Hiking Michigan: The Manistee River Trail [Photos]
One of the best trails in the state, the Manistee River Trail offers hikers a scenic route with plenty of river access.
Now that summer’s over and the cool days of fall approach, it’s time to take a look at some of the better trails around the area for weekend treks and brilliant color views when the leaves turn in October.
I recently took a week off from my section hikes of the North Country Trail and gave the highly recommended Manistee River Trail a try. I was won over very quickly.
The Manistee River Trail follows the Big Manistee River from the Northern edge of the Tippy Dam Reservoir up to the Hodenpyl Dam Pond near Mesick. While only 8.8 miles long, it offers some drop dead gorgeous views from the top of the clay cliffs along the river’s southern shoreline.
I accessed the trail at its Northern terminus near the Seaton Creek Campground off O’Rourke Road in Manistee County. Like most good hiking trails, the drive back is rugged on dirt roads, but well worth the price of admission on your car’s tire alignment.
The campground offers many beautiful sites, but be forewarned, they go fast on weekends.
The path from the campground to the trail is fairly easy and winds through some beautiful hardwoods with some great views of the Hodenpyl Reservoir.
When you get to the river, the trail splits off to a suspension bridge that locals call the ‘Mini-Mac’ for its resemblance to the Big Mac bridge. If you desire, you can take the bridge across to the North side of the river to access the North Country Trail, but be forewarned, the access trail is not well marked, so pack your map and GPS settings, or you may wind up wandering Upper River Road wondering what went wrong. (Full disclosure: this is what I did. Accessing the NCT is frequently tricky. Always have your map handy. Lesson learned.)
The Manistee River Trail southbound is a delight. Gently rolling in topography (there are a few challenging hills, but nothing super difficult or long), the trail offers constant open views of the Big Manistee river bends. The trail also features access to a few waterfalls, with tributaries pouring over red clay to the river below.
If you’re apt to try a nice weekend backpack, the trail offers ample back country camp sites that are first come, first serve. A nice plan for the experienced hiker would be a day long hike on the NCT to start, camping on the MRT and finishing the loop the next day.
It was a nice, mellow 17 mile out and back for me on a recent gorgeous Saturday, and the trail traffic was fairly heavy, even for a late summer Saturday.
The Manistee River Trail is very user friendly and well marked and perfect for both first time hikers looking for a little color, and experienced trail heads looking for a nice long trek.
You can also access the trail from the South at Coates Highway near Red Bridge. Both trail heads are just a few minutes off M-37 south of Mesick, about two hours north of Grand Rapids.