman Park

This hidden gem might be the most “natural” of all Grand Rapids city parks. Aman Park has six self-guided trails ranging from 0.8 to 1.5-mile loops. Trails are unpaved but wide and well maintained, with color-coded posts helping you navigate. This is a moderate hike with a few decent-sized hills. It’s beautiful in the fall, but you should also visit in spring, when wildflowers like trillium and trout lily line the paths. Mind your footwear, the park can be muddy after rains. Aman Park is about 8.5 miles (17 minutes) west of downtown.

Provin Trails Park

Featuring about one mile of interconnected loops through dense pine stands, across open sand barrens and up sand dunes, Provin Trails Park is a quiet oasis located off Four Mile Road close to busy East Beltline Ave. The varying terrain here makes it a moderate hike, though the natural-surface trails are sandy and wide. Dogs are allowed on a leash but no bikes are permitted. Provin Trails Park is about 9.5 miles (14 minutes) from downtown.

Cascade Peace Park

At nearly 200 acres, Cascade Peace Park features one of the largest blocks of mature hardwoods in the Grand Rapids metro area. The park also features an open meadow, small stream and wetlands. Nearly four miles of natural-surface trails wind through the property and the dense canopy is a perfect habitat for hawks, owls and other birds. There are some relatively steep inclines to maneuver here so it can be a hearty hike. Leashed dogs are allowed. Cascade Peace Park is about 13.5 miles (23 minutes) southeast of downtown, in Cascade Township.  

Seidman Park

Tucked away in Ada, 15 miles (22 minutes) from downtown, is Seidman Park, home to more than 400 acres of woods, fields and wetlands. Interconnected loops of natural-surface trails total nearly five miles in length and offer a variety of hiking lengths and experiences, from an easy ¼-mile route to a 4-mile outer loop featuring some moderate hills. Trails are wide and well maintained, but keep an eye out for rocks and roots. Dogs must be leashed.

Maas Family Preserve

Just outside Rockford, about 19 miles (20 minutes) north of downtown GR, is the Maas Family Nature Preserve. Home to a rare oak-pine barrens ecosystem that supports the endangered Karner blue butterfly, the Preserve features 0.5 miles of natural-surface trails. Make sure to read through the Preserve Guidelines before you visit, proper care must be taken to maintain this habitat. No dogs are allowed.

People hiking on the North Country Trail.

The North Country Trail passes through Lowell, just 20 miles east of downtown Grand Rapids.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

North Country Trail

Spanning more than 4,800 miles from Vermont to North Dakota, the North Country Trail passes through Lowell, about 20 miles (30 minutes) east of downtown GR. The 10-mile out-and-back stretch here takes you from the Lowell trailhead through the Lowell State Game Area and on to beautiful Fallasburg Park. State Game Areas permit camping from September through May, so this is a great home base for exploring even longer stretches of the trail, which extends north up through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and then west to Wisconsin, and south to Ohio. The Lowell trail segment is natural-surfaced but generally well maintained. Dogs must be leashed.  

Group at PJ Hoffmaster State Park, a beach on Lake Michigan Group at PJ Hoffmaster State Park, a beach on Lake Michigan

Hiking a trail in the PJ Hoffmaster State Park will lead you to a beach on Lake Michigan.

Photo by Brian Kelly for Experience GR

PJ Hoffmaster State Park

Head 30-45 minutes west of Grand Rapids and you’ll encounter majestic Lake Michigan. There are numerous trails up and down the coast, including PJ Hoffmaster State Park trail in Muskegon, about 38 miles (40 minutes) from downtown GR. This 1,200-acre park contains about 10 miles of trails through dense forest and another three miles of pristine sandy beach hugging the lake. The trails are well maintained but some are steep and sandy, and one route requires you to climb a 220-step stairway to an observation deck. Your effort will be rewarded with panoramic views of the lake, the beach and towering sand dunes. Dogs must be leashed on the trails and are not allowed on the beach.

Fall is a great time to visit Lake Michigan shores because the summer crowds have dissipated and the water is often still warm enough for hardier souls to take a quick dip. PJ Hoffmaster is the only trail on our list that has an admission fee – you’ll need a recreation pass on your license plate or you can pay as you enter the parking lot. The experience is well worth the price!

There many more trails in and around Grand Rapids/Kent County that are worth exploring in the fall, including some within 10 minutes of downtown. Visit our Trails page to browse the full list by area of the city.