United States

Traverse City/Northwest Michigan

A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Places to Run in Traverse City and Northwest Michigan

Bryan Casteel

The Lake Michigan Coast from Grand Traverse Bay to Mackinaw City is considered one of the most scenic locations in the midwest, with giant rolling sand dunes, colorful cherry orchards, and shady hardwood forests bordering endless vistas of the Great Lakes. While none of the cities in this part of Michigan’s peninsula are very large, they are some of the top tourist destinations in the state, from Traverse City, to Mackinaw City, to the idyllic Mackinac Island. Our guide to running in Traverse City and vicinity is laid out a bit by geography, with several routes concentrated in and around Traverse City and then some of the best spots along the Lake Michigan coast, and then north toward Mackinaw City and Mackinack Island.

Running in this park of Michigan’s lower peninsula is offers a great variety. An enormous network of multi-use paths (mostly part of the TART) flows through towns, state forests, and even parts of the National Lakeshore, attracting runners of all stripes and abilities. Casual trail runners will delight in the paths around Lake Ann, Vasa, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Arcadia Dunes, and the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, while road runners will love exploring Old Mission Peninsula and Front Street in downtown Traverse City. For a special destination run, complete the 8 mile (car free!) loop around beautiful Mackinac Island.

If you plan on traveling the whole of the north lower peninsula, a car is needed. For those sticking close to Traverse City, the BATA Bus System is cheap and efficient. Note that a ferry is required to get to Mackinack Island.

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This area of Michigan has cold, snowy winters and warm, fairly sunny summers. Average summer high temperatures are around 80F (26C), though nights can cool off — you might need a layer even in July! Fall is crisp, beautiful, and short. Runners visiting the area in winter should be prepared for cold temperatures, with daily highs in the high 20s (-4C) and lows in the teens. Snowfall is abundant, averaging 100 inches annually. So you’ll need proper winter gear.


This is a popular vacation area in summer, so there’s a good variety of hotels. Our running routes for this area cover a fairly large geography. But for Traverse City, if you’d prefer to step out your door and go for a run, try to stay within a mile or two of our recommended routes, especially in the downtown section near West Bay.  For tourism info, see: TraverseCity.com.


Running Fit has two locations in downtown and south Traverse City, and they are incredibly helpful with gear and route planning advice!

GROUP RUNS. Check out Run Traverse City and the TC Track Club. The Traverse City Track Club has group runs Monday nights.

Looking for road or trail races in this area? Find them on RaceRaves, the best online race calendar and reviews community for runners!

Find races in Traverse City/Northwest Michigan

See RunMichigan’s calendar for upcoming events.