By Howard Meyerson
When author Jim DuFresne first came out with his book, “50 Hikes in Michigan,” I didn’t think anyone could top it. DuFresne, a Michigan-based writer, instinctively seemed to know what hikers needed — a solid, well-crafted guide about the best walking trails in Michigan, with maps and a quality narrative that told readers where to go, how to get there and what to expect.
That was 1991, early in the outdoor recreation boom that would follow nationwide. Dozens of hiking guides soon would follow and fill bookstore shelves, leading trekkers to great trails all over the country. But, DuFresne’s book set the bar for hiking guides about Michigan.
DuFresne wrote his first hiker’s guide in 1984 — for Isle Royale National Park. He went on to publish 20 guidebooks, including one about hiking in New Zealand, another about Alaska and a series about adventures with children.
At it again
He was excited. I was curious. Revised editions typically don’t warrant much other than a quick mention. Most involve housekeeping changes, such as trailhead updates, outhouse status and contact phone numbers.
But DuFresne’s new edition has established an altogether new bar for Michigan hiking guides. It is virtually a different book, with full-color photos, excellent color maps and an assortment of new trails.
“We changed (more than) one-third of the trails and ripped out the photos and maps,” said DuFresne, who splits his time between homes in Clarkston and Elk Rapids. “I had come across new trails and got rid of a lot of the North Country Trail segments that were there. People want loops and doable hikes where they don’t need two cars.”
Lots of color
DuFresne elaborated about the new edition over a cup of coffee while visiting me in Grand Rapids.
“This is the first one where (the publisher) decided to try a full color hiking guide,” he said. “They chose a couple (of guide books) that had been around for a long time and were proven sellers. I jumped on it because I can do maps.
“The color photos are great because they make the pages pop, but the maps really pull it together.”
Follow that map
Maps are one of the “10 essentials” any hiker should carry with them, along with a compass. Most guidebook maps are low quality, meant to give a reader only a general sense of the route. Most don’t reproduce well, so they are of limited use on the trail.
DuFresne understood that limitation. His new “50 Hikes” contains maps that are eminently useful for finding routes. And each can be downloaded from the Internet for 99 cents at DuFresne’s latest venture, michigantrailmaps.com.
“The book isn’t meant to be followed as you hike,” DuFresne said. “It’s a summary of what you can accomplish with your kids or your wife. But you can go online and print the map. That’s all you need.”
All kinds of trails
DuFresne’s website currently reviews 192 Michigan trails. More are being added all the time.
Visitors are provided with an overview of each route, available facilities, open hours, travel directions and contact information.
Each trail has a map. Some are free to download. The newer 99-cent maps are more elaborate and use different colors to identify forests, meadows, sand dunes and beaches. They also include additional mileage information.
DuFresne, 59, said he began hiking as a Boy Scout. He enjoys mountain biking, kayaking and fly fishing, but walking is his love.
“I like the simplicity of it and being outside,” DuFresne said. “I love the rhythm of just walking and observing the surroundings. It always has a calming effect on me.”
“50 Hikes in Michigan” is a must for anyone who enjoys Michigan hiking trails. The third edition is a perfect gift. Look for it online at Amazon.com or from local booksellers. “50 Hikes in Michigan” is part of the Explorer’s Guide Series from The Countryman Press. Cost is $21.95.
Here are eight of the 60 hikes listed in “50 Hikes in Michigan.
Trail: Crooked Lake Trail
Where: Pinckney Recreation Area
Distance: 5.1-mile loop
Terrain: Lakes, scenic vista
Trail: Tobico Marsh Trail
Where: Bay City State Recreation Area
Distance: 4.8 miles
Trail: Wilderness Trail
Where: Holly Recreation Area
Distance: 5.2-mile loop
Terrain: Lake, wetlands, hardwood hills
Trail: Hall Lake Trail
Where: Yankee Springs Recreation Area
Distance: 3.4 miles
Terrain: Lake, unusual geological formations
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Trail: Lakeview and Oak Woods Loop
Where: Waterloo Recreation Area
Distance: 3.8 miles
Terrain: Lakes, wetlands, ridges
Trail: Bishop’s Bog Preserve Trail
Where: Portage South-Central Greenway
Distance: 4.6 miles
Terrain: Bogs, wetlands
Trail: Homestead Trail
Where: P.J. Hoffmaster State Park
Distance: 2.7 miles
Terrain: Sand dunes, lakeshore
Trail: North, South Manitou Islands
Where: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Distance: 56 miles total
Terrain: Dunes, beaches, forests
Difficulty: Easy to challenging
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