Hiking & Backpacking
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by Gary Nelkie, Nordic Sports
© 2003

Northeastern Michigan is blessed with unique hiking trails, remote areas of Lake Huron shoreline, and scenery every naturalist dreams about. A hike on these routes is not just a walk down a dirt path, but the means to see some of Michiganís most spectacular natural treasures. The scenery is as varied as anywhere in the country, and so are the trails. From coastal sand dunes to towering pines and hardwoods, from remote Lake Huron beach to wilderness inland lakes, all of these wonders of Nature can be reached by well-marked hiking trails.

A favorite destination for a day hike is the Reid Lake Foot Travel Area located in the Huron National Forest, on highway M-72, twenty miles west of Harrisville. The six-thousand acre, non-motorized area contains a 12 mile network of trails wrapped around itís namesake lake, a large marsh, and Little Trout Lake. The Reid Lake area contains the best stand of hardwoods in the Huron Shores Ranger District of the Huron National Forest. In addition to the lakes, hikers will find a very large beaver pond, many small marshes and bogs, and an abundance of birds and wildlife.

A quiet sanctuary offering the finest backpacking route on Michiganís east side is the west loop of the Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Area. This 10,600 acre non-motorized retreat, offering 22 miles of trails, is located 23 miles west of Harrisville and 7 miles north of Glennie, at the intersection of highway M-72 and M-65. The scenic trail network encompasses seven small lakes and courses through rugged terrain with many hills topping 1,200 feet. Hoist Lakes offers unique opportunities to climb a ridge, sit on itís crest, and view an outstanding panorama. For backpackers, this area offers some of the most attractive remote campsites in the Lower Peninsula.

The most unusual and unique day hike in Northeastern Michigan is the walk out to South Point in Negwegon State Park. Negwegon is an undeveloped wilderness tract comprising 1,800 acres. It is the crown jewel of Michiganís State Park System. It is hard to reach and visited by very few people. And when they arrive, they are amazed by what they find. Many believe that the most beautiful and possibly the most isolated beaches on Lake Huron lie in this park. Many areas of the 6.5 mile shoreline are lined by pine and cedar and feature wide, sugary beaches in remote bays closed in by rugged rocky points and spits. Negwegon State Park is located almost halfway between Harrisville and Alpena, off US-23, near Black River. Stop into the Nordic Sports store, in East Tawas, for further information and travel directions.

For a memorable early morning hike, capture the beauty of the sunrise along the outer perimeter, and around the tip of Tawas Point State Park, near East Tawas. This is a short 2 mile trek through an extremely scenic and unique sand dune ecosystem. Often referred to as the ďCape Cod of the MidwestĒ, Tawas Point is a very important location as a major landfall stopover for songbirds migrating along the Mississippi Flyway. During the Spring and Fall migrations, the Point is literally overpopulated with birds, making it an important destination for many of North America's serious bird watchers. 299 species of birds have been documented within this small area. Often spotted along the beaches are extraordinary species of uncommon shorebirds, including the rare Piping Plover, which occasionally nests here. Several inland ponds and marshes attract a variety of waterfowl species and secretive marsh birds. A variety of willow thickets, shrubs, pine stands, and hardwood groves attract a large variety of colorful warblers, flycatchers, hummingbirds, orioles, bluebirds and tanagers. The trail always offers a splendid view of the historic brick lighthouse which has been in continuous service since 1876.

The Highbanks Trail, along the towering bluffs of the AuSable River, near East Tawas, offers incredible vistas of the historic AuSable River Valley. This popular footpath originates at Iargo Springs and extends 6.5 miles to the tiny village of Sidtown, and ends at the Sawmill Point campground. Along the route, hikers pass a Bald Eagleís nest and the interpretive center at Lumbermanís Monument. The most popular section of the trail - renowned for fabulous evening sunsets - is the 2.5 mile route from Lumbermanís Monument to Sidtown. Along this portion of trail, hikers traverse the ridges of the historic towering sandy high banks from which an entire forest of logs was rolled into the river and floated downstream to the mills in Oscoda during Michiganís white pine lumbering days. The wind blown sand ridges have created a unique ecosystem found nowhere else in Northeastern Michigan. If you opt to park at the Monument area and hike the route to Sidtown, upon completion of your hike be sure to drive the short distance on River Road to Iargo Springs, and descend the winding stairway down to the namesake springs. Visitors will be astonished at the beauty and sounds of the small waterfalls and gurgling streams that await them. Three wildlife observation decks and a network of boardwalks will lead visitors to exceptional views of the river and itís exclusive surrounding terrain. Playful otters, soaring eagles, trumpeter swans, and flocks of waterfowl provide hours of entertainment. The Highbanks area is located 12 miles northwest of East Tawas at the intersection of Monument Road and River Road,

Northeastern Michigan, and the Huron National Forest, has many excellent places to hike and view wildlife. Weíve listed a few as great places to start. Certainly, there are many more waiting to be explored. Come and enjoy our natural wonders and make sure you Hit The Trail!

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