by Brandon Jensen
Nestled in the Manistee National Forest you will find hundreds of miles of marked trails for those who love to hike, bike, or in the winter, cross country ski and snowshoe. Which trail should you choose for your weekend adventure? We suggest the North Country Trail & Manistee River Trail loop as your introduction to hiking in Manistee County.
This perfect weekend hike offers a varied and dynamic perspective of the natural beauty of Manistee County. The North Country Trail and Manistee River Trail loop is approximately 20 miles and is ideal for a relaxing hike with a group of friends or family who want to “rough it” for a weekend getaway.
With many access points to the trails, starting out at the Upper River Trailhead just off of Coates Highway is a great spot to begin. It is typically less crowded during the summer months compared to nearby Red Bridge, or Seaton Creek Campground to the north.
As you strap on your pack and set off on your hike, head out on the North Country Trail for your first leg. The terrain is more rugged and it’s best to tackle with a fresh set of legs. If you are starting your hike in the morning or early afternoon, putting in a long hike the first day will be rewarded as you will certainly want to sightsee the second and third day when you are on the Manistee River Trail (where the views and natural terrain are spectacular).
If you are starting out in the evening, get to the NCT overlook and set up camp. The views are breathtaking and the morning light radiates across the terrain assuring you that you are encircled by the natural landscape of Manistee County.
Setting out on Day 2 (depending where exactly you called home for the first night) you should make it onto the Manistee River Trail by midday/early afternoon. Once you are on the MRT you will quickly see the famed suspension bridge which crosses to the east bank of the Manistee River. Once you cross the bridge, you should consider continuing east towards Seaton Creek Campground. You will be able to check out the Hodenpyl Dam, which is a great sight tucked away in the heart of the Manistee National Forest. This is also a great time to refill the water bottles at the Seaton Creek Campground (it is the only place to fill up with potable water on the hike, so it may be a must if you do not have any water purification gear with you.)
After a quick stop at the Dam and campground, continue on the MRT and head out south along the east river banks. The views are absolutely spectacular and you will frequently see fishing boats, canoes, kayaks and tubes meandering down the river. You will feel on top of the world as you are perched 200 feet above the river below.
Heading south along the trail, between mile marker two and three, you will come upon a small waterfall, spilling over into the Manistee River. This is a great spot to grab a quick bite to eat as you push on a few more miles before setting up camp for the night. If you can make it to Slagle Creek Road, you will find a set of great primitive campsites that are perched high atop the banks overlooking the Manistee River. If you don’t make it that far, there is a great campsite near mile marker 5 that is right on the water’s edge. This is a great spot for that early morning swim (if the water’s not too cold).
Setting out on your final day, you will frequently head up and down in elevation along the most undulating part of the MRT as you make your way into the backwaters and wetlands.
This area of the trail is magnificent and you will surely see the most wildlife along this stretch of the river. Just before you hike out onto Coates Highway and back to civilization near Red Bridge, you will make one final ascent to what feels like the top of the world at mile marker 10. Here you will be able to look out for miles across the marshes and rolling terrain you crossed on your first day on the North Country Trail.
As you make your way back to the Upper River Trailhead and pack up the car, your entire ride home will inevitably be spent talking about your weekend hiking trip on one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
ONE NIGHT HIKE OR A WEEKEND BIKE:
If you can only get away for a single night, you should certainly set out on the Manistee River Trail right from the beginning. If you can drop a car at the Seaton Creek Campground, you can take your time and really explore the east banks of the Manistee River as you hike north.
Another great weekend trip is a hike and bike. Pack the bikes and the camping gear and set up at Red Bridge and head out on the North Country Trail for a great weekend biking. You can bike north or south along the NCT on day one, and camp at Red Bridge for the night. When you wake up set out on a day hike on the MRT.
No matter which direction you hike, or which season you go in, the NCT and MRT will quickly be one of your favorite weekend hikes in Michigan. The terrain diversity and views rival some of the stretches along the Appalachian Trail. Get off the couch and put Manistee County and our trails your list of things to do in 2013. For more information about all of our hiking trails, visit our website at www.VisitManisteeCounty.com.