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  1. #1
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    Default NCT / Manistee River Trail Loop

    I just hiked the NCT / Manistee River Trail loop. It is one of the most popular backpacking trips in MI. If you go on a weekend with perfect weather in peak color season (as I did), you will not be alone. I think every backpacker and day hiker in MI was there.

    I started at Red Bridge at the southern end of the loop. The are parking areas on both sides of the river (south side of road). No permits are required and there are no fees if you park here. It's a 20.2 mile loop - about 10 miles up one side of the river and 10 miles back down the other side. I hiked the loop clockwise, up the short connecting trail to the NCT on the west side. The NCT follows a ridge in the trees so there are not many views and there are some ups and downs. But it is a very pleasant hike. There are no water on this section until you get to Eddington Creek just before the turn on to the MRT connector (pic 1) that takes you down to your first river view (pic 2). Soon you cross the pedestrian suspension bridge (pic 3) and hike down the other side. The river trail closely follows the river for 10 miles so there are numerous viewpoints where you can see the river and the ridge you hiked on the NCT earlier that day (pic 4). You are usually on a bluff above the river, but there are many water sources as you cross creeks and streams feeding into the river, including some small "waterfalls" (pic 5). There are also many downs and ups as you drop in and out of each drainage, but not big climbs. At large camping is allowed all along both sides. The MRT also has many designated campsites, most with views of the river. Some are shown on the on-line map, but at the trail heads there are maps that show the location of many more (I have not found an on-line version of this map). There are also many unofficial camp sites evident. I hiked about 17 miles the first day, camping on a bluff above the river (pic 6). The views on the short hike the following morning were especially good with the sun rising behind me (pic 7, 8).

    http://www.michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/127/
    http://is0.gaslightmedia.com/michiga...756-13235.jpeg

    IMG_6498.JPG IMG_6500.JPG IMG_6504.JPG IMG_6518.JPG IMG_6511.JPG IMG_6521.JPG IMG_6532.JPG IMG_6530.JPG

  2. #2
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    I did this about 3 weeks back and everything was mostly still green! Nice to see the colors.

  3. #3
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    This is one of my favorite hikes in Michigan, especially the river trail side, so beautiful. This loop is great for a nice weekend in the woods.

  4. #4
    Registered User Slosteppin's Avatar
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    I've hiked the loop at least a few dozen times. Just a few comments. NCTA also sells a map of the complete loop. Both that map and the Michigan Trail map have a few mistakes. There is a second water source on the NCT (west) side but it can be hard to get to. At Pole Road, maybe 2 miles north of Coates Hwy, several hundred feet east of the trail there is a shallow creek fed by springs. The parking area on the west side of the river and south side of Coates Hwy is for fishers and canoers. There are signs stating that hikers should use the parking area on Upper River Road about a half mile west of the river.

    There is another 20 mile loop trail near the village of Fife Lake, maybe 40 miles northeast of Mesick. The Fife Lake Loop is similar to the MRT loop in that the east side is mostly along a water source, Manistee River and Fife Lake Creek. Michigan Trail Maps puts out a very good map o the loop. Most o the merchants in Fife Lake have the map for sale. Old US 131 SF campground is at the south end and SFCG Spring Lake is about 10 miles north on the east side of the loop.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slosteppin View Post
    ...There is another 20 mile loop trail near the village of Fife Lake, maybe 40 miles northeast of Mesick. The Fife Lake Loop is similar to the MRT loop in that the east side is mostly along a water source, Manistee River and Fife Lake Creek. Michigan Trail Maps puts out a very good map o the loop. Most o the merchants in Fife Lake have the map for sale. Old US 131 SF campground is at the south end and SFCG Spring Lake is about 10 miles north on the east side of the loop.
    Thanks for this tip. This trail is exactly the same distance from home (just under 2 hrs). I could do this next spring (not into winter hiking in MI yet). Will have to buy the trail map. I bought the one for the MRT but lost it. Used one I downloaded from the Internet instead. Worked OK.

  6. #6
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    For Michigan - LOVE this hike! It is the best we have in the Lower Pen.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by shelb View Post
    For Michigan - LOVE this hike! It is the best we have in the Lower Pen.
    North Manitou Island is pretty good too. Of course that is an island, so maybe it technically isn't part of the lower peninsula?

  8. #8

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    I have an opportunity to potentially hike this trail, as I will be visiting family in the middle of September. It will probably be a Tuesday to Wednesday round trip. I am looking for suggestions/comments/recommendations.

    I am looking at parking at the Red Bridge Access lot and heading towards the NCT portion first. I would like to arrive around 8 am to allow a full day to hike towards the camping areas south of the suspension bridge on the east side of the river. As of today, I do not have any preferences for campsites but thought 1a through 2c would be my target.

    My background is I am currently living in northern Virginia. The last 3 years, I have been backpacking in the northern section of the Shenandoah National Park. 15-mile days do not bother me. I do use a hammock so that will be a site factor.

    My questions are:
    1) Should I expect it to be crowded? If so, what is the trail etiquette on sharing sites?
    2) What is the water availability like once at the campsites?
    3) Will it be hunting season and should I bring my orange pack cover?

    Thanks for any/all help!
    Scott

  9. #9
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    Bbikebbs

    Just made a tentative date at dinner with friends for doing the same trail in November. Hope you have a great trip and post your experiences.

  10. #10
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    It's funny when someone resurrects one my old posts. I read through most of the OP before I realized it was mine.

    Bbikebbs. Your plan is identical to mine. I started at the red bridge (closer to 10 AM), hiked up the west side, crossed the suspension bridge, down the west side to find a camp site. Mid Sep is after school starts but before color season, so I would expect a mid week hike to be not very crowded. But this year, who knows???. I wouldn't worry about picking out a campsite in advance. If you are used to 15 mile days in VA, you will find this trail pretty easy. I assumed camping etiquette is one group per site. Since I was there on a busy fall weekend I just kept walking until I found a site. As it turned out, I almost hiked the whole loop in one day (I was feeling very good that day, plus it's an easy trail). Plus there are unofficial sites you can use. You will need to be keep a leisurely pace to only go half way the first day starting at 8 AM. Deer season is mid November. I'm not a hunter so I don't know if there are other seasons in mid September.

  11. #11

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    Odd Man Out

    I'm hoping for an "easy" 1st day! I'll probably do a little rubbernecking as it's been over 40 years since I spent any time in Michigan. I grew up in Flint and Boy Scouts got us out camping up that way. Thanks for the info. The back country camping sites around here (mostly the Appalachian Trail shelters) all have multiple tent sites so you usually end up with some "neighbors." I didn't want to intrude if only one per site is the norm.

    Kittyslayer

    If the weather (and my brain!) cooperate, I should have some pictures to go along with the trip report. May take a few days to get posted however. My oldest daughter is getting married on the following weekend and I'm sure my wife will have many chores for me!

    Scott

  12. #12
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    BTW the Fife Lake loop (mentioned by Slosteppin above) and Jordan River Loop are 2 more 20 mile loops involving the NCT in the same region. Maybe I can get those done soon.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Odd Man Out View Post
    BTW the Fife Lake loop (mentioned by Slosteppin above) and Jordan River Loop are 2 more 20 mile loops involving the NCT in the same region. Maybe I can get those done soon.
    I had looked into thru hiking the Michigan NCT for awhile. What finally stopped me was the minimal documentation of the trail concerning things like where to camp while not on state/federal lands. Also, it appeared to be a lot of road walks in the southern sections.

    If we were to move back, I could see doing some section hikes. The Upper Peninsula looks extremely interesting!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbikebbs View Post
    I had looked into thru hiking the Michigan NCT for awhile. What finally stopped me was the minimal documentation of the trail concerning things like where to camp while not on state/federal lands. Also, it appeared to be a lot of road walks in the southern sections.

    If we were to move back, I could see doing some section hikes. The Upper Peninsula looks extremely interesting!
    Yes the NCT south of Newago is a lot of road walks, rail trails, etc. I did a little bit of work with our local chapter at one point. Without public land, the chance of getting a continuous foot trail is nil. But from Newago north the trail is mostly in the Manistee NF, so hiking and camping is not a problem. I was car camping in the eastern UP in the Hiawatha NF this week. We crossed the trail many times. It looks like it would be a great place to hike. I have hiked the NCT through Pictured Rocks NL. That is pretty awesome but more regulated (camp at reserved spots only). We have spent a lot of time in the UP. It's pretty incredible.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Odd Man Out View Post
    ... We have spent a lot of time in the UP. It's pretty incredible.
    Having graduated from Michigan Tech, I had the privilege of spending time outdoors up there. Wish there would have been employment opportunities! We would still be living up there.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbikebbs View Post
    Having graduated from Michigan Tech, I had the privilege of spending time outdoors up there. Wish there would have been employment opportunities! We would still be living up there.
    My wife worked at NMU before we met. All the older Yoopers we know have moved south where it's warm and the young ones moved away for jobs.soon there will be no one left but us trolls.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Odd Man Out View Post
    My wife worked at NMU before we met. All the older Yoopers we know have moved south where it's warm and the young ones moved away for jobs.soon there will be no one left but us trolls.
    I'd move back in a heartbeat but the grand kid is in Houston. Guess where we're going to retire!

  18. #18

    Question NCT-MRT Loop overnight trip report

    On Tuesday morning (09/15/2020), I arrived at the Red Bridge trailhead IMG_0258.jpg on the Manistee River in Michigan. It is a paved parking lot for not only hikers but canoeist as well. There are also restrooms and supposedly, drinking water available but I did not look for it.

    I headed out around 9 am for a 2 day, approximately 20-mile loop. The first section had me crossing the road and headed west to the connecting trail taking me to the NCT. IMG_0259.jpg The final climb up to the actual NCT trail reminded me of some of the climbs I have experienced on the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah National Park. Not as long by any stretch, but steep enough to make me strip some layers off at the top.

    My plan was to hike the 8 miles to Eddington Creek for lunch. The walk was along nice, hard packed sand with mostly single track trail. IMG_0261.jpg It was a nice walk in the woods with ups and downs but nothing too steep. The ground cover was mostly low growing with brown, shriveled ferns IMG_0276.jpg being the tallest. Even though the walk is mostly along the side of hills, the trees blocked most views looking east. With the leaves still not having turned from green to yellows/reds, you could not see much. Those looking for views should wait until the leaves are gone. This was just a walk in the woods, which I enjoyed.
    Once I arrived at Eddington Creek, IMG_0262.jpg I sat down to have lunch. Shortly after I arrived, a mom and her young son (maybe 4 or 5) showed up. They had their great dane off leash and let him run free in the creek. I decided since I still had half of my second water bottle full, that I would move on and refill on the other side of the river.
    Walking through some thick cover, I finally saw the towers of the suspension bridge. IMG_0278.jpg It was a nice experience to be able to cross over to the east side of the river on the bridge. IMG_0283.jpg Views in both directions from the middle of the bridge were worth the walk. IMG_0284.jpgIMG_0285.jpg
    At about 2:30, I arrived at campsite 1C. I picked it because of the short, almost level walk to the water. After setting up my hammock and tarp, I was able to spend some time soaking my feet in the cold clear water. Boy, was that nice! IMG_0293.jpg
    All of my recent backpacking experience has been along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia. Having this campsite, that would easily fit ten tents with no crowding, made me feel guilty for having it all to myself. I was able to set up under a grove of cedar trees to provide some shelter in case of inclement weather and wind. There were multiple sites for hanging my food bag well away from the fire pit and hammock. The site was almost completely free of debris (except for one cap from a propane tank) including rocks, branches, etc. Overall, a really nice site.
    The next morning, I was out of camp around 8:30. No way can I seem to get moving early! This day brought flat walks along the bluffs overlooking the river. IMG_0299.jpgIMG_0301.jpgIMG_0307.jpg The views were definitely worth the hike. The only concerns I had were with the erosion. Some of the trail had eroded due to the hillside sliding down into the river. This area is mostly sand. You can see some trees that have uprooted and slid down the hill. IMG_0297.jpgIMG_0310.jpg People have created bypasses around some of them. On the middle portion of this section, parts of the trail goes down some steep sections that have been badly eroded. Only the roots of trees were keeping the dirt in place. One section had maybe an 8-inch diameter hole through to running water under the ground. This stuff was definitely not manmade erosion. I do not know how the Forest Service would remedy it. Since it is natural, maybe they should not.
    The last section took me through some swampland with sections of boardwalk. IMG_0320.jpg One ten foot stretch was under a couple of inches of stagnant water.
    Once I could hear car traffic, I knew I was getting near to the end. To my surprise, I walked up a small hill and popped out next to the guard rail. A short walk along the guard rail and another across the bridge and I was back to the parking lot. It was about noon when I shut off my Garmin.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this trip. I saw two kayakers, no one on the river, and maybe 2 dozen people on the trail. Most people were backpacking, but a few were just enjoying a day hike. I do have to mention that I saw a woman with the largest coffee pot that I have ever seen strapped to the top of her pack. It reminded me of the percolator that my folks used when I was young. She must really like her coffee!

    The trail was extremely clean. I only saw the one plastic cap, a Band-Aid and a shoe with sock for both days. Yes, I did pack out the cap and no I do not touch medical waste. The shoe looked to be someone’s camp shoe so I left it in the middle of the trail figuring they would be looking for it.

    If I get the opportunity, I would definitely do this trip again. The only change would be to wait until later in the fall or before the leaves come out in the spring.


    Edit: If anyone can tell me how to make the pictures appear correct in the post, let me know! If you click on them, they show up correct!
    Last edited by bbikebbs; 09-21-2020 at 18:21. Reason: comment on pictures

  19. #19
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    Thanks for the post. If you look at the he last two plcs of my original post it looks like the same bend as n the river that you have in your pics. You will also see the better fall colors I had going a little later in the season.

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