Best Marathons in Michigan

Marathons in Michigan for running races

When we think of Michigan, thoughts of shimmering lakes and dense forests come to mind. Yet, beyond its natural beauty, Michigan boasts some of the country’s most captivating marathon races. From urban landscapes to serene trails, this state truly offers a range of marathon running experiences like no other.

Firstly, the scenic routes here are incomparable. Whether it’s the breathtaking views of the Great Lakes or the vibrant fall foliage, runners are consistently rewarded with spectacular visuals. Moreover, the diverse terrains – from flat pathways to challenging hills – cater to both novice and seasoned marathoners alike.

The local communities, too, play a significant role in these marathons. Throughout the state, races become community festivals, with locals cheering, volunteering, and even hosting themed water stations. This supportive atmosphere not only motivates participants but also adds a touch of local flavor to each mile.

Finally, the spirit of Michigan marathons is truly unique. From the chilly starting lines to the triumphant finishes, every moment is a blend of determination and Midwestern hospitality. So, if you’re looking for an unforgettable marathon journey, Michigan’s offerings are waiting to amaze and inspire you.

Bayshore Marathon

Location: Traverse City, MI
Date: May

The Bayshore Marathon, held in Traverse City, Michigan, showcases the breathtaking views of Grand Traverse Bay. Beginning in the quiet, scenic neighborhoods, runners are immediately immersed in a tranquil setting. The first few miles wind through tree-lined streets, where local residents often cheer and offer encouragement. As participants settle into their pace, the allure of this marathon becomes evident: the seamless blend of natural beauty and community spirit.

Transitioning from the neighborhood, runners approach the main attraction: the shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay. For the majority of the marathon, the course closely follows this shoreline, offering uninterrupted views of the sparkling blue waters. The sight of sailboats drifting peacefully and the gentle lapping of waves become a rhythmic backdrop. This serene waterside path, mostly flat with a few gentle inclines, allows runners to truly savor the bay’s beauty.

However, it’s not all coastline views. The course also introduces runners to the region’s lush wine country. Cherry orchards, with their fragrant blossoms, greet participants during certain sections, reminding them of the area’s rich agricultural heritage. Furthermore, there are stretches where dense, leafy trees form a natural canopy, providing shade and a momentary respite from the sun.

As the finish line nears, the course leads back into the welcoming neighborhoods of Traverse City. The final miles are filled with the encouraging cheers of locals, culminating the harmonious blend of community and nature that defines the Bayshore Marathon. Crossing the finish line, runners not only celebrate their achievement but also the unforgettable journey along the bay’s edge.

Grand Rapids Marathon

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Date: October

The Grand Rapids Marathon, set in Michigan’s second-largest city, offers runners an eclectic mix of urban landscapes and natural beauty. The starting point, near downtown Grand Rapids, immerses participants in the city’s lively atmosphere. Skyscrapers stand tall, and historic buildings hint at the region’s rich past. As runners take off, they are met with a chorus of cheers from supportive locals lining the city streets, creating a spirited beginning to their 26.2-mile journey.

Moving forward, the marathon course swiftly transitions from cityscapes to serene park trails. Millennium Park, one of the course’s highlights, provides a refreshing change of pace. Here, runners traverse well-maintained paths that snake around shimmering lakes and weave through lush greenery. The chirping of birds and rustling of leaves become a pleasant soundtrack, offering a peaceful mid-race reprieve.

Additionally, the Grand River, Michigan’s longest river, plays a prominent role throughout the marathon. At various points, the course parallels this majestic waterway, granting runners sweeping views of its expansive banks and flowing currents. Bridges that arch over the river also feature in the marathon, allowing participants to take in elevated panoramas of the surrounding scenery.

As the race nears its conclusion, runners re-enter the heart of Grand Rapids. The energy of the city, combined with the anticipation of the finish line, provides a final boost of motivation. Crowds gather, their applause growing louder with each step, and as runners cross the finish, they are enveloped in a mix of urban energy and natural tranquility that defines the Grand Rapids Marathon experience.

Charlevoix Marathon

Location: Charlevoix, MI
Date: June

The Charlevoix Marathon, nestled in the scenic town of Charlevoix, Michigan, is a visual treat for every participant. The race begins in the heart of the town, surrounded by quaint shops and historic architecture. As the gun goes off, runners start their journey through a community known for its vibrant charm, with enthusiastic locals cheering them on, creating an uplifting atmosphere right from the start.

Soon after, the marathon course leads runners towards the magnificent Lake Michigan. The sight of the vast, shimmering waters against the horizon is genuinely breathtaking. As participants follow the route along the lake’s edge, the rhythmic sound of waves crashing provides a soothing backdrop. The cool breeze, paired with occasional seagull calls, adds to the serene ambiance of this lakeside run.

Midway, the course offers another scenic transition as runners approach the shores of Lake Charlevoix. Smaller than Lake Michigan but equally captivating, this body of water presents a calm, mirror-like surface reflecting the surrounding greenery and sky. The path around Lake Charlevoix meanders through wooded areas, with tall trees casting dappled shade, making for a refreshing change from the earlier open stretches.

As the marathon nears its end, participants loop back toward the town center of Charlevoix. The final miles are energized by the gathering crowds, cheering and applauding every runner’s effort. Crossing the finish line, participants are not only rewarded with a sense of accomplishment but also with memories of a course that showcased the natural beauty and warm hospitality of Charlevoix.

Detroit Free Press Marathon

Location: Detroit, MI
Date: October

The Detroit Free Press Marathon is a unique running experience that stands out for its international flavor. Kicking off in downtown Detroit, participants embark on their journey amidst the city’s iconic skyscrapers and bustling streets. In these early miles, runners can feel the city’s pulse, with its rich history and vibrant culture setting the stage.

Shortly into the race, a major highlight awaits. Runners approach the Ambassador Bridge, a significant symbol connecting the U.S. and Canada. As participants ascend the bridge, they are treated to panoramic views of the Detroit River below. The rising sun, reflecting off the water, makes for a breathtaking sight, providing a boost as they cross into Windsor, Ontario.

In Canada, the route meanders along the picturesque Windsor waterfront, offering views of Detroit’s skyline across the river. After soaking in the Canadian scenery, participants then head underground, traveling through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. This underwater stretch is a unique aspect of the marathon, a cool, dim passage leading runners back to the U.S.

Once back on American soil, the course winds its way through historic neighborhoods, showcasing Detroit’s diverse architecture and community spirit. As the finish line nears, the energy of the crowd intensifies, with spectators lining the streets to cheer and celebrate every runner’s achievement. Completing the Detroit Free Press Marathon is not just a test of endurance but also a journey through two nations in one race.

Kensington Marathon

Location: Milford Township, MI
Date: July

The Kensington Marathon is a picturesque race that offers participants a refreshing blend of nature and well-paved routes. Starting in the heart of Kensington Metropark, the event allows runners to immediately immerse themselves in the park’s lush surroundings. Towering trees, serene lakes, and the gentle chirping of birds set a peaceful backdrop, making the initial miles truly memorable.

Continuing on, participants skirt the edge of Kent Lake. Reflecting the sky above, this vast body of water provides cooling breezes and scenic views, motivating runners during challenging stretches. The course also weaves through wooded areas, where dappled sunlight filters through the canopy, casting shadows on the winding trails below.

Transitioning from forested paths, the marathon route then exposes runners to the park’s open meadows. Here, the horizon expands, and participants can take in the vast expanse of the Michigan landscape. Wildflowers dot the green fields, adding color and charm to the experience. The gentle undulations of the terrain provide a mix of challenges and recovery points, keeping the journey engaging.

As the race draws to a close, runners re-enter the dense woodlands, completing the loop that encapsulates the essence of Kensington Metropark. The finish line, surrounded by nature’s beauty and the cheers of supporters, brings a sense of accomplishment and connection to the environment. The Kensington Marathon is more than just a race; it’s an intimate dance with nature.

Waugoshance Trail Marathon

Location: Mackinaw City, MI
Date: July

The Waugoshance Trail Marathon, set in Michigan’s scenic landscapes, is a runner’s dream when it comes to natural beauty. Starting off, participants kick off their journey near the shores of Lake Michigan. The rhythmic sound of waves, combined with the vast expanse of water, gives runners a tranquil beginning. With the fresh lake breeze and the sight of the horizon, the initial miles provide both inspiration and serenity.

Moving forward, the course takes participants through a mix of terrains. The woodland areas are particularly enchanting. Trees, with their towering presence, line the path, offering shade and a sense of solitude. Underfoot, the trail varies between soft earth and firmer ground, allowing runners to adjust their pace and strategy. Every twist and turn of the woodland trail brings new sights, from small streams to chirping birds overhead.

Emerging from the woods, runners then experience the rolling meadows of the region. Here, the vast sky dominates the view, with occasional clusters of wildflowers breaking the green expanse. The open fields are a stark contrast to the wooded sections, presenting their own set of challenges and pleasures. The gentle rises and falls in the terrain test endurance while also offering moments of respite.

As the marathon nears its conclusion, the course loops back towards Lake Michigan, bringing participants full circle. The familiar sound of waves welcomes runners as they make their final push. Crossing the finish line with the lake in the background, participants are reminded of the journey they’ve undertaken, weaving through the diverse landscapes of the Waugoshance area. It’s a race that offers both challenge and immense natural beauty.

Sleeping Bear Marathon

Location: Empire, MI
Date: October

The Sleeping Bear Marathon is nestled in the heart of Michigan’s iconic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Initially, runners are treated to a picturesque start along the shores of Crystal Lake. The shimmering waters and gentle morning mist provide a serene backdrop. As participants move forward, the quiet town of Beulah waves them off, setting a tranquil mood for the miles ahead.

Venturing into the heart of the course, runners experience the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes. These towering sand dunes, standing tall against the blue sky, are a sight to behold. The route offers rolling hills and varied terrain, challenging the runners while rewarding them with unparalleled views of Lake Michigan. The refreshing lake breezes and occasional glimpses of distant islands serve as motivation.

Transitioning from the dunes, the course weaves through dense, aromatic forests. The canopy overhead is a mosaic of green, filtering the sunlight and casting dappled shadows on the trail. The sound of leaves rustling and distant bird calls accompany runners, creating an almost meditative ambiance. As the path undulates, every uphill struggle is compensated with a relieving downhill respite.

As the marathon draws to its conclusion, runners emerge from the woods and are greeted by the expansive views of the Empire area. The final stretch, though demanding, is visually rewarding. Crossing the finish line, the sense of accomplishment is amplified by the breathtaking natural beauty that has been the backdrop for this unforgettable journey. The Sleeping Bear Marathon is not just a race, but a communion with nature.

Marquette Marathon

Location: Marquette, MI
Date: September

The Marquette Marathon, held in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a journey through nature’s most scenic terrains. Beginning in the historic town of Ishpeming, runners immediately sense the region’s rich mining heritage. The starting stretch, dotted with landmarks, lends a historic feel to the marathon. Runners then transition onto the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a nod to the area’s mining roots.

As participants progress, they’re embraced by dense forests. Tall trees, with leaves whispering secrets, line the path on both sides. This green canopy provides shade and creates an ambiance of serenity. Gradually, the trail unveils panoramic views of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. Its expansive blue waters glisten under the sun, providing a stunning backdrop for the marathon.

The course is mostly downhill, offering a gentle challenge to runners. But it’s the scenic beauty that remains a constant companion. The winding trail, with its mix of asphalt and crushed limestone, leads runners through serene natural habitats. There are moments where the trail skirts along rivers and streams, their gurgling waters adding to the race’s rhythmic melody.

As the marathon nears its end, downtown Marquette comes into view. The city’s skyline, though modest, signifies the blend of nature and urban life in the region. The final stretch is energizing, with local supporters cheering on. Crossing the finish line, runners are not just celebrating their achievement but also the beauty of the Marquette landscape they’ve traversed.

Ann Arbor Marathon

Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Date: October

The Ann Arbor Marathon, set in Michigan’s vibrant college town, is a picturesque run through cityscapes and scenic parks. Starting downtown, runners are met with the energy and enthusiasm of Ann Arbor’s community. The initial miles provide glimpses of the city’s iconic architecture, and of the University of Michigan’s sprawling campus. This collegiate atmosphere infuses the marathon with a unique youthful vigor.

From the bustling streets, the route shifts towards the Huron River. Alongside this waterway, participants enjoy stretches of tranquility, enhanced by the gentle river sounds. The course also takes runners through several of the city’s parks, including Gallup and Nichols Arboretum. These green spaces, lush and inviting, provide a refreshing contrast to the urban sections and showcase Ann Arbor’s natural beauty.

As the race continues, participants tackle the city’s rolling hills. While they pose a moderate challenge, they also offer panoramic views of Ann Arbor’s landscape. Streets lined with historic homes, quaint neighborhoods, and tree-canopied avenues unfold as the miles go by. Each twist and turn of the course reveals a blend of the city’s rich history and its modern, progressive spirit.

Nearing the finish, the energy picks up again. The streets are lined with cheering spectators, many of whom are students, residents, or alumni. As runners cross the finish line in downtown Ann Arbor, they’re enveloped in a feeling of accomplishment, not just for completing the marathon, but for experiencing the heart and soul of this dynamic city.

Groundhog Day Marathon

Location: Walker, MI
Date: February

The Groundhog Day Marathon, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, stands out as a wintry and unique running experience. Unlike traditional marathons, this one embraces the chill of winter, setting the stage for an adventurous race. The course, primarily situated in Millennium Park, promises runners a chance to connect with nature, even amidst the cold. As participants gather at the starting line, there’s an air of anticipation, combined with a shared respect for the challenges that the snowy and icy conditions may present.

The marathon begins with a looped route, requiring multiple circuits to achieve the full distance. Consequently, the repeated loops foster camaraderie among runners as they pass familiar faces multiple times. On each lap, participants traverse snowy paths, open fields, and frozen water bodies. As they make their way, the white-blanketed landscape offers serene views, lending a quiet beauty to the rigorous challenge.

Despite the cold, there’s warmth in the community spirit. Volunteers station themselves along the course, providing hydration, snacks, and encouragement to the determined runners. Often, they’re bundled up against the elements, their enthusiasm undeterred by the wintry weather. Their presence is a testament to the event’s community-driven ethos, and they play a pivotal role in ensuring the safety and motivation of each participant.

Concluding the marathon, the finish line brings a mix of relief and triumph. The frosty challenge of Groundhog Day Marathon, combined with the repetitive loops, makes it an endeavor of both physical and mental strength. As runners wrap up, they not only celebrate their achievement but also the shared experience of tackling a marathon in the midst of winter’s embrace.


In reflecting on Michigan’s marathon scene, it’s clear this state holds a special place in the running community. Not only do the routes provide visual masterpieces, but they also challenge and reward every participant. Whether you’re a first-timer or a marathon veteran, Michigan’s marathons never cease to inspire.

Additionally, it’s worth noting the incredible camaraderie found here. Local communities come together, showcasing unparalleled support that elevates the entire marathon experience. Their cheers and encouragement truly make every mile feel like home.

Beyond the routes and people, Michigan’s climate offers a unique element. From crisp autumn races to refreshing spring runs, each season brings its own set of joys and challenges. Adapting to these conditions is part of the Michigan marathon charm.

In conclusion, if marathons are a test of both physical endurance and mental strength, Michigan’s races are the ultimate proving grounds. With their scenic beauty, community spirit, and ever-changing weather, they encapsulate everything that makes marathon running such a memorable pursuit. Happy running!

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