Hiking the Loop: Manistee River Trail & North Country Trail Loop

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.

Packs are loaded and ready for the 2 night – 3 day hike

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.

For this trip we decided to drop in at the Upper River Trailhead and proceed north along the North Country Trail camping just south of the Suspension Bridge for night 1. Day two we made it just south of the Slagle Creek Parking Area on the Manistee River Trail side (near mile marker 7) for night 2. It made for a quick hike out the next day.


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.

Taking a break at the Red Hill Lookout.

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.)

Hodenpyl Dam... a pretty cool stop if you want to add on the extra mile towards Seaton Creek Campground
Hodenpyl Dam… a pretty cool stop if you want to add on the extra mile towards Seaton Creek Campground

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.

The view along the east side of the river (on the Manistee River Trail side)

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).

Our home for night #2

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.

Upper River Trailhead Kiosk

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.



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.



  1. Planning on hitting up the trail next weekend. Thanks for the insight on what to expect!

    1. Good to hear!! Feel free to share your trail story with us; we’d love to hear from you.

  2. Would you consider this a good first-time backpacking trip for those of us (me) with no experience?

    1. This is perfect for a first-time hiker – I was the contributing writer on this piece. I have hiked (day-trip and overnight) many times on this trail, but this was actually the first trail I ever really backpacked on. We did this exact trip I outlined here. There are many great spots to stop and the terrain has areas that are challenging in terms of elevation changes, but you will have areas of flat, easier terrain, to relax on and just enjoy the awesome views.

  3. Any recommendations for a non-overnight hike? We will be staying in Irons, MI for a week this summer. We are looking for a hike that would have beautiful scenery as well as a lot of potential to see wildlife.

    1. Hi Melissa, the Manistee region has a lot of opportunity for a day hike. First on my list would be Magoon Creek or Arcadia Dunes. Both of these trails are day hikes, have beautiful views of Lake Michigan, and the potential to see wildlife. Another option would be Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary and Orchard Beach State Park trails.

      For more information and downloadable maps of our hiking trails: VisitManisteeCounty.com/outdoors/hiking-biking If you have more questions, call us at the Visitors Center: 877.626.4783

  4. Going back in the spring of 2017. Last May, after a thunderstorm, my son and I witness the coolest firefly show ever! We need to see it again.

  5. Leaving tomorrow morning to hike the loop with my husband. I did it last year but he is new to backpacking. The forecast looks great, can’t wait to get on the trail!!

  6. Excited to hike this trail on Monday! Thanks for your insight and awesome POV 🙂

  7. My favorite way to do this hike is a hike/float trip. You start by dropping a canoe or kayaks at the north end of the trail, on the west side of the river. There’s a parking area near the dam where you can stash your boats in the woods (bring a cable lock and lock them to a tree for security). Then drive down Upper River road (a dusty affair which is really just a maintenance access for the power lines from the dam, with a few soft, sandy spots – so be prepared) to the NCT Upper River Trailhead. You can’t park overnight at Red Bridge. From there, you hike down along the road to the MRT terminus at Red Bridge, pick up the trail just beyond, and hike north to the Suspension Bridge. It’s a pretty easy one-day hike, maybe 6 hours.

    Then you camp overnight, pick up your boats, and float down to Red Bridge, which is about a 4-hour float with some very mild class-1 rapids. There’s a place to put the boats in near the parking area mentioned above.

    When you get to Red Bridge, you take out, hike the mile or so up to the car at Upper River, and load up for a short and fun day 2.

  8. I’d like to start in the middle at the Slagel Creek parking area and head toward the waterfalls. Do you know if we can you park and get right on the trail from there or will we need to hike in a bit to get to the trail from where we park?

  9. Do I need reservations to tent camp along the trail or can I ENO / tent anywhere?

  10. Do you need a pass to hike this loop?

  11. I’m looking to do the loop the middle of October. There will be about 7 other guys with me and we were going to try and stretch this out to a 3.5 day 3 night trip. Do you think that is manageable? The experience level ranges from Beginner to Expert.

  12. Planning on hiking/backpacking here this month- where are dogs allowed to hike and what campsites can we have them?

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