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The Michigan Indian Trails We Travel Everyday

Indian Encampment

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 MDOT has now paved and we are using today as we cross the state to visit friends in Chicago 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.  

 Library and Archives Canada,

Major Michigan Trail Systems

Indian Trails of Lower Michigan

Shore Line Trail - A minor trail starting near Toledo and hugging the shore of Lake Erie, the Straits of Detroit. Past Fort Gratiot and Lake Huron to an spot near White Rock. White Rock was considered a solemn spiritual place of offering. Today this route is mirrored by Lakeshore Drive from Detroit to Lexington and M-25 north. It was considered a minor trail as travel via canoe was preferred along this route. 
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 to Pontiac then continues up Dixie Highway to Flint then Saginaw. 

Sand Ridge Trail - An ancient trail from Saginaw to Port Austin in Michigan's Thumb. Used primarily for access to the rich hunting ground of the  Thumb. Today, M-25 follows much of the same route. However the old trail is still evident and marked as Sand Road in Huron County. A major canoe passage across Saginaw Bay occurred at Oak Point via Charity Island to reach the AuSable River. 

St. Joseph's Trail - A major east-west system that was also called Route du Sieur de la Salle, and the Territorial Road. 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 the 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 though 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. 


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