Hiking Michigan

Hiking in Michigan: The Manistee River Trail

Manistee River Trail

Hiking in Michigan: The Manistee River Trail

Waterfalls, marshes, freezing temps, wolves, and rookie mistakes all made for an unforgettable 3 day, 2 night trip in April 2020. It was one heck of a hike, but well worth it for the incredible views and memories.

Living in Michigan, I love exploring some of the best hiking in Michigan. 

The Manistee River trail is one of the best hiking spots near me. The full trip is 19.3 miles long – according to All Trails (www.alltrails.com). But I clocked our total trip at 24 miles using my FitBit. You will see one of the largest suspension bridges in Lower Michigan – connecting the Manistee River Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT). This hike offers nicely marked campsites (first come, first serve) on the south side, which follows the river for the entire time. Summer months are extremely busy (and mosquito season), so I suggest going in early spring or late fall. You will cross paths with less travelers, avoid the mosquitos, and see some gorgeous colors. If you decide to venture out during the summer months, make sure you bring a bug net to cover your entire body, or plan to be eaten alive.

Here’s how we spent our days:

Day 1: We started near the Hodenpyl Dam (GPS Coordinates: 44.361566, -85.821286). The parking area is small, but thankfully we were able to find a spot. We set off going over the powerline run and hopped onto the trail. We chose to stay on the south side, heading west, following the river. We hiked a good 4 miles and then stopped to camp at a marked site right by the river. We knew we would be hiking away from a water source the next day and didn’t know if there was another source before Red Bridge. We set up camp for the night; drug a dead tree that had fallen over and chopped wood. My fiancée had recently built a forge at home and made lightweight hatches that we couldn’t wait to try! They were perfect for this trip. We hung our Platypus gravity water filter from a tree and started the fire. The fire crackled and provided warmth while we settled in for the night. It was a chilly one, and I was thankful for my extra layers I thought to pack. The Under Armour and my puffy came in handy. If you’re a hiker, you know and love your puffy. Mine has saved me time and time again – lightweight, it packs down small. My fiancée sure wished he had one as I sunk into my sleeping bag that night, with all my layers on: gloves, hat, buffs, 2 pairs of pants, hiking socks, and my beloved puffy. Despite all those layers, my butt was still freezing cold!

Day 2: We awoke to the morning sunshine peeking through the clouds sending us warmth on its rays. I sat in the sun for a bit, feeling it warm my skin, preparing myself for the day ahead. We were faced with a 12 mile day, so packed up and made our way to Red Bridge. We headed out on the North Country Trail (NCT). This is one of the best hiking trails near me. We passed waterfalls, the cool mist landing on our faces providing an invigorating push to keep us forging ahead. We continued our hike and walked along the wooden boardwalks over the wetlands. The birds were happily chirping, excited for the spring sun. The frogs sat in the mud croaking, also warming up in the sun after the harsh winter months. Being that it was early spring, there were mini streams everywhere. As we continued to walk through the marshland, I saw cute little mushroom shelves on trees, reminding me of a magical fairy world. There is so much beauty in this world, and if I stay silent and take it all in, I find inspiration for my art. Ahead of us there were a lot of rocky areas we had to traverse, but thankfully we had a view of the gorgeous Manistee River along the way. That’s when we realized we were in need of water. We made our first rookie mistake by not filling up at Red Bridge. We checked our map, and it showed a stream source. We began hiking towards it, the terrain getting harder. We had to climb up and down steep hills. When we got there, it was bone dry! A hiker’s nightmare! Our water bottles were low, and we were physically exhausted. My fiancée decided to seek a water source and left me with our packs for what seemed like the longest 15 minutes ever. He located a small trickle further down the stream and we were able to fill our Platypus water filter, slowly and gratefully. We chose to stay the night and set up camp. We built a fire and decided to spend time playing around on some steep hills nearby. Are we crazy? Maybe. We had just hiked 12 miles that day afterall. But the lure of those hills couldn’t be ignored. It was COLD that night, since we were nestled down in a low lying area. In the middle of the night, we were awoken by the sound of wolves howling. Yes – there are wolves in Michigan. I was too scared to peak out the window of my tent for fear of one standing right there. They were close to our campsite, filling us with both fear and exhilaration.

Day 3: In the morning, there was ice on top of our sleeping bags and our Platypus filter had frozen. Our second rookie mistake of the trip. We learned the hard way to always sleep with our filters (I was wondering what that pocket in my sleeping bag was for). Thankfully, we had backup water in our Sawyer Minis. With freezing fingers, and hot coffee in hand, we swiftly packed up. By the time we had hiked out of that low area, we were stripping layers off. We hiked for about another 8 miles, climbing up and over small mountain peaks. We were on the NCT, watching for the fork in the trail to take us back to the Manistee River Trail. Then we followed the white blazes home. We passed a small bridge with a fire set up nearby and plenty of logs for sitting. It was the perfect spot for our lunch. We sat and rested for a bit, warming our bodies and souls with nature. We continued on and were excited to see the suspension bridge – finally. That meant we were close to our car. We stopped to admire the gorgeous Manistee River one last time, taking in all its beauty.

Until we meet again,

Learn more about this trail here: