The North Eastern State Trail is just a puppy, really: this 71-mile route was created just a few years ago by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and nonprofit partner organizations, bringing new life to a disused rail line from Alpena to Cheboygan. Passing through several communities along the way, the NEST leads through parks and historic sites as well as pristine hardwood forest.
The Alpena trailhead is located on Woodward Avenue, with parking and restrooms available on-site. Although Alpena has plenty of shopping and 4 dog-friendly restaurants, the NEST stretch from Alpena to Posen is lightly traveled. The lovely forest and farmland views are worth the 19-mile trip before the next human restrooms. (Fido is fine: you'll pass plenty of trees.)
Facilities and some local restaurants are within walking distance of the Posen, Millersburg, and Onaway access points if you need to grab some trail grub. Though the 17-mile stretch of trail from Onaway to Aloha State Park starts along M-68, it veers north to follow the Black River and then heads into deep wilderness before reaching the park.
Aloha State Park offers dog-friendly camping with views over Mullett Lake on the Inland Lakes Waterway. The park's creature comforts make a good home base for your NEST hiking adventure. To access this trailhead, you'll need an annual Michigan Recreation Passport. Currently just $11 if paid with your car registration, passports and non-resident park passes can also be purchased at the park office. Note that the park is also strict about their leash and poop-scoop rules; rangers will ticket free-range doggos.
The final leg of the NEST from Aloha to Cheboygan passes resorts, farms, and more trees. At the endpoint on Lincoln Avenue south of downtown, you can head home for a rest or catch the connecting Gaylord-to-Cheboygan Trail.
Those adorable furbabies are depending on you, so plan ahead for any trailside challenges. You and your buddies will be sharing with snowmobiles in winter and mountain bikes in summer along the NEST; stay alert for speeders and keep skittish pups close. Though park restrooms are available, they're sparse: plan your pit stops with the downloadable trail map available on the trail's DNR webpage.