The White Pine Trail State Park is a linear state park stretching 92 miles from Comstock Park to Cadillac. It meanders through forests, farmlands, and wetlands.
It is part of hundreds of miles of old railroad beds no longer in operation that are now part of the Rails to Trails systems. These multi-use pathways are available for walking, running, cycling, rollerblading, skiing, and sometimes snowmobiling.
History of the trail
The White Pine Trail sits on the former path of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. In the late 1800s, that rail line ran from Cincinnati, Ohio to Little Traverse Bay, Michigan. According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “its prime business of hauling lumber out of Michigan’s old-growth forests dwindled at the end of the century, replaced by a brisk tourism trade to northern Michigan fishing camps and resorts. Subsequent owners include the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1918 and the state in 1975. Operations ceased between Grand Rapids and Cadillac in 1984.”
For me, the White Pine Trail holds many memories. The trail runs by my grandparents’ property in the country north of Big Rapids, maybe a half-mile from their house. As a young child, my grandpa would take me for walks down the abandoned railway, when the ties and rails were still there. At the time, the furthest south we could go was less than a mile to the edge of the Muskegon River since the trestle wasn’t safe to cross.
Later, the railroad was converted into the official rails to trails program. A 319-foot bridge was built over the river. Since then, it has provided our family the ability to enjoy many long walks and bike rides south to town or north to Paris and beyond.
The trail’s convenient location near their house allows us to visit it throughout the year to witness the seasons change. We often spot resident wildlife including deer, turtles, snakes, turkeys, foxes, birds and more.
Logging and railroad trivia
For a bit of historical trivia — did you know the Muskegon River was used during the mid-late 1800s logging days to float logs? The logging industry sent cuttings from the forests around Big Rapids to the mills downriver. Today, when looking down into the Muskegon River from the bridge, you can still see a handful of old logs that sank and never made it to their destination.
The White Pine Trail State Park is Michigan’s second-longest rail-trail. Along the route sit more than 30 municipalities that provide food, lodging, activities and other amenities to the many trail users. Many used to cater to the rail line and now cater to tourists. You will often see families out for an hour-long stroll or cyclists riding the entire 92 miles. As you travel, you can stop for ice cream and pizza, grab a beer, visit the Eiffel Tower, go fishing, or take in a local concert.
Using and maintaining the trail
Parking and access to the trail are provided at each community along the way. Camping is available in Belmont, Cedar Springs, Sand Lake, Morley, Paris, Reed City, Cadillac, Hersey, and Evart. Other places, such as Big Rapids, have nearby hotels available.
Unfortunately, although it’s a state park, the state provides very minimal maintenance funding. It relies on groups such as the Friends of the White Pine Trail. As a result, not all of the trail is paved. And the sections that are paved are starting to degrade from general use, snowmobiles, tree roots, and erosion. This is something to keep in mind when planning your trip. You need to know if you and your equipment can handle the different trail conditions you might encounter along the way. Visit this website for a more in-depth description of which parts are or are not paved.
Despite the conditions in certain sections, the trail is in mostly decent shape. And it provides an opportunity to get outside and explore sections of the state you wouldn’t otherwise have access to because it runs between private land. You’ll cross through cities, farmland, industrial areas, county parks, meadows, and woodlands along the 92 miles. Whether you hike the entire route or just a couple of miles, the White Pine Trail State Park is a great experience.
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about White Pine Trail State Park here.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.