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Hike and Snowshoe the Upper Peninsula
with Steve & Sue

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Ashford Lake Pathway

 

Ashford Lake Pathway map

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A little known, possibly old, DNR hiking and cross country ski trail north of Manistique in Schoolcraft County. Only info online is at www.visitmanistique.com/ashfordlake.shtml

We have only walked this trail a few times on snowshoes. There are no signs, no trail markers, no indication of a trail -- except for a fairly large plowed parking area. There is no information on the Pathway to be found online, other than the listing on the Manistique Tourism Council site (and other sites that have copied from there), so I don't know -- is this an abandoned trail, no longer maintained, minimally managed? With logging and old roads in the area the actual pathway is difficult to determine. But it is there, and a nice walk. Just take a compass if you decide to explore this one. 


January 12, 2022  (01122022) -- Return to Ashford Lake Pathway

We wondered if the Ashford Lake Pathway had any action this year so decided to check it out. It was what seems to be our "regular" hiking weather this year -- cloudy, teens to twenties, calm to light wind, promise of a warmer afternoon so we left after lunch. We have less than a foot of snow here but there is more as one heads north. The main roads were clear which is always nice. When we arrived we found, as last year, the generous parking area plowed. A few vehicles had been in; still no signs. Ashford Lake PathwayAlso, as before, there had been one lone skiier, before the last snow but the tracks were visible. Snowshoes on, we followed the ski tracks up the well covered snowy road-wide 'Pathway', taking turns breaking trail. It may not be particularly exciting or scenic but it's a nice walk.

We think the skiier went the north-west side of Loop1 then headed out north on Loop2; thus we did as well. It really was guesswork but it didn't matter. It was an easy open track to walk and we could just follow our own tracks back if we didn't loop around in a reasonable amount of time. Thankfully, Steve has a good sense of direction, and, most important, a compass (it's rather funny that we both carry good Silva compasses but what gets used most often is a cheap little key-fob compass Steve has hooked to his jacket.)

large tree at an intersection Ashford Lake PathwayWe went by a couple of what might be roads or the trail, but we continued on till we, and the skiier, came to an intersection of a "road" that had a bit of older traffic and a more recent snowmobile. The skiier followed that road left, but it looked like the trail crossed and continued north. This was narrower, not cleared, more pathway-like. Not a road. Plus there were several large trees at the entrance (rare amongst the young cut-over woods). I voted to head on north that way, so we did, clearing a bit as we went (compared to the Esky Snowshoe trail this was nothing!), going around a couple of downed trees. The woods were mixed second growth. After a bit we came to maybe the end; we weren't sure, but it looked like it might turn left. It was a path-like opening anyway. Then that ended, sort of. To the right the "trail" went up a steep fairly large hill (oddly placed in this flat area) where a wide swath had been cut in the young re-growth. We could have turned back. But who knew what was at the top! Up we went. This climb would easily match the best (to a skiier) of any of the steep hills at Rapid River or Valley Spur! At the top we could see that this was parAshford Lake Pathway mapt of a ridge, running more or less west, recently logged with clumps of re-growing young maples. There was no trail. So what was that wide cleared swath up the hill about? Another unanswered question. There was enough room between the young clumps to get our snowshoes through and we had a nice walk along the ridge.

We following the high ground for awhile then decided we better go down and get headed southerly, giving a better chance of coming to a trail or two-track of the Pathway area. At the bottom we headed into a nice woods, fairly thin but with mature trees and not too much undergrowth. Using compass bearings Steve brought us out onto one of the snow covered roads. Were those the skiier's tracks? Maybe. It looked like snowmobile and other traffic under the last snow. Walking east we weren't too surprised to soon see the intersection opening ahead with the large trees, and our tracks. At least if someone followed our trail they would circle around and end up here, too. We guessed that we had been within the northern area of Loop2, between the Trail Road and Loop3. Maybe. It had been an interesting loop, but it was also nice to walk back on our previously tracked trail -- pretty easy snowshoeing compared to breaking trail through unknown woods. An uneventful return trip and we were back in the car in less than 2 hours. 



February 26, 2021 -- A New Trail!

I happened upon a new trail mentioned on the Manistique Tourism Council website. They had information on several area hiking and cross country ski trails and I spied one I hadn't heard of -- Ashford Lake Pathway, a DNR nine mile, three loop cross country ski and hiking trail. And only 30 miles from home! We definitely had to check this out. I couldn't find any other information on it online, including at the DNR website. There is a boat launch on Ashford Lake and that was listed, but not the trail. But the Manistique site  included a map and the Pathway looked easy to find. So when we had to go into town yesterday we decided to take along snowshoes and packs and drive up to see what this not-promoted trail looked like.

It was a good day for it - just below freezing so the snow wouldn't be too sticky, cloudy but not much wind. We found the trail head, or at least what we assumed was the trail head. It was a generously plowed out area anyway and at the right spot on the road. There were no signs, no trail markers, no outhouse. Well, we didn't really expect the latter, though that is always a nice touch. And the tower noted on the map appeared to be in the wrong place but that can happen.

We walked over the lowest plow-bank and there did appear to be a set of ski track. And it looked like a snowmobile had been through and packed down the trail earlier. Though it had snowed since they had been there we could still see the tracks. We decided this had to be the trail. We'd follow it anyway and hope it was. So we put on our snowshoes and packs and followed the light track of the skiier on down the path, hoping they had only gone on the 3 mile Loop1. We didn't want to inadvertently end up on the 6 mile Loop 2, or 9 mile Loop 3. But without any trail markers it was a possibility, especially on a trail we weren't familiar with.

Ashford Lake Pathway snowshoeing FebruaryWe found the area to be nicely rolling with various aged mixed hardwood stands, some more recently logged than others, most quite thick with young re-growth, a few thin areas. We could hear a processor working not too far away so it appeared logging was ongoing [later in the walk we came upon logging equipment and pickups parked by a plowed road that the trail crosses]. But it was a pleasant woods to walk through and the final southwest part of Loop1 in particular went through an older, not recently logged and really nice woods. According to the map the trail does go near to Ashford Lake but we didn't see it. 

The snowshoeing wasn't too difficult, though we did trade off leading and breaking trail. The ski tracks faded now and then but they were easy to follow. There were several trails or logging roads that crossed the main trail but they were snow covered and hadn't had any traffic. We really appreciated the snowmobiler and skiier having gone before to give us something to follow!

The map was good and we made use of the compass now and then to confirm we were on the right track. And the skiier (and snowmobiler) had indeed gone around Loop1 and not headed off onto Loop2. The wide trail (likely a logging or ATV road) was well cleared so someone has kept it up. And the parking area was large and well plowed. We speculated on the lack of signage or information. Was this an old trail that the DNR has abandoned? Maybe someone local is keeping it cleared for local use? For logging? Maybe this is simply a "primitive" trail, kept cleared but no extras? Whatever the reason it was a very nice trail, we appreciated it being cleared, and we enjoyed our walk. Three miles was plenty for us on snowshoes but it might be nice to go back when we can walk the ground and see if the other Loops are there and find-able.

When we got home we looked up the area on Google Satellite Maps and found the missing tower. The old "radio tower" noted on the online map was gone but you could see the small cleared area where it had been. There obviously has been a newer and much larger tower built since then but it is to the west instead of east of the trailhead. One can only see traces of the trail on the Satellite image and there are different logging roads but that would happen since those temporary roads come and go over the years. But M94 and Ashford Lake and the trailhead parking space is there, though the small loop of road around the old tower which was labeled "tower road" is now called "Ashford Lake Road".




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Copyright 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
 



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