Michigan Backpacking - Three Unknown Places
By Steve Gillman
Michigan backpacking usually means hiking the trails of the
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National
Park, or Porcupine Mountains State Park. These are all well worth
doing, by the way. However, if you want to really get away from
the crowds, here are three places to try where you'll likely
be backpacking alone for days.
Backpacking Lake Michigan Islands
Bring a canoe for this first destination. Just south of the
Garden Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (take Highway
2 to 183), there are several islands. They are all uninhabited.
Little Summer Island is just a mile or so offshore from the tiny
community of Fairport, and makes a nice rest stop. Note: we paid
$10 to leave our car parked behind the barn of a fisherman who
lived there. There is no public parking, but just ask around
- the people are friendly here.
Next in the chain are Summer Island and Poverty Island. They
are wooded islands, and have some old foundations of houses remaining
from long ago. There is also a lighthouse still standing on Summer
Island. The land is primarily part of the Lake Superior State
Forest (despite the fact that they are in Lake Michigan), and
although there aren't really any trails for backpacking, hiking
the shore and exploring the interior of Summer Island could fill
an afternoon or more.
Be careful past Poverty Island, where you have to cross a
shipping channel to get to Saint Martin Island. St. Martin is
privately owned, but open to the public as far as I know. The
caretaker told us that camping there was no problem. He even
left the lighthouse open for us to explore, with our promise
to lock it up when we were done checking it out. He took a boat
home to Wisconsin (less than 10 miles south), and we were the
only ones on the island for the night. There are a few miles
of trails here, and though it was quiet when we were there (2005),
there may be a few rental cabins on the south side of the island
Backpacking Along the Manistee River
The little-known trail along the Manistee River in Northern
Michigan is never crowded. A part of it is the North Country
Trail, a long trail from New York to North Dakota (which may
never be done). Although I haven't hiked it in four years or
so, when we used to hike here or float homemade rafts down the
river, we almost never saw another person.
The trail I'm referring to runs from Highway 131, North of
Cadillac, to Highway 37 near Mesick. It follows the river on
the north side, and passes mostly through the Manistee National
Forest. After one road (and a bridge) that you'll pass the first
day, there are no more houses or cabins for many miles. You'll
be hiking in rolling maple and beech woods, with some big sandy
bluffs overlooking the river. The river is deep in places, but
great for swimming.
Note: For the story of a rafting trip on this same stretch,
see the page: An
Ultralight River Rafting Adventure
When a friend and I took the ferry to Drummond Island, we
brought a canoe on the roof of the car. There was a string of
lakes on the map and we put the canoe in a canal leading to the
first one. Soon we had to haul the canoe over a beaver dam, and
then we were in a big open area, where the seemingly floating
islands of plant life made navigating interesting, to say the
Our plan was to camp somewhere on the shore of one of the
lakes, but maps don't show all the details. The lakes were surrounded
by marsh, full of cattails, reeds, and chest-deep muck that didn't
want to give back our probing paddles. It was not actually possible
to get to shore, we realized. Dry land was clearly visible in
the distance, but we couldn't paddle through the thick brush,
nor move well enough in the thick muck to get out and pull the
canoe in to shore.
We ended the day back where we started, and drove to an isolated
part of the island - easy to do, since it all seems fairly isolated.
With night coming, we parked the car right in the road to set
up a tent in the field next to it. No cars passed us that evening.
In fact, not a single car passed before we left at 11 the next
morning. So if you want isolated backpacking - or canoeing or
even parking - this is a part of Michigan you might want to visit.
Watch out for the bears.
Visit EverythingAboutTravel.com for information on Vacation
Spots in Michigan.