Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lake Erie Metropark: Trapper's Run and Cherry Island Trails (Blog Hike #655)

Trails: Trapper’s Run and Cherry Island Trails
Hike Location: Lake Erie Metropark
Geographic Location: east of Rockwood, MI
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A pair of flat loops through the marshes along the Detroit River.

Directions to the trailhead: South of Detroit, take I-75 to Huron River Drive (exit 27).  Exit and go east on Huron River DrTake Huron River Dr. east 2.2 miles to Jefferson Ave. and turn left on Jefferson Ave.  The park entrance is 0.2 miles ahead on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the entrance fee (a single daily entrance fee gets you into every Huron-Clinton Metropark for that day), and follow signs for the Marshlands Museum and Nature Center, where this hike begins.

The hike: Consisting of 1607 acres, Lake Erie Metropark sits at the mouths of the Detroit and Huron Rivers where they flow into Lake Erie.  The amenity-filled park features 5 picnic shelters, a golf course, a wave pool, and a boat ramp and marina on Lake Erie.  The park also houses the interesting Marshlands Museum and Nature Center, which features many exhibits on the cultural and natural heritage of the Lake Erie shore.  The museum is only open Wednesday through Sunday, and I enjoyed browsing its exhibits on my Thursday visit.
            Lake Erie Metropark also features an extensive paved trail system open to both hikers and bikers.  In terms of hiker-only trails, the park offers two short unpaved nature trails: the Trapper’s Run and Cherry Island Trails.  Both of these trails give a fantastic tour of the wetlands bordering Lake Erie.  While you could hike the two trails separately, their trailheads are close enough to merit combining them into a single hike, which is the route described here.  While I have not visited all 13 of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, my experience here leads me to believe that Lake Erie Metropark is the best metropark in suburban Detroit.
Start of Trapper's Run Trail
            To “save the best for last,” I chose to hike the Trapper’s Run Trail first.  A counterclockwise journey around the Trapper’s Run Trail starts by walking across the grassy area to the left (north) of the Marshlands Museum.  Walk around a bald eagle cage to find where the wide grassy trail enters the woods.  The bald eagle looks stately and majestic even though it is caged.
            At 0.1 miles, where the Big Turtle Shortcut exits left, you reach the first of three Detroit River overlooks on the right.  Wooden platforms extend slightly out into the shallow water, but some islands keep the Detroit River’s main channel well out of sight.  Lots of lily pads grow in this water.
Detroit River overlook
            Just past 0.4 miles, you reach the hike’s northernmost point where a short boardwalk takes you through some tall sedges.  This boardwalk also provides the Trapper’s Run Trail’s last Detroit River view.  The trail curves left twice to begin heading southbound on a course that parallels the one you followed earlier.  A hawthorn thicket grows in this area, but the trail remains fairly exposed to the sun.
Riley Creek Overlook
            At 0.7 miles, the other end of the Big Turtle Shortcut enters from the left just before a boardwalk exits right.  A short detour down the boardwalk brings you to Riley Creek Overlook, which overlooks its stagnant and shallow namesake creek.  Back on the main trail, two more left curves, a right curve, and a final boardwalk bring you out at the Marshlands Museum parking lot directly across from the museum.  Getting back to the parking lot completes the Trapper’s Run Trail and our first loop.
            To get to the Cherry Island Trail and our second loop, walk across the parking lot toward the Marshlands Museum and turn right on the paved bike path.  After crossing the boat launch access road, look for the gravel Cherry Island Trail that exits left.  A sign that says “Nature Study Area” and a picnic table also stand here.  Turn left to leave the pavement and begin the Cherry Island Trail.
Start of Cherry Island Trail
            The Cherry Island Trail parallels the boat launch access road as it crosses the first of several long boardwalks.  This boardwalk takes you over a nice wetland, but dense cattail growth ensures that better wildlife viewing opportunities will come later.  1.6 miles into the hike, you arrive at the boat launch parking lot.  Turn right and look for the dirt/gravel trail reentering the forest at another “Nature Study Area” sign.
Cherry Island Trail boardwalk
            For the next 0.6 miles the Detroit River stays very close on the left, but a curtain of trees and some tall sedges block your view most of the time.  What this narrow band of trees does offer is good wildlife viewing.  I noticed a deer in the woods just feet away staring at me, and several rabbits ran across the trail.  I also saw numerous birds including robins, sparrows, and redwinged blackbirds, and the park is one of the best hawk-watching sites in North America.
Just past 2 miles into the hike, you reach another boardwalk that crosses open water and (finally!) gives a clear Detroit River view.  This point is located just north of where the river empties into Lake Erie, so Canada lies several miles away on the river’s east bank.  Several types of ducks were enjoying the water and the light rain shower that fell on us as I was enjoying the view.
Wide Detroit River view
On the south side of the bridge, the trail curves left to pass in between a couple of lagoons that support lotus colonies.  The flowers were in full bloom on my early August visit, but these colonies are not as large as the ones at nearby William C. Sterling State Park, which will be featured in an upcoming blog entry.  The flowers remain quite numerous and attractive nonetheless.
Lotus colony
At 2.3 miles, you reach the end of the Cherry Island Trail at its south intersection with the paved bike path.  Turn right on the paved bike path, which at first follows the boundary between meadow on the left and forest on the right and thus offers more good wildlife viewing.  The meadow flowers were also in full bloom on my late summer visit.  Follow the paved bike path back to the Marshlands Museum to complete the hike.  Of course, you will also want to visit the museum if it is open when you are there.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Oakwoods Metropark: Long Bark Trail (Blog Hike #654)

Trail: Long Bark Trail
Hike Location: Oakwoods Metropark
Geographic Location: west of Flat Rock, MI
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A loop hike through forest along the Huron River.

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Detroit, take I-275 to Huron Road (exit 11).  Exit and go east on Huron Rd.  Drive Huron Rd. east 0.2 miles to Willow Metropark (NOT Oakwoods Metropark), and turn right to enter Willow Metropark.  Pay the entrance fee (a single daily entrance fee gets you into every Huron-Clinton Metropark for that day), and drive all of the way through Willow Metropark to Willow Road.  Turn left on Willow Rd.  Drive Willow Rd. east 0.6 miles to the Oakwoods Metropark entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter Oakwoods Metropark, and follow the main park road to its end in 2.7 miles at the Nature Center where this hike begins.

The hike: Established in 1942, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks consist of 13 parks that form a semicircle around the north, west, and southwest sides of Detroit.  The park system gets its name from the Huron and Clinton Rivers on the south and north sides of Detroit, respectively.  The parks feature some fine amenities: almost every park has a golf course, some picnic shelters, and paved bike trails.  Also, while the $10 daily entrance fee seems high by metropark standards, a single daily entrance fee gets you into every Huron-Clinton Metropark for that day.  It is fun to see how many metroparks you can visit in a single day and therefore how much bang you can get for your $10.
            Helping you to binge metropark visit is the trio of adjacent metroparks that line the Huron River near I-275: Lower Huron, Willow, and Oakwoods.  While all three metroparks offer canoe/kayak access to the Huron River, only 1756 acre Oakwoods Metropark has a well-developed system of hiker-only trails.  This hike describes the park’s longest unpaved trail, the 2 mile Long Bark Trail, which offers a nearly flat loop through the wet woods that comprise the park’s southeast corner.  Be advised that bugs were plentiful here on my visit, so wear good bug spray during the summer.
Nature Center's Huron River overlook
            Before starting the hike, stop in the Nature Center to view some interesting exhibits about the area’s fauna.  Also, ask for a trail brochure that corresponds to numbered posts you will pass on the Long Bark Trail.  Then step outside to the Nature Center’s Huron River overlook.  This wooden platform overlooks a wide, slow section of the river featuring several islands that make the river look narrower and shallower than it is.
Start of asphalt trail
            To get to the Long Bark Trail, head downstream along the asphalt path that starts at the overlook and parallels the river.  After only a few hundred feet, the wheelchair-accessible asphalt trail curves sharply right.  Continue straight and left to leave the pavement and begin a clockwise journey around the Long Bark Trail.
Second Huron River overlook
            0.3 miles from the parking lot, you reach a bench that provides a second overlook of the Huron River thanks to a pipeline buried underground here.  The trail curves right and heads back into the forest still parallel to the river.  As the park’s name suggests, the most common tree in this forest is oak, but hickory, maple, and black walnut also appear in significant quantity.  Black walnut trees are identified by their compound leaves, large black nuts with green shells, and treeless surroundings: the roots of black walnut trees secrete an herbicide that prevents other trees from growing nearby.
            Ignore two short cut trails that exit right and continue southeast on the wide dirt Long Bark Trail.  The terrain seems completely flat, but in fact you are descending on an imperceptible grade.  At 0.9 miles, you reach the lowest elevation on this hike before curving right and climbing slightly.  The difference between the maximum and minimum elevations on this hike is only 20 vertical feet, so the climb is short-lived.
Hiking the Long Bark Trail
            Now in the very southern end of Oakwoods Metropark, two more curves to the right bring you on a northwest heading.  At 1.5 miles, you pass a deer exclosure.  Park managers use these fenced-in areas to estimate the deer population by comparing plant growth inside and outside the exclosure.  At 1.7 miles, the Sky-Come-Down Trail exits left.  The Sky-Come-Down Trail could be used to add almost another mile to this hike, but the sunny fields that trail passes through did not appeal to me on the hot muggy morning I hiked here.
            The Big Tree Trail soon enters from the right; it offers a short loop through scenery similar to what you see on this hike.  1.9 miles into the hike, you reach a major intersection where you need to angle right and then left to return to the asphalt path that connects the parking lot to the Nature Center.  Turning right will take you back to the Nature Center, while turning left will take you back to your car in the parking lot.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Bay City State Recreation Area, Tobico Marsh: Big Loop Trail (Blog Hike #653)

Trail: Big Loop Trail
Hike Location: Bay City State Recreation Area, Tobico Marsh
Geographic Location: north of Bay City, MI
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A loop hike through a large wetland along Lake Huron.

Directions to the trailhead: Just north of Bay City, take I-75 to Wilder Road/SR 13 (exit 164).  Exit and go north on SR 13.  Drive SR 13 north 3.5 miles to Beaver Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn right on Beaver Rd.  Drive Beaver Rd. east 2 miles to SR 247 and turn left on SR 247.  Drive SR 247 north 0.2 miles to Killarney Beach Road and turn softly left on Killarney Beach Rd.  Drive Killarney Beach Rd. north 0.5 miles to the signed entrance for Tobico Marsh on the left.  Turn left to enter the marsh, and drive the bumpy gravel entrance road 0.3 miles to its end at the marsh’s only parking lot.

The hike: Located just north of its namesake city, Bay City State Recreation Area consists of 2100 acres along Saginaw Bay.  As you would expect for a state recreation area (as opposed to a state park), the area’s amenities take center stage.  The area features a 1000-foot beach on the bay, a 193-site campground, a water park playground, and a pair of picnic areas. 
            While many state recreation areas only provide recreation, Bay City State Recreation Area also preserves an ecologically valuable wetland.  The area’s Tobico Marsh comprises 1652 acres of wetlands including a wide expanse of open water, thus making it one of the largest freshwater coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes region.  The wetland came under state ownership in 1957 when Frank Anderson donated the land to the State of Michigan to form Tobico State Wildlife Refuge.  In 1976, the wetland was designated a National Natural Landmark, and in 1995 the wildlife refuge merged with adjacent Bay City State Park to form the recreation area we enjoy today.
            The area features 7 miles of trails open to hikers.  The area’s most popular trail is the paved 2.5 mile Anderson Nature Trail, which is also part of the 17.5 mile Bay County Riverwalk/Railtrail.  For hikers wanting to get off the pavement and away from zooming bikes, the best option is the 2.8 mile Big Loop Trail described here.  This route takes you through the dryer part of the wetland and past two observation towers that provide nice views out into the wetland’s open waters.  As you would expect for a wetland, bugs are bad during the summer, so wear plenty of good bug spray.
Trailhead: Big Loop Trail
            Three trails depart from the information board at the rear of the parking area.  The trail going left will be our return route, and the wide trail going straight offers a shortcut that by-passes the first observation tower.  This hike starts with the trail on the right, which is marked with a brown sign that says “Start of Big Loop Trail, Observation Towers.”  A rain shelter, trash can, and dedication plaque also sit here.
            As usual in Michigan state recreation areas, trail intersections are numbered and have trail maps posted.  The trailhead is intersection #19, and this hike’s initial segment takes you to intersection #18.  The winding sandy dirt trail uses wooden bridges to cross some narrow wet depressions.  In extremely flat areas such as Tobico Marsh, a couple feet of elevation change means the difference between being wet most of the year and dry most of the year.
Bridge over wet area
            Just shy of 0.3 miles, you reach the first of two observation towers.  These towers stand 3 stories above the ground, but they are located a couple hundred feet from the water’s edge.  Thus, you will need to bring binoculars if you want to do some good bird viewing across the open water.  A stash of canoes also sat at this tower on my visit.
View from first tower
            The first observation tower is also trail intersection #18.  Taking the paved trail that heads east leads to some more platforms located closer to the open water, but the Big Loop Trail heads west to quickly reach trail intersection #20.  Turn right at trail intersection #20 to continue the Big Loop Trail.
Hiking the Big Loop Trail
            The wide sandy dirt trail heads northwest parallel to the open water, which remains out of sight to your right.  1 mile into the hike, you reach the second observation tower, which in terms of construction is a carbon copy of the first one.  Fewer trees surround this tower, but you will still need binoculars to see any birds in the open water.
View from second tower
            Past the second tower, the trail continues north through more of the same scenery.  At 1.4 miles, you reach the northern-most point on this hike as the trail makes a sweeping left turn to begin heading southeast.  Some of the trees back here have large burls growing in them.
            The balance of the hike is a dead flat southeast ramble with a slightly lower wet area on your left and a field across the recreation area’s boundary on your right.  Some nearby thunder hurried my steps, but the heavy part of the thunderstorm stayed north of me even as some raindrops pelted my hat.  A left curve and final wooden bridge return you to the parking lot to complete the hike.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Holly State Recreation Area: Lakeshore Trail (Blog Hike #652)

Trail: Lakeshore Trail
Hike Location: Holly State Recreation Area
Geographic Location: east of Holly, MI
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A circumnavigation of Wildwood and Valley Lakes.

Directions to the trailhead: Between Flint and Pontiac, take I-75 to Grange Hall Road (exit 101).  Exit and go east on Grange Hall Rd.  Drive Grange Hall Rd. east 1.5 miles to the recreation area’s signed entrance on the right.  Turn softly right to enter Holly Recreation Area, then turn right again in another 0.8 miles where the pavement ends to enter the day-use area.  Pay the entrance fee, and ask for a trail map at the toll booth.  Continue straight at the next intersection, and in 0.8 miles turn left to park in a small paved parking lot beside Wildwood Lake.  This parking lot is reached just after you descend a small hill and just before you cross the dam that forms Wildwood Lake.

The hike: Located on either side of I-75, Holly State Recreation Area consists of 7817 acres near its namesake town.  As its name suggests, the area’s main purpose is recreation as opposed to preservation.  The area’s amenities include a 160-site campground, 3 cabins, some picnic areas, and several lakes that offer swimming, fishing, and boating.
            Holly State Recreation Area also offers 35 miles of trails open to hikers and mountain bikers, 8.5 miles of which are hiker-only.  The hiker-only trails form a barbell-shaped route with north and south loops and several connecting trails.  The longer north loop is known as the Wilderness Trail, but this hike describes the south loop, which is called the Lakeshore Loop because it circumnavigates a pair of lakes: Valley Lake and Wildwood Lake.  Due to the wet nature of this area, bugs are fairly bad on this hike, so wear good bug spray in the summer.
Lakeshore Trail trailhead
            From the parking area, look for the signed start of the Lakeshore Trail as it heads east and enters the woods.  Throughout this hike the lakes will be to your right and a hillside will rise to the left.  Just past 0.1 miles, you reach trail intersection #19 where the connector to the north loop exits left.  As usual at Michigan state parks, trail intersections are numbered and have trail maps posted.  This hike passes intersections #19 through #24 in increasing order, so continue straight to head for trail intersection #20.
            The trail map shows a single loop around the lake, but quickly you realize that some unofficial trails exist out here as well.  All trails are unmarked.  If you are unsure which way to go at a trail intersection, choose the trail closest to the lake.  A couple of areas offer you low water and high water alternatives; the low water options were damp but passable on my visit.
Hiking along Wildwood Lake
            Just shy of 0.5 miles, you arrive at the park’s cabin area.  Keep the split rail fence on your right to trace around the cabins.  A brick restroom building was closed and in disrepair when I came here.  At the end of the split rail fence, you reach trail intersection #20, where the Lakeshore Trail reenters the woods.
            The trail stays close to Wildwood Lake before curving left to head up an inlet.  The shallower areas of Wildwood Lake support nice lotus colonies that were in full bloom on my early August hike.  At 1.2 miles, the trail curves right to cross a wet area between curtains of cattails.  This area will be muddy except during a drought, so come prepared.
Lotus colony
            You top the low ridge that separates Valley and Wildwood Lakes while passing trail intersections #21 and #22.  Trail intersection #21 marks a spur trail to a parking area that is no longer maintained, while trail intersection #22 marks the crossing of the boat launch road.  The trail dips to cross a feeder stream of Valley Lake on a wooden footbridge before climbing to a lake overlook.  A bench here makes a nice place to sit, rest, and enjoy a trail snack just past the midpoint of the hike.
Valley Lake overlook
            After passing trail intersection #23, which marks another spur trail to another parking area, the forest gets shrubbier as you head up the west side of Valley Lake.  Some raspberries were still ripening on my visit, but some poison ivy grew here as well.  Soon you reach trail intersection #24, which is located at the south end of the dam that forms Valley and Wildwood Lakes.  The trail crosses the dam just below the park road to return you to the parking area that contains your car, thus completing the hike.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Maybury State Park: Linking and Pond Trails (Blog Hike #651)

Trails: Linking and Pond Trails
Hike Location: Maybury State Park
Geographic Location: west of Northville, MI
Length: 3 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A rolling double loop through an old sanitorium featuring a pond with good waterfowl viewing.

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Detroit, take I-96 to Beck Road (exit 160).  Exit and go south on Beck Rd.  Drive Beck Rd. south 4 miles to Eight Mile Road and turn right on Eight Mile Rd.  Alternatively, you can take I-275 to Eight Mile Rd. (exit 167) and go west on Eight Mile Rd. to reach this intersection.  The signed park entrance is on the left 1 mile west of the intersection between Beck Rd. and Eight Mile Rd.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, then turn left at the first intersection.  Park in the large parking lot beside the baseball field; the hike starts at the southeast corner of this parking lot.

The hike: The mature maple/beech forest found at Maybury State Park is normally only found in parks that are much older, but there is a reason you also find it here.  This land’s preserved status dates back to 1921 and the founding of the Detroit Municipal Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which was owned by the City of Detroit.  The sanatorium was created by combining 8 adjoining farms, and its name was later changed to the Maybury Sanatorium to honor William H. Maybury, a farm owner who was instrumental in the sanitorium’s establishment.  More than 40 buildings once stood on this site, and it acted as a quarantined city for Detroit residents with tuberculosis.
            In 1969, the sanatorium closed because medical advances rendered it obsolete.  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources purchased the 944 acres from the City of Detroit in 1972, and the state park opened in 1975.  The park is solely a day-use park, and its main amenity is the Maybury Farm.  Operated by the Northville Community Foundation, Maybury Farm is a working farm that provides visitors an educational hands-on farm experience.  The farm is located just west of the park’s main entrance (the one you drove in) if you want to tour the farm on your way out.
            In addition to the farm, the park offers a baseball field, some picnic areas, and miles of trails for every conceivable non-motorized user.  Many routes through the park’s extensive trail system are possible, but this hike focuses on the hiker-only trails.  The route suggested here provides a semi-loop through the oldest forest and around a small scenic pond, thus visiting the most scenic natural destinations the park has to offer.  Be warned that this park is quite popular: I came here on a Wednesday morning and had plenty of company on the trail, although I did not meet Barney Fife or Andy Griffith.
Portal entering Maybury Sanitorium
            Start at the parking lot’s southeast corner where a black iron portal welcomes you to the Maybury Sanatorium.  Some large purple interpretive signs here relate the sanatorium’s history.  What remains of the sanatorium’s developed area lies behind and to the right of here.  While that area is not explored on this hike, you could easily wander over there after you finish this hike if you want to tour the sanatorium’s old grounds.
The asphalt trail quickly brings you to a major trail intersection marked as green circle #3.  Trail intersections at Maybury State Park are marked using a complicated system: you have to pay attention to the number/letter, color, and shape of the marker.  The key thing to remember for this hike is that the hiker-only trails are always marked with green intersection markers and/or green carsonite posts.  If you really want to know the full system, red marks horse trails, blue the paved bike trails, yellow the dirt mountain bike trails, and orange the gravel multi-use trails.  Trail maps are also posted at each intersection, and when you notice all of the trails crammed into this park’s fairly small area, you start to realize why such a complicated system is necessary.  Turn sharply left to head for green circle #10 and then right to head for green circle #5.
The wide dirt trail heads east along the boundary between mature beech/maple forest on the right and prairie on the left.  The mature forest makes this hike one of the nicest in suburban Detroit.  A large number of interpretive signs explain this area’s geology, flora, and fauna, and they serve to give this trail a nature trail feel.  One sign tells you that this park is located atop a moraine, or a long ridge of dirt and rock deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age.  In fact, the highest point in Wayne County is located just southeast of here within the park boundaries.
Trail intersection green circle #5
The trail curves right to pass around a wetland area before reaching trail intersection green circle #5.  The trail going right leads directly back to the trailhead, and we will use it when we get back to this intersection in an hour or so.  For now, turn left to head for the pond.  Very quickly you cross a horse trail; remember to look for the green carsonite posts to stay on the hiker-only trail.  Some signs call this trail the Linking Trail because it links the park’s pond and sanatorium areas.
For the next 0.5 miles the hiking trail and horse trail parallel each other on an eastward course.  At 0.75 miles, you drop down the only steep area of the hike, but the hill is only 20 feet high.  A dense understory that includes stinging nettle and poison ivy lines the trail.  Fortunately, the wide path makes these irritating plants easily avoidable.
Hiking through mature forest
Just past 1.1 miles, you reach intersection green circle #6, which forms the loop around the pond.  For no particular reason, I turned right to hike counterclockwise around the pond.  Some wooden fishing piers jut out over the water, which is amazingly clear for a suburban area.  Plumes of green algae can be seen growing in the pond’s depths, and I saw many fish swimming around waiting for an angler to toss in the right lure.  The pond is also a major draw for waterfowl.  I saw Canada geese, many types of ducks, an egret, and a swan in this area.
Maybury State Park pond
Stay near the pond and ignore trails that exit right; they lead to picnic shelters and the mountain bike trails.  Some inlets and islands make the pond seem smaller than it is.  At 1.4 miles, the dirt hiking trail ends at an intersection with the wide two-track gravel multi-use trail.  Angle left to continue your circumnavigation of the pond.
The multi-use trail crosses the dam that forms the pond before reaching trail intersection orange diamond #20.  Turn left to return to single-track dirt hiker-only trail and head up the north side of the pond.  Tracing around a few small inlets closes your loop around the pond.  Turn right at intersection green circle #6 to retrace your steps westward to intersection green circle #5, then continue straight at intersection green circle #5.
Wetland area
At 2.6 miles, you reach intersection green circle #4, where you need to angle right to pass along the south side of the same wetland you walked north of before.  More easy, level walking brings you back to intersection green circle #3, where a right turn on the asphalt trail returns you to the parking lot to complete the hike. If you also wish to explore the sanatorium’s former developed area, continue straight at intersection green circle #3 to hike a short 1 mile loop partially on paved trail through that area.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Huron National Forest, Loon Lake Day Use Area: Island Lake Nature Trail (Blog Hike #650)

Trail: Island Lake Nature Trail
Hike Location: Huron National Forest, Loon Lake Day Use Area
Geographic Location: between Rose City, MI and Mio, MI
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2017
Overview: A lollipop loop through kettle and kame topography.

Directions to the trailhead: From Mio, take SR 33 south 9.6 miles to South Loon Lake Loop Road.  From Rose City, reach this intersection by traveling north 6.5 miles on SR 33.  Go west on Loon Lake Loop Rd.  Drive paved Loon Lake Loop Rd. west 0.2 miles to the signed entrance for the Loon Lake Day Use Area.  Turn right to enter the area, drive the winding road downhill to the parking lot beside Loon Lake, and park here after paying the $5 day use fee.

The hike: Occupying large swaths of land in the northeastern quadrant of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Huron National Forest consists of 438,000 acres of previously overlogged land.  The forest was established in 1909, making it the oldest of Michigan’s four national forests.  The forest was administratively combined with Manistee National Forest in 1945 to put all of the lower peninsula’s national forest land under one roof.
            Lakes and ATV trails take center stage in Huron National Forest, so its hiking opportunities are somewhat limited.  One short but nice option is the lightly-used nature trail associated with the forest’s cozy 17-site Island Lake Campground.  The Island Lake Nature Trail gives a nice overview of glacier-created kettle and kame topography, and downloading an interpretive guide from the forest’s website will help you understand what you are seeing along the trail.  The nature trail forms only a short loop, but a spur trail connects to the adjacent Loon Lake Day Use Area.  Thus, you can lengthen your hike by starting at the day use area and hiking a lollipop loop with the spur trail as the “stick.”  Such is the route described here.
Kettle pond near parking area

Loon Lake Day Use Area trailhead
            At the Loon Lake Day Use Area, take note of the two small kettle ponds at the south side of the parking lot.  In particular, notice the steep hillside that leads down to the water, and file this look away for future use.  The trail starts between the two kettle ponds at a small sign stating that this trail is open only to hikers.
After dropping off a terrace created by the parking lot’s construction, the trail climbs steeply away from Loon Lake, gaining more than 150 feet in less than 0.2 miles.  Upon reaching a narrow ridge, the trail curves right to continue climbing at a more moderate rate.  Large plastic blue diamonds mark the way, and the forest is comprised mostly of maple and jack pine trees.  Some ferns live in the understory.
Climbing onto a kame
            At 0.2 miles, you reach the height of land where you cross paved Loon Lake Loop Road.  Just after crossing the road, the trail splits to form its loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to turn right to hike the loop counterclockwise.  Some old numbered wooden posts may correspond to an interpretive guide that is no longer available.
            The trail curves left as it undulates.  Throughout this part of the hike you pass several steep depressions in the surrounding ground, some large and some small.  These depressions are more kettles, and like the kettle ponds at the trailhead they mark places where large chunks of ice melted when the last round of glaciers retreated.  Unlike the ones near the trailhead, these kettles are not ponds because their bottoms lie above the water table.  A kame is simply a ridge between two kettles.  Fortunately, most of this trail stays on the kames or else the hiking would be much more difficult than it is.
A large kettle
            Several other unofficial and unmarked trails wind through this area, so watch for the blue diamonds and keep track of your location on the trail map to stay on the right route.  After a brief descent, you reach the paved Island Lake Campground access road at 0.5 miles.  Turn left, walk less than 50 feet along the road, and turn left again to continue the nature trail.  Again, watch for the blue diamonds.
            The trail climbs on a gradual to moderate grade before passing a large kettle on the left.  At 0.8 miles, the grade levels as it curves left to join an old logging road.  After passing a survey marker, the trail leaves the old logging road and passes over a final kame to close the loop.  A right turn and 0.2 miles of retracing your steps return you to Loon Lake Day Use Area to complete the hike.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Porcupine Mountains State Park: Escarpment Trail (Blog Hike #649)

Trail: Escarpment Trail
Hike Location: Porcupine Mountains State Park
Geographic Location: west of Ontonagon, MI
Length: 4 miles round trip
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: July 2017
Overview: An out-and-back along a rocky escarpment overlooking Lake of the Clouds.

Directions to the trailhead: From Ontonagon, take SR 64 west 12.6 miles to the state park entrance.  SR 64 turns left here, but you need to continue straight to begin SR 107 and enter the park.  Drive SR 107 another 8.5 miles to its end at the large Lake of the Clouds parking area.  Park here.

The hike: For my general comments on Porcupine Mountains State Park, see my hike to Summit Peak from August 2001, a hike that makes a nice short add-on to this one.  Tennessee has the Great Smokies; Michigan has the Great Porkies.  Just like Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most famous hiking destination in Tennessee, Porcupine Mountains State Park may be the finest hiking destination in Michigan.  The park’s 59,000 acres of largely undeveloped land make it one of the largest wilderness parks in the eastern United States.
Perhaps the most scenic spot in the Porkies is Lake of the Clouds.  Separated from Lake Superior by a single rocky ridge, mountain-surrounded Lake of the Clouds stands out as a shiny blue splotch on a carpet of green.  The Escarpment Trail described here takes you down that single rocky ridge, and therefore it may offer the best hike in all of Michigan.  The most scenic part of the trail is the westernmost 2 miles that overlook Lake of the Clouds, and that is the portion described here.
Main trailhead at Lake of the Clouds
            From the main trailhead at the southeast end of the parking area, head up the asphalt trail that heads to the Escarpment Trail and to the developed Lake of the Clouds overlooks.  Like my Smokies hike to Clingman’s Dome, this initial segment of asphalt trail is quite steep, and in 300 feet you reach the main rocky overlook for Lake of the Clouds.  Perched above the western end of the lake, this overlook gives a terrific view down the length of the lake and over the Big Carp River, both of which lie nearly 400 vertical feet below you. 
Lake of the Clouds, as seen from main overlook
After taking in the postcard tourist view of Lake of the Clouds, come back down off of the rocky overlook and turn right to begin an eastward course on the Escarpment Trail.  Most park visitors just walk up to the overlook and back, so the crowds you may have encountered thus far will thin after you leave the overlook area.  The Escarpment Trail is marked with blue metal diamonds nailed to trees, but the path is well-trodden and easy to follow. 
            The gravel trail with wooden side rails descends on a moderate grade as it loses
130 feet of elevation over the first 0.3 miles.  The trail switchbacks to the left after passing a secondary overlook that offers another partially obstructed view of Lake of the Clouds.  For the most part scraggly pines are the only trees to live in this ridge’s rocky soil, but they are enough to block the view from this overlook.
            The gravel soon ends, and the trail surface turns to dirt and rock.  At 0.3 miles, you reach a signed intersection where the North Mirror Lake Trail exits right.  The North Mirror Lake Trail leads 0.5 steep rocky miles down to Lake of the Clouds and then to points beyond.  A primitive campsite and bench also sit at this intersection, which is the lowest elevation of this hike.  Keep straight to continue the Escarpment Trail.
Hiking through the forest
            The next 0.6 miles is a gradual to moderate climb through mixed pine and broadleaf forest that gains just over 200 feet of elevation.  At 0.9 miles, you come out onto another sunny rock outcrop that offers another excellent Lake of the Clouds viewpoint.  In general, the Escarpment Trail goes back and forth between shady forest and sunny outcrop with about 20% of the distance exposed to the sun.
Hiking over a rocky outcrop
            Upon reaching the eastern side of the outcrop, the trail descends steeply for a short distance to reenter the forest.  The next 0.4 miles comprise the Escarpment Trail’s only flat section, and the ease of walking makes up for the lack of views.  At 1.6 miles, you drop through a steep ravine and begin this hike’s hardest climb: the trail gains 140 feet of elevation in less than 0.2 miles.
Approaching final rock outcrop
            1.8 miles into the hike, you reach the final rock outcrop, which stands above the east end of Lake of the Clouds.  Water enters the lake here and flows out via the Big Carp River on the lake’s west end.   Continuing east another 0.2 miles atop the outcrop brings you to the “old” Lake of the Clouds overlook.  Before SR 107 was built in 1935, this point represented the most easily accessed view of Lake of the Clouds.  It is interesting to compare the westward view this overlook offers with the eastward one offered by the modern overlook near this hike’s start.  Some rocks make nice but sunny places to sit, rest, and enjoy a trail snack.
View from "old" Lake of the Clouds overlook
            The Escarpment Trail continues east another 2.2 miles before ending at a major trailhead along SR 107, but the rest of the trail offers much elevation change with no more views.  Thus, unless you can arrange a car shuttle at the eastern trailhead, the old overlook is a good place to turn around.  Retracing your steps 2 miles returns you to the modern overlook and trailhead to complete the hike.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: Lakeshore Trail to The Bowl (Blog Hike #648)

Trail: Lakeshore Trail
Hike Location: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Meyer’s Beach
Geographic Location: northwest of Bayfield, WI
Length: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2017
Overview: An out-and-back, easy at first but harder toward the end, featuring sea caves along Lake Superior.
Lakeshore Information: https://www.nps.gov/apis/index.htm

Directions to the trailhead: From Bayfield, take SR 13 north 17 miles to the national lakeshore’s signed Meyer’s Beach access on the right.  Turn right and drive down the paved access road to the parking lot.  Pay the day-use fee and park in the parking lot near the beach.

The hike: Consisting of 22 islands in Lake Superior off the north coast of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands have been both a crossroads and barrier to travel for centuries.  The islands’ first full-time inhabitants were the Anishinaabe, who arrived in 950 A.D.  French traders arrived in 1640, and an official trading post was established on the archipelago’s largest island.  The islands became part of the United States in 1816 under a treaty between the United States government and the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indians.  This treaty also established the Ojibwa’s Red Cliff Reservation, which still comprises much of the Wisconsin mainland near the islands.  The islands were named by French historian Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix after Jesus’ 12 apostles.
            As mining and lumber activity picked up during the mid 1800’s, a series of lighthouses were constructed to guide ships first through and then around the Apostle Islands.  These lighthouses are popular tourist attractions today, and since 1970 they have been protected as part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  The islands are only accessible by boat, so fishing and rustic camping are also popular activities on the islands.
            Another of the islands’ popular attractions is their sea caves.  Formed by wave action and repeated freezing and thawing, the sea caves feature a colorful blend of blue water and red sandstone in summer and magnificent ice formations in winter.  While the sea caves are best seen by boat or kayak, people wishing to keep both feet on land can look down into the mainland sea caves by hiking the 4.5 mile one-way Lakeshore Trail, which connects Meyer’s Beach with a backcountry National Lakeshore campsite.  The western 2.2 miles of the Lakeshore Trail are described here.  Note that Meyer’s Beach and this trail are very popular during the summer, so try to plan a weekday visit to minimize the crowds.
Trailhead at Meyer's Beach
            The hike starts at a signed trailhead on the right (northeast) side of the beach parking area.  The first 0.7 miles follow a 2-plank boardwalk that passes through wet birch forest, so the going at first is quite easy.  Most of the planks lay lengthwise over 3 supporting logs, and natural settling has turned some of the planks into low teeter-totters.  Just past 0.3 miles, you cross a small bridge over the first of many small streams.  A nice bench just beyond this bridge makes a nice place to sit and rest, but it may be too early in the hike for a rest.
Hiking the boardwalk
            At 0.7 miles, the boardwalk ends where you reach a junction with dirt Mawikwe Road.  Turning left here would take you to the northeast end of Meyer’s Beach and therefore provide a short loop back along the beach to the parking area.  To get to the sea caves, continue straight as the trail surface turns to dirt.
            The next 0.9 miles pass in and out of a seemingly innumerable number of small but steep ravines.  The difference between the maximum and minimum elevations on this hike is only about 100 feet, but many short, steep ups and downs will need to be negotiated.  Log steps built into the ground help in some cases, and short boardwalks carry you over wet areas.  Overall, the trail climbs more than it descends when you are hiking in this direction.  The forest consists of the ever-present birch but also some white cedar, hemlock, and spruce.  Blueberries grow in the understory during late summer.
First Lake Superior view
            At 1.6 miles, you get your first view of Lake Superior from high atop a lakeside bluff.  0.2 miles later you reach the first sea cave, a deep nearly vertical groove labeled “Crevasse.”  The groove is nearly 50 feet deep, and the waters of Lake Superior can be heard sloshing around in the caves at the groove’s base.  Several small natural arches have formed in Crevasse’s walls.  Take some time to admire the stark, rocky scenery.
Crevasse
            Many people turn around at Crevasse because they have fulfilled their desire to see a sea cave.  However, the Lakeshore Trail’s best view lies only another fairly flat 0.4 miles ahead at a place called “The Bowl.”  To get there, keep following the dirt trail northeast as it passes around Crevasse and crosses it on a wooden footbridge.  Vegetation now starts to crowd the trail, but the route remained discernible on my visit.
Red cliffs at The Bowl

The Bowl
            After passing two more small sea caves, you reach the southwestern end of The Bowl.  From this point, you get a fantastic view of the red sandstone cliffs, some tiny caves at their base, and the clear blue/green waters of Lake Superior.  The Lakeshore Trail continues another 2.3 miles to a backcountry campsite, but 9 miles round-trip is a bit long for a comfortable dayhike.  Therefore, the best view of the hike is a good place to turn around.  For a little variety on your way back, try taking the beach access trail to the right at Mawikwe Road and walking back along Meyer’s Beach.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pigeon River Provincial Park: Middle Falls (Blog Hike #647)

Trail: Middle Falls Trail
Hike Location: Pigeon River Provincial Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Length: 1.3 kilometers (or 0.8 miles)
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2017
Overview: A short out-and-back through an abandoned campground to the scenic Middle Falls on the Pigeon River.

Directions to the trailhead: From the Ontario Travel Information Centre at the US/Canada border, take Provincial Highway 61 north 2.5 kilometers to Ontario 593 and turn left on Ontario 593.  Drive Ontario 593 west 1.6 kilometers to the unsigned gravel Middle Falls parking area on the left.  Park here.

The hike: Tucked flush against the Pigeon River, which forms the United States/Canada border in this region, Pigeon River Provincial Park is Ontario’s piece of adjacent Grand Portage State Park in Minnesota.  The Ontario park was established in 1960, 29 years before its American counterpart.  The two parks straddle the Pigeon River, which has two major waterfalls within the parks’ boundaries: 125-foot High Falls and 20-foot Middle Falls.
            The provincial park is solely a day-use park, and it has no amenities outside of the Ontario Travel Information Centre.  What Pigeon River Provincial Park lacks in amenities it makes up for in solitude and scenery.  Anglers enjoy casting their lures in the Pigeon River and Lake Superior, both of which can be accessed from the park.  The park lies in a transition zone between lowland and boreal forest, so birders spot a wide array of woodland songbirds here.
            For hikers, the park offers 5 trails that total just over 7 kilometers.  Trails access either of the Pigeon River’s two waterfalls from either country, but the easiest hike to High Falls starts in Minnesota while the easiest hike to Middle Falls starts in Ontario.  Thus, if you want to hike to Middle Falls, you can either hike 3.5 miles on muddy trails in Minnesota or 0.8 miles on a former campground road in Ontario.  This hike describes the latter option.
Middle Falls Trailhead
            From the parking area, head southwest on a two-track dirt road that passes through a gate.  A small blue sign tells you that Middle Falls is 0.7 kilometers away.  This sunny dirt road with some tall grass in the middle is the old campground road, and you will follow it almost all of the way to Middle Falls.
            The Pigeon River can constantly be heard to the left, but at 0.4 kilometers you reach your first good river view.  A picnic table and fire ring mark this point, and Middle Falls can be seen upstream from here.  Although this area is no longer an official campground, the fire ring showed signs of recent use on my visit.
Riverside picnic table
            Continuing southwest, you pass an abandoned concrete foundation on the right before reaching the old asphalt parking area at 0.6 kilometers.  Some white parking lot stripes can still be seen on the asphalt.  Ontario 593 can be seen and heard uphill to the right.
            The trail now becomes single-track as a brief and slightly rocky descent brings you to a fantastic view of Middle Falls.  Though only 6 meters high, the river provides plenty of water to fall, and the surrounding rocks frame the main falls nicely.  If you see hikers sitting atop the rocks to the left of the waterfall, they got here the hard way through Minnesota, and their view is not as good as yours.
Middle Falls
The trail ends at the waterfall, so after enjoying the waterfall you must retrace your steps along the old campground road to the parking lot to complete your hike.  While you are in Canada, consider hiking the Boardwalk Trail, an easy route that starts at the Ontario Travel Information Centre and leads to the shore of Lake Superior, or try Ontario’s trail to High Falls if you want more of a challenge.