If you think about it, it makes sense. The routes that the native Michigan tribes made and utilized for thousands of years cover the same ground that Michigan Department of Transportation has paved and we are using today as we cross the state to visit friends in Chicago visit the wineries in Traverse City or watch the Thanksgiving parade in downtown Detroit.
Amazingly, Michigan's first trails were not made by Indians but ranging buffalo herds in migration. This was especially true on the St. Joseph trail in Southwest Michigan.
The major trails in lower Michigan tended to link Indian settlements of Mackinac, Detroit, Saginaw, and Niles. The area around Saginaw had the most native American settlements in the Great Lakes region.
Major Michigan Trail Systems
Saginaw Trail - One of the oldest trails, this Sauk trail system that went from the Straits of Detroit to Saginaw. Today this starts at the Detroit River and heads northwest up Woodward Avenue to Pontiac then continues up Dixie Highway through Flint to Saginaw.
|SandRidge Trail Still Exists Today.|
St. Joseph's Trail - A major east-west system that was also called Route du Sieur de la Salle, and the Territorial Road. When the Territorial road was first built from Plymouth to St Joseph a portion of the road was ‘corduroy.’ which mean wood logs placed closely together in a fashion resembling the ribs in corduroy fabric. Today this trail is part of U.S. 12, and vast parts of I-94.
Cheboygan Trail - An interior Michigan trail to the Mackinac straits hugging the eastern forests. State road M-33 follows much of this trail system today.
Mackinac Trail - An interior northern Michigan trial to the Mackinac straits hugging the western forests. I-75 covers much of this trail system today.
|Assiniboin Encampment on Upper Missouri between 1860 and 1870. Detroit Institute of Arts|
Sault-Green Bay Trail - An east-west route across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This system is followed by US 2 and State Rte. 35.
Grand River Trail - Trail between Detroit and Grand Rapids, whose route is now followed by the trunk line US 16.
Shiawassee Trail - Starting just south of Detroit then skirting today's Farmington through Southfield. Ultimately terminating in Saginaw.
Great Sauk Trail - This major system ran between Detroit and Chicago. In 1820 Henry Schoolcraft was on expedition with Lewis Cass near Michigan City, Indiana, described the trail, as a "plain horse path, which is considerably traveled by traders, hunters, and others..." and said that a stranger could not follow it without the services of a guide because of the numerous side trails. It was so well established that the state followed the trail for the Chicago Road (M-12) construction in 1827.
Cadillac - Traverse City Trail - Also called Old Indian Trail - Ancient system from 700 BC that runs from Cadillac to Traverse Bay. Today this is a marked system with map and guide. This trail system is maintained by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of the Odawa.