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Kalamazoo College

Local- Backpacking/Hiking (or snowshoeing)

Name:  North Country Trail- Nichols Lake to Highbank Lake
Length: 12 miles
Counties:  Newaygo
Nearest cities:  Baldwin
Difficulty:  easy/moderate
A-to-B Trail or loop:  A-to-B
Days:  2 (overnight)
Highlights:  A series of small, isolated lakes
Travel time from Kzoo:  2:10

 Description:  You will need a tent and anything else (sleeping pad, bag, stove, cook kit, etc…) for a comfortable evening in the backcountry.  But the extra weight is well worth is as the 8-mile segment between 11 Mile Road and 16 Mile Road in Newaygo County is extremely scenic.  Here the NCT winds past a series of small isolated lakes set among ridges and rolling hills.  Two of the lakes, Condon and another that is unnamed, make great settings for an off-trail campsite.  If you don’t have the time to arrange transportation or the desire to trek a lot of miles, this is a great last-minute alternative.  By starting at the trailhead in the south Nichols Lake Boat launch, Condon Lake is only 4.7 miles away.  The unnamed lake is a 6-mile walk, and from there, a half-mile spur trail descends to Highbank lake National Forest Campground.  Begin from the north Nichols Lake Boat launch, and Condon lake is only a 3-mile walk and the unnamed lake 4.3 miles.

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Name:  Big Sable Point- Manistee National Forest and Ludington State Park
Length: 15 miles
Counties:  Manistee and Mason
Nearest cities:  Manistee
Difficulty:  Moderate/Easy
A-to-B Trail or loop:  A-to-B
Days:  2
Highlights:  Beautiful beaches, sand dunes, historic lighthouse
Travel time from Kzoo:  3:00

 Description:  This adventure is another of Michigan’s wonderful long-distance beach walks, a 15-mile overnight trek along Lake Michigan between two cities and around Big Sable Point and through a pair of parks that preserve the Point.  The first is Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, a 3,450-acre preserve where forested dunes raise 140 feet above Lake Michigan and open dunes surround patches of trees like islands in a sea of sand.  Where the wilderness ends, Ludington State Park begins.  The 5,200-acre unit is Mason County is the largest state park along Lake Michigan and includes 5.5 miles of shoreline.  There are backcountry camping opportunities in Nordhouse Dunes, a walk-in campground in Ludington, a historic lighthouse to visit and wonderful beaches from one end to the other.  What more could you ask for when shouldering a pack?  The 15-mile walk begins at Magoon Creek Natural Area just south of Manistee and stops at the developed area of Ludington State Park.

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Name:  North Country Trail- White Cloud to Nichols Lake
Length: 24.8 miles (18.4 miles smaller section)
Counties:  Newaygo
Nearest cities:  White Cloud
Difficulty:  Moderate/Challenging (if doing the whole section) or easy (if doing a smaller section)
A-to-B Trail or loop:  A-to-B
Days:  2
Highlights:  White River, small isolated lakes, schoolhouse lodging
Travel time from Kzoo:  1:45

Description:  What began as a one-room schoolhouse in the late 1870s and later served as the national headquarters of the North Country Trail Association is now a great way for backpackers to lighten their load for an overnight hike on the NCT.  With a car spotted at Nichols Lake National Forest Campground, you can use the historic NCTA Schoolhouse for lodging at the halfway point (if you like) of a 24.8 mile trek and skip carrying a tent, sleeping pad, and stove.  The first day would begin just west of White Could and would be a 12.1-mile walk, followed by a 12.7-mile trek on the next day.  At night can bunk up at the Schoolhouse, which offers cooking facilities, mattresses, and even showers!  Although the mileage will have some people looking elsewhere for shorter walks, keep in mind that there is no significant elevation gain along most of this segment.  That and the lighter load in your pack will result in a much quicker pace on the trail.  Or you can easily reduce the mileage by beginning at the NCT trailhead along M-20 and spotting a car at Benton Lake National Forest Campground.  That would make for a 9.1-mile hike the first day and 9.3 miles on the 2nd.  The final two miles will be along the gravel Pierce Road to reach the rustic campground.

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Name: Waterloo-Pinckney Trail
Length: 36 miles
Counties: Jackson and Wastenaw
Nearest cities:  Chelsea and Pinckney
Difficulty: Moderate
A-to-B Trail or loop: Trail
Days: 3
Highlights:  Rolling hardwood forests, numerous lakes and walk-in campsites
Travel time from Kzoo:  1:30 to 1:50

Description:  The Waterloo-Pinckney Hiking Trail west of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a 36-mile, 3-day trail. It travels between Big Portage Lake Day Use Area and Silver Lake Beach and affords recreational opportunities to hikers, mountain bikers (26 miles of hiking trails are open to mountain biking, including the very-challenging Potawatomi mountain bike loop), horseback riders, geocachers, and cross-country skiers. The trail is well-marked by DNR trail triangles that you need to keep your eye on particularly when crossing Park Lyndon, a metropolitan parcel. The trail is considered a moderate hike that explores small creeks, lowlands and high ridges that are enjoyable for those desiring a challenge but easy enough for the moderately physically fit. Significant ascents include the very picturesque Pond Lily Lookout and Sackrider Hill, a climb to nearly 1,200 feet. The lowlands areas, particularly in the vicinity of Baldwin Road, are favorable habitat for songbirds. Ridge walking along the crests of glacial eskers and between kettle lakes and bogs featuring carnivorous plants are a memorable lesson in geology, the educational opportunity exploited at the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center, mid-way along the trail. Camping is available at designated sites: Sugarloaf Lake Campground and Green Lake Campground. Be prepared for road crossings and a brush with property lines adjoining a state correctional facility near Green Lake (is that group calisthenics or a prison uprising you're hearing in the distance?..). Compass, binoculars, water, appropriate attire, maps, and bug repellant are recommended. Have a great time!

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Name:  North Country Trail- Ward Hills and McCarthy Lake
Length: 21.6 miles
Counties:  Newaygo
Nearest cities:  Baldwin
Difficulty:  moderate
A-to-B Trail or loop:  A-to-B
Days:  3
Highlights:  Scenic overlook in Ward Hills, remote McCarthy Lake
Travel time from Kzoo:  2:30

Description:  This is a three day adventure on the NCt for those looking for more mileage and a greater variety of scenery.  The 21.6 mile hike winds through the Manistee National Forest in the heart of Lake County, beginning at the main trailhead for Bowman Lake and ending at a pizzeria on the shores of Sauble Lake.  The first night is spent at the Timber Crek National Forest Campground, which the NCT passes thrugh.  The second night is spent at McCarthy Lake, a small undevelopedbody of water that makes for a great place to spend an evening deep in the woods.  There is an interesting variety of terrain along this walk.  You begin by passing through the Bowman Lake Area, a geologically unique tract with its small kames and kettle holes, and then climb through Ward Hills past a scenic overlook.  You skirt a number of wetlands during the three days as well as cross the Pere Marquette and Big Sable rivers.  The entire route to open to mountain biking and does attract a string of bikers on most summer and fall weekends, particularly from Timber Creek Campground to Centerline Road.  But overall, this stretch of the NCT is not as heavily used as the Manistee River Trail loop of the sections south of Traverse City in the Pere Marquette State Forest.  Be prepared to filter your water McCarthy Lake.

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Name:  Potawatomi Trail
Length: 17.5 miles
Counties:  Washtenaw and Livingston
Nearest cities:  Pinckney
Difficulty:  Moderate/Challenging
A-to-B Trail or loop:  Loop
Days:  2
Highlights:  Numerous lakes, walk-in campsites and rental yurt
Travel time from Kzoo:  1:45

Description:  About 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, you'll find Pinckney State Recreation Area. Within this park are 3 trails, the most famous and widely know is the Potawatomi Trail, or "Poto". You will also find 2 shorter trails here, the Silver Lake trail, and the Crooked Lake trail. Since all these trails are vary similar I will describe the Potawatomi trail, since it is the main attraction of this area.
The other 2 trails are similar but require less endurance, and more patience. These are the main trails for day hikers and nature watchers, so be careful not to run them down! These are excellent trails for warm up, cool down, or beginners.
From the parking areas head back towards the entrance of the park. The trailhead is on you right just past the parking lots. It starts with a bang, you begin crawling up a long grinding climb with water bars to navigate. After you reach this summit the real fun begins, as you roll through roots, hard pack dirt. Watch for the Potawatomi trail sign or you will end up making a short cut, or on Silver Lake trail or just plain lost. The rolling nature of this trail makes it truly enjoyable, and entertaining, with roots, technical climbs and descents, and a few thick sand areas.
On Poto you will be tested 3 or 4 times on technical long climbs and equally long and fast down hills. For the majority of the course you can use momentum from the downhills to get up the next hill. A few of the memorable climbs are, the trailhead, it is exactly what you didn't want to see, and it is with cold legs. The second is a few miles in, after you ride the boat launch road and cross a paved road. There are actually 2 here that are unforgiving. They are both very technical and steep. Once you reach the top of these you are rewarded with a fast bermed down hill. The last is a few miles from the finish. It starts as you cross a little stream, the trail curves to the right 90 Degrees, then heads up what seem lie a short climb to the pine trees, as you crest these tree you curve up and left. Wow this is where you begin to realize how futile your efforts to bust ass up the preceding hill really were. The rest of this hill is not technical, but long and grinding. You will soon reach a rolling section and another climb which leads you to the overlook area, congratulations, this is the last of the major climbs for the day. The rest of the trail is mostly downhill or flat, with a fun fast downhill after the lookout. Once you come back to the silver hill road (dirt road) a few miles later, watch for trail signs that help lead off the trail. This is where it is little confusing, Bikes are not allowed on the beach area. If you miss a turn (silver lake loop) you will end up on the beach, tun around! Find the trail which would have been on your right (now on your left) this leads you to a dirt road, take the dirt road (right) back to the trail head hill.

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Name:  Manistee River Trail-NCT
Length: 21.5 miles
Counties:  Manistee and Wexford
Nearest cities:  Mesick
Difficulty:  Moderate/Challenging
A-to-B Trail or loop:  Loop
Days:  2-3
Highlights:  The Manistee River, a waterfall, bridge/river crossings, and walk-in primitive campsites
Travel time from Kzoo:  2:45


Description:  In the end all it took to create one of the best backpacking routes in the Lower Peninsula was a foot bridge, which connects the Manistee River Trail (MRT) and the North Country Trail (NCT).  The bridge links and 10-mile segment of the NCT on the west side of the river with one of the state's newest paths, the MRT.  The MRT in its entirety is 102 miles long running along the bank of the river throughout the national forest.  The segment that parallels the NCT in this section is 11+ miles.  The two routes can be combined for a two to three day trek that is as scenic and wilderness like as the Jordan River Pathway or North Manito Island.
            While the NCT climbs hills and ridges to overlooks, the MRT is relatively flat and provides views of the river from the edge of a high river bank.  The NCT is open to mountain bikes; the MRT is not.
            Starting at Seaton Creek National Forest Campground late on Friday afternoon, the trail starts out via connector trails heading west to the MRT.  The first night is spent 3 miles into the MRT south bound at one of the primitive campsites near the base of the waterfall.  In early spring with enough snow melt, this waterfall can create a crown 8-feel tall and be a beautiful site.  Day two is a 10+ mile day as you follow the MRT south till Coates Hwy and cross the river connecting to the NCT at the top of the ridge along the West bank of the river.  The second night is spent along the trail making a crash site where the vista fits your group’s progress.  Day three finished us the hike with an 8 mile walk along the whole ridge heading N-NE back towards your car.  You reach Seaton Creek campground, but not before crossing another beautiful bridge and outlook.
            Backcountry camping is permitted along both trails as long as you do not pitch a tent closer than 200 feet to the trail or any source of water.  The U.S. Forest Service has also set up none dispersed campsites along the east side of the river.  Camping at these sites is free and is on a first-come/first-serve basis.

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