The 4600 mile North Country Trail (NCT), beginning in Maine and running to North Dakota, passes through Michigan. More than 100 miles of it are within 40 miles of Cadillac. With so many miles of trail available, deciding where to go could be a problem. But wherever you go, getting lost is not likely as blue painted markers appear frequently to guide walkers on their way. Here’s five out-and-back sections of the NCT that are favorites among local hikers.
1. Trailhead at US 131 Roadside Park
You can’t go wrong by starting your hike in the vicinity of the US-131 Bridge over the Manistee River. Just north of the bridge is a roadside park with a kiosk/trailhead for the NCT at the north end of the parking lot. From the trailhead the path goes east and north. A 4-5 mile scenic out-and-back route including a loop comprised of the “Lower Scenic Spur Trail” heads down down along the Fife Lake Outlet with a return on the “Upper Trail.” The route is basically level with bridges over ditches and small creeks. When the snow gets deep, it is an excellent venue for snowshoeing.
2. Old US 131
(Start Point: Just North of Snowmobile Bridge)
Another favorite section is accessed by going north on 131 to the first intersection, Country Line Road. Go west on County Line and immediately turn south on Old US-131. Follow that to just before it crosses a snowmobile bridge over the river. Start hiking at the blue markers along the trail going to the east and west. To the east is about a 2-mile out-and-back with the turnaround occurring under the US-131 Bridge over the river. A few minutes after starting, the path arrives at “Ed’s Overlook” which offers a spectacular vista looking out over the river and the forest. This route goes up and down as the path descends to bridges over creeks and boardwalks over swamp lands, before climbing back to the the top of of the ridge.
3. High Rollaway
The High Rollaway might be the most popular and most photographed setting for fall colors in this part of the state. From a high bluff that, during the lumber era at the beginning of the 19th century, was a log drop, one looks down to a river oxbow 100 feet below and several miles to the south and west toward Lake Michigan. It’s truly breathtaking. To reach it on foot, look for the trailhead which is a few hundred yards north of Baxter Bridge on the west side of 29 ½ Road. Parking is limited but ample spaces are available at Baxter Bridge.
The walk itself is somewhat hilly, more difficult than the hikes described earlier. Most anyone who hikes regularly will enjoy it. It is about a 5-mile out-and-back walk. At the High Rollaway there are observation decks extending out from hillside, benches, and a pit toilet. By taking a sandy dirt road for 2-miles off 4 Mile Road the Rollaway can be accessed by automobile.
These hikes work year round. In the spring the paths are lined with wildflowers popping up as the trees burst forth with new leaves. Summer hikers will find welcome shade beneath the forest canopy which becomes a riot of leafy color as autumn arrives.
4. Through the Campground and Down the River
This hike can be started be started at Old US-131 or a half mile to the west at the Old 131 Campground. Going west from Old US-131, it’s about a half-mile to the Campground. On the northwest side of the campground, look for the trail to resume as it heads toward the river. Turn back at the railroad bridge for a 3-miler, or log a total of 5 ½ miles by continuing to a bench overlooking the river. The trail has some short steep up and down sections along the river bank. Not much of a challenge to hikers but it is hard do these mini climbs along the river bank in snowshoes. Plenty of river overlooks to tantalize the photographer.
(Along the Pine River)
The Silver Creek Pathway Pathway has been a popular hiking spot since it was created in the 1990s. This four-mile loop, developed by the DNR, connects Silver Creek and Lincoln Bridge Campgrounds on the Pine River. The trailheads are about 30 miles west from Cadillac south off M-55 on State Road..
Though not a difficult hike, most prefer to get the hills done first by beginning at Lincoln Bridge and walking along the east shore of the river. Small blue plastic triangles tacked on the trees show the way and most of the time the trail, a single file narrow dirt path, is easy to follow. The first and only substantial hill appears about ten minutes into the hike. The trail stays on top of the bluff offering several long views of the Pine as its flow bends into “U”s and ”S”s below.
The trail angles down from the high ground and soon crosses the wood bridge over Silver Creek, one of several structures over creeks and low spots along the way placed to provide dry footing for hikers. Just past the last campsite on the north end of the Silver Creek Campground, cross over a bridge to the other side of the river. The addition of this span and the one at Lincoln Bridge Campground put in during the late 1980s provided the impetus for the creation of the pathway loop. The trail on the west side of the river is mostly level and stays close to the stream. At one point you walk along the Pine River for almost a mile. This is a great trail to explore when wild flowers bloom in the spring or to catch autumn color.
To find out more about these NCT hikes, check out the Grand Traverse Hiking Club website or www.northcountrytrail.org to download maps and trail descriptions.