Monday, October 10, 2016

Manistee River Trail

Last weekend, we hiked the Manistee River Trail  in the Manistee National Forest.  It's about a 3 hour drive from Kalamazoo (160 miles north).  There are several access points to the trail, and we started at Red Bridge and hiked north to the trailhead at the Seaton Creek campground.  The trail runs for just over 10 miles along the Manistee River.

Despite the cool temperatures, Saturday was a popular day on the trail and we met many groups of hikers, about evenly split between backpackers and day hikers.  Several people were backpacking with their dogs-- often equipped with their own doggy-sized backpacks.  We passed several campsites full of tents, tarps, or hammocks.  Down below, we saw the occasional group of kayakers and canoeists enjoying the river.

The leaves were just starting to change, so we were periodically rewarded with a burst of bright autumn color.

While most of the trees were still green, mushrooms provided an alternative source of color.  We passed hundreds and hundreds of mushrooms and assorted fungi-- red, white, black, yellow, brown, orange, grey, and gold-- ranging from the size of pencil eraser to plate-sized. 

The trail climbed from the river's edge to high banks overlooking the water and back, so there was a good amount of uphill and downhill walking.  The trail crossed a number bridges over streams that feed the Manistee.  These streams provided water sources (filtering/purification recommended) for hikers.  More developed water supplies were available at the Seaton Creek campground and Red Bridge.  (Although both pumps may be closed seasonally.)  A few of the creeks featured small waterfalls.
The Manistee River trail connects to the North Country Trail via a long wooden suspension bridge.  The two trails combine to form a 23 mile loop, which makes for a popular weekend backpacking experience.  We didn't hike the North Country Trail this weekend, but my stepson and his wife backpacked the whole loop last summer.  They reported that the NCT side has much less water and is mostly in the woods, without views of the river.  In their opinion, the Manistee River Trail was the prettier and more interesting option.
We camped in the Seaton Creek campground the night before and the night after our hike.  It's a Forest Service facility operated by a concessionaire, American Land & Leisure.  The campground was very nicely maintained with clean campsites and outhouses.  We bought a bundle of firewood from the pleasant camp host.  Each of the 17 sites was roomy and well-separated from neighboring sites.  About halfway around the loop, a picnic area with a set of steep stairs gives access to Seaton Creek.  Trailhead parking is also available at the campground (for a fee.)

The USFS website for the campground was out-of-date; it was inaccurate about fees (which are actually charged whenever the campground is open, not just in the summer months) and opening/closing dates.  (Last weekend was the end of the season and the campground will remain locked until Spring.)  The website for the campground was somewhat more accurate but harder to navigate.  We ended up asking the campground host.  Campsites were $16 per night.

Directions:  Access to the trail is on well-maintained dirt roads off M-37 (south of Mesick.)  It was easy to follow the signs to the Seaton Creek campground.  The normal route to Red Bridge was blocked due to road construction, but the detour was well-marked. offers these directions to Seaton Creek: 
GPS Info. (Latitude, Longitude):
44.35778, -85.80917
44°21'28"N, 85°48'33"W

From the north: Follow M-37 south 6 miles from Mesick. Turn right on 26 Road (near Yuma) for 1.7 miles, then right on O'Rourke Drive for 1.3 miles, then right on Forest Road 5993 for 0.4 mile to the site.
From the south: Take M-37 north 9 miles from its intersection with M-55. Turn left on 26 Road for 1.7 miles, then right on O'Rourke Drive for 1.3 miles, then right on Forest Road 5993 for 0.4 miles to the site.
Google Maps uses different names for some of the smaller roads but accurately guided us in.  The street signs posted on those small dirt roads were closer to Google Maps' names, but still not 100% consistent.  The large brown recreation signs pointing to the campground were very clear.

More Information: Michigan's Manistee River Trail

Manistee County: map links and Hiking the Loop 

Michigan Trail Maps Manistee River Trail and North Country Trail (to order a paper map)