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The Hiawatha National Forest's Bruno's Run trail is a popular and beautiful hiking and biking trail in central U.P., south of Wetmore, south-east of Munising. Sections go by Widewaters, Pete's Lake, McKeever Lake and other lakes. Link to Hiawatha National Forest Bruno's Run page: www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/hiawatha/recarea/?recid=13327
We've known Bruno's Run for a long time though previously had only walked short sections, mostly as car-breaks. It's an older and very popular trail in the Hiawatha National Forest, and well maintained by them. Since there are trail heads at popular Widewaters, Pete's Lake Campground, McKeever cabin, Moccasin Lake pull-out, as well as several two-track roads it is a well traveled yet still secluded trail. In December 2020 we got serious about exploring this trail.
12-20-2020 -- Celebrating the Solstice!!
With great date numbers, + or - 32 deg outside, light snow cover, light wind, the promise of longer days to come -- we simply had to start our Solstice celebration with a hike.
When we were buying our shoes yesterday we talked with co-owner Keith about Bruno's Run which is about 35 mi north of us. We'd been on that trail now and then over the years for short walks but it had been awhile. When we read the weather forecast for the day we decided it was a perfect day to check it out. Mostly sunny and already heading for 32 deg so we gathered our gear, made some AB&J sandwiches, added a few logs to the woodstove, and with a last scritch and a "we won't be late" to LilliB (who knows enough not to hold us to the latter) we were in the car by 11:00 heading for Hwy 13. An hour later we were at Pete's Lake and on the trail.
Bruno's Run is a long-time very popular, easily accessible, 11 mile mountain biking-hiking-running single-loop trail through the Hiawatha National Forest. With beautiful hilly terrain, lakes, creeks, woods, very well maintained, it's easy to understand its popularity though it's not near any population center. Today, when most trails we'd been on would be empty of people, we followed fresh tracks of 2 bicycles, 2 dogs, and 4 people. We ended up meeting and had a nice chat with 2 of the people. Later added tracks of 1 or 2 more humans and a dog (there are a number of access points on the trail). Then a runner with an energetic young dog came by, adding their prints. It was a great day to be on the trail. We also had the company of chickadees, a downy woodpecker and at least one squirrel. And several sections were peppered with the amazing snow flea.
We started out with the sun shining through the hardwoods, though clouds took over the sky as we went along, but the temperature stayed plus or minus 32, with little wind down in the woods. This is a wonderful single track, traversing the hills but with no steep ups and downs, just a gentle roller-coaster looping along the edges. We appreciated that with the slippery footing in the light but trail-packed snow. With no straight or flat sections (except the small bridges over creeks) it was continually interesting. It took me awhile to realize the difference from the ski trails we'd been hiking. This trail was built for bicycles and hiking, avoiding straight ups and downs that would wear and wash out readily with bike traffic. Skiiers, on the other hand, go for significant ups and downs (well, the downs anyway!). The first half of this section, starting at Pete's Lake, was through mixed hardwoods, unfortunately heavy with dead and fallen beech but with enough young regrowth and maples and others to keep it a nice woods. Later were areas of mostly hemlock woods. Though the trail goes down along the lakes - first Grass Lake then along McKeever Lake - we didn't run into any swamps or wetlands, just low woods. It's an amazing area, hilly woods full of lakes.
Two hours into our hike we turned around at the bridge over Deer Creek which runs rather swiftly out of McKeever. Having stopped earlier to sit on a downed tree (no lack of those) to eat our first sandwich, we did the same on the return trip. Two hours later we were back at the car having gone 8 or 9 miles (it's hard to guess mileage on a trail like this). But even though we still felt strong 4 hours was long enough. We got home in the daylight, ready for dinner, and happily satisfied with the wonderful hike.
We'll certainly go back to hike this trail again, hiking the rest of the main loop and maybe the McKeever Hills trail.
January 13, 2021 -- Sunshine! Clear Skies! -- Bruno's Run 2
We awoke this morning to a rare day -- stars in the sky turning into clear dawn and the sun coming up into a beautiful cloudless blue. We've had a few partly sunny days these past weeks, usually later in the day and usually not too much of the sun part. Mostly it's been a real long stretch of mild gray. Particularly noted in the many times we've had to run the generator to charge up the batteries in lieu of the sun. Neither of us could remember when we last had a full day of clear sunshine but we knew it had been awhile. So this was a day to celebrate. While the sun quietly and efficiently charged the batteries and warmed the greenhouse, cheering the plants along, we would go outside and soak up as much of that sun as we could. The forecast was for mild and calm, as it has been. They also forecast 37 degrees but from experience we didn't put much store in that. Around 32 degrees would be fine (and indeed that was what we had). So we chose our destination and after an early lunch headed north to Bruno's Run to hike the south-west part of that trail, starting at Widewaters.
There had been enough snowmobile traffic into Widewaters campground (which isn't plowed in winter) to pack the snow so we were able to drive in to catch the trail there, heading south. They had a little more snow than we had but not much. This is a popular, and beautiful, spot in the Hiawatha Forest with snowmobile trails, cross country ski trails, hiking/biking, and in the summer camping, fishing, and boating. Widewaters is a lake-like wide section of the Indian River which runs into/through/out of it. Bruno's Run trail goes by the campground and along the Widewaters then along the "wild and scenic" Indian River. It was hard to keep ones eyes on the trail with that beautiful river flowing so near. Shallow and criss-crossed with blow-downs it was a peaceful companion. It was easy to imagine stepping into the water to cool your feet on a summer's hike. It was well worth the hours drive to get there. At Hwy 13 we climbed out of the river valley and crossed over at the scenic old bridge over the river, built in 1943 according to a plaque on the bridge.
Calm, sunny, 30 degrees - hiking heaven. The first 50 minutes to Hwy 13 was well trod and packed so, except for icy patches, was pretty easy walking. We crossed the highway and the river, leaving it behind as the trail headed off into the woods on the other side. We also left behind almost all of the tracks. Thankfully there were two people who had continued on this section and there hadn't been any new snow to cover their tracks. Without snow the well used trail would be obvious. But with snow the unmarked trail meandering through the woods would be at best a challenging guessing game without tracks to follow. We trusted that they knew where they were going, or even if not we were going to follow them (turned out they did). The trail curves and dips and dives through fairly thick woods. Our pace slowed walking in the soft, sifty snow but we enjoyed the peaceful surroundings with the sun slanting through the trees and across the path, warming us as we stepped into and out of the rays. We stopped to drink and snack in sunny spots to soak up all we could.
We had gotten a good start, and the days are a little longer now, especially on a sunny day, but we decided 3 hours hiking would be enough. Especially so since we'd gone for a fairly long walk at home yesterday. So as we neared the 1 1/2 hour mark we looked ahead for a suitable spot to stop for lunch then head back on the trail. We remarked that it would be nice to find a memorable landmark for the turn-around. A few more turns and ups and downs and we suddenly came upon a small opening in the woods with a view of a small lake -- the north tip, or handle, of Dipper Lake, according to the map. Not only that, but there was a nice wooden bench there, too! What a great surprise treat for hikers and bikers. We certainly found our memorable landmark.
We gladly set down our backpacks and made full use of the bench, admiring the Lake, resting our legs, and enjoying our lunch. For Christmas we had bought ourselves small Thermous food containers - the 10 oz "Funtainer" (though we passed on the many fancy graphics versions and went for plain silver/black and teal). Last month we had taken warm food in a regular tupperware type container which was nice to have but it didn't stay warm very long, even buried in our packs. We thought we'd try the insulated container. This was our first trial and they worked well with our simple meal of rice and tuna. Though certainly heavier than a sandwich it was real nice to have warm food on a (mildly) cold day, and 10 oz was a good size - half now, half later. Based on our experience with our water bottles I plan to make neoprene cozies for them which should keep the food even warmer, especially in colder weather. I had put mine in a simple wool blanket pouch and my food was a bit warmer than Steve's at lunch.
But it was too cold to sit long so we soon gathered our stuff, thanked and bid farewell to the Lake and the bench and headed back down the trail for a nice walk back to the car (the yellow section on the map). What a great way to spend a beautiful sunny January day.
March 3, 2021 -- Checking out Bruno's Run
The forecast was for partly cloudy (which we read as Partly Sunny), low 30's and light wind. This would be after a zero degree night which meant the trails would be well frozen. Should be easy to walk. We decided this would be the day for a hike. We could go here, we could go there, it didn't matter, we just wanted to go. Well, the night was indeed cold and there was a little bit of sun now and then, but not much. Temperature pretty steady at 27 degrees and the wind was quite a bit more than "light", and from the north. Still, it was a good day for a hike. It wasn't raining or snowing and no mosquitoes. And to top it off the roads were pretty much clear. For a winter day it was really nice. We decided to head north and walk another piece of Bruno's Run, where there would be only hikers and snowshoers, and likely not many of either. We put our snowshoes in the car, just in case, but planned to hike in boots. This isn't a good trail for the larger wood snowshoes like our old Iverson modified bear paws.
Off we went for an afternoon on the trail, starting at the easily accessed and plowed Moccasin Lake turnout right on Hwy 13. They had more snow up there but we hoped there would be tracks to follow and previous hikers to have packed down the snow. There was one vehicle in the turnout but with an empty snowmobile trailer it was obviously not a hiker. We had planned to head east and go to Pete's Lake where we had begun a previous section of the trail in December. But when we crossed the road and headed up the steep hill on the other side, between the two posts that designated the trail, all we found was deep snow. Someone had walked up there previously but it was soon obvious that they didn't know where the trail was, and neither did we. The Hiawatha National Forest folks aren't big on markers. Well, even if we could figure out where the trail was we weren't going to hike in knee deep snow. We turned back to the car and decided to check out the other direction around Moccasin Lake.
The trail wasn't exactly obvious as a very large bank of snow had been plowed up almost hiding the official "Bruno's Run" sign. But we'd walked this part before so knew the trail, at least the first part. We climbed up and over the bank and found a number of boot and snowshoe prints marking the track. Glad there was a least a partly packed path we followed them down along Moccasin Lake (the blue NW trail section on the above map). We soon found that though it was easier than postholing through deep snow this wasn't going to be an easy trek. There hadn't been much traffic, a few hikers and one snowshoer, so the path was not packed down evenly and it was frozen -- slippery in places, softer in others, uneven, and deep if you slipped off the path. Once again our ankles got a chance to show their stuff.
But this trail is beautiful no matter how the track is. It winds up and down and around through a hilly mostly maple forest. The first part of this section goes along the SE and bottom of Moccasin Lake then off into the woods. It had snowed some since the previous traffic and there was some drifting but the tracks were easy to follow, which was good because it wouldn't have been easy to find the trail otherwise. The Forest Service had marked a couple of spots where one could easily have gone astray which was nice but mostly the trail is unmarked. We prefer not to have too many trail markers but one now and then is helpful, especially in the woods. But we had our intrepid snowshoer to follow. Even when it didn't appear to be the correct way we decided to follow him (turned out it was a trail re-route and he was correct). This fellow didn't have it easy. He was on regular wood-framed shoes, smaller than our bearpaws but still larger than the plastic or metal small shoes one can buy nowdays. Booted hikers naturally make a fairly narrow path in the snow and they had gone on before him. So to follow the path he had to walk with one snowshoe on the traveled trail and one beside it. We saw where he had taken his snowshoes off and tried walking without, but he sunk in quite a bit and apparently decided to go back to the snowshoes. This would have been when the snow was softer. Once, where there was room, he walked alongside the trail for a ways in the deeper snow but before long he was back to the one-on-one-off track.
His wasn't the only snowshoe tracks we saw though. There were quite a few trails and tracks of the large-footed snowshoe hare. We hadn't seen those anywhere else (except at home). We also saw the usual coyote, fox, rabbit, squirrel and grouse. They add a lot of life to a winter's hike. Because of the more challenging walking we ended up stopping more often to admire a track or a tree, or nothing in particular. As we've found on other trails there were more people tracks early on but just a few later which made the walking even harder. And then, about 45 minutes into walk, even those few turned back. Suddenly it was only the snowshoer -- he was free to shoe at his own pace and his own trail and he sure did. You could feel it in the tracks --freedom! And you could also see that he had long legs and a long natural stride. Steve could stretch out his stride and walk in these snowshoe tracks. But I suddenly found myself with an on-again-off-again uneven rhythm. Up and down, into the deeper snow, onto the snowshoe pack, a few steps one way, a few the other, sliding and slipping, and and not at all gracefully. What a workout. It wasn't all that easy for Steve either. I soon called for a time-out. Then decided to keep going since we were close to our unofficial hour turn-around which wasn't too much longer.
Then we came upon a surprising thing, there, in what seemed like the middle of the forest, was an information placard. This one had been here some time and it was quite interesting; it seemed to fit in. We knew we had been walking along a short section of an old rail-road spur. They are fairly common in the Upper Peninsula (we have one on our property). They are narrow, fairly straight with minimal elevation changes, and you can see the cuts in hills and filled sections in valleys and lowlands. When you think about the equipment available to build these rail beds at that time, and the many miles made, it is quite impressive. This info-sign told about the rail bed we were walking on -- the Nahma & Northern Rail Line, owned by the Bay de Noquet Company, to move the timber from up here to their mill in Nahma down by Lake Michigan. You can click on the photo at left to see a closer readable view (use your back arrow to return here).
We walked on just a bit farther then with a bit of a relief turned back. When walking a track in the snow the return trip is usually easier since your previous tracks will have somewhat packed down the path, especially with two people's four feet. But this was not to be. The snow, though now quite settled, had been soft to begin with and was cold. The earlier traffic had occurred on a warmer day. But today, instead of our tracks packing the snow they simply churned it up. We found ourselves now walking, and slipping, in a sifty layer, much like walking in deep soft sand. And still dealing with the previous rough tracks. But it was still a beautiful surroundings and we were enjoying ourselves. It was almost a relief to get back to the icier early section though the north wind had picked up and we felt it along the more open section by Moccasin Lake. When we got back to the car we agreed we were glad we had come but it sure had been a work-out.
May 5, 2021 -- Bruno's Run Full Circle
It's interesting how our criteria changes with the seasons, and conditions, and what we consider when planning our days. We knew we wanted to walk the entire Bruno's Run Trail, about 11 miles, and wanted it warm enough to be able to enjoy our breaks. But also, being May and knowing the area has plenty of water and bogs, we needed to go before "they" arrived. No doubts, today was the day. Low 40's, brisk cold north wind (well, at some point you have to decide that's OK or you'd never go anywhere), mostly sunny (hurray!), with forecast temperature heading for 50. Ideal. We put all other plans aside and gathered our gear.
We had done three pieces of the trail in December, January, and March, and today we'd connect them all. With no snow those we had walked before would feel quite different. The closest trailhead was at Widewaters so we began there going counter-clockwise, along the beautiful Indian River, across Hwy 13, and up along the ridges. We enjoyed the differences between this and our last walk in snow and about ten degrees colder. Though one is in the woods the entire way around it is so varied and interesting, with sections of conifers, predominantly hemlock, then in and out of fairly thin hardwood stands, the large dead beech and other trees falling and leaving room for new generations and species. Ridges and bogs; river, creeks and lakes and more lakes; the trail winds up and down, around and between, over and through. And now there was occasional bird song to brighten the day.
We knew we'd be coming on soon to that special lunch spot of winter's walk but it still surprised us, coming around the corner, and suddenly there was that small lake - Dipper Lake - and the bench. It was too early for lunch but we did stop to admire the Lake, soaking up the sun, enjoying a snack. But this is a windy spot so we didn't stay long. It was a day of much changing of layers due to being in and out of the cold wind, but comfortably so and there was more than one remark made that this was such a perfect day. The sun overhead coming through the trees was wonderful.
The south east section was new ground for us, along Wedge Lake, mostly looking down on it, coming close to a leg (or would it be a foot?) of McKeever Lake, and bogs and wetlands. Along here was the only significant wet section we ran into, and thankfully we were able to get across without issue thanks to a few small dead trees (with great appreciation to whoever put them there) and a handy walking stick. This time I let steady Steve go first, but I made it, too. There is the beginning of a board-walk bridge under the water. Guess it needs to be raised up a bit.
When stepping onto the small bridge (it did rise up in the center to be over the water) a small frog dashed for cover in the water, then another one followed. There was plenty of hiding places, the clear low water was incredibly full of plants and brush and bog-stuff, a whole world. Then Steve spied something interesting and very different -- frog eggs! Several clumps of them. We didn't know if they'd show in a photo with the strong reflections of the trees in the water but there they are. Much prettier in person though.
Soon we were at the Deer Creek bridge where we had turned around from our north-northeast walk in December starting from Pete's Lake. This time with no snow we sat on the small boardwalk lead to the bridge to eat our Orzo-ghetti and PB&J lunch, warm enough that we chose shade. It felt good to take off shoes and socks, eat our lunch, lounging with plenty of just emerging plants to point out to each other, some we recognized, some not. And, thus energetically occupied, we had contact with our first, and only, other hikers - a young couple with a large, nervous - I don't want to go by those people - dog. We quickly offered to get up and move off the side of the boardwalk but they said no, we'll just go over here, being the other side which thankfully was dry enough. They encouraged the dog with some treats and she did make it by, with pets and good-dogs while we just talked calmly with the dog's humans. They were from Lansing and the semester just ended (I'm assuming college) and they just wanted to get out of the city so came up here. We were glad it was great weather for them, and not a busy time on this popular biking and hiking trail for the dog's sake.
When they were gone we re-assembled and got ourselves afoot. I checked out how high the bridge was above the creek, wondering if one could cool one's toes in warmer weather. Close, but slightly longer legs would be needed, and it wasn't exactly comfortable seating on the edge of the side-board. Steve spotted a small fish.
So off we headed up the trail. This part is the section of Lakes, the trail running down along then up and away, mostly near McKeever and Grassy, farther from Pete's. It would be fun to bring the kayaks to explore any, or all, of them. They are all large enough and interesting enough for a fun day. Probably later in the summer though as we had seen the first black flies of the season while eating lunch. That time was arriving. But not yet and we remarked once again what a beautiful perfect day this was.
The day warmed, the trail showed signs of recent maintenance and grooming with many blue trail-marker diamonds as it passed by and near Pete's Lake Campground. We considered pocketing a few of those plentiful markers to put up here and there on the 2/3 of the unmarked sections of the trail, but we didn't, of course. In the non-snow months the trail is pretty obvious with few questionable spots. But in the snow you have to hope someone who knows where the trail is has gone on before. But today it was an easy-to-follow walk. We crossed an access road then Hwy 13 to the Moccasin Lake turnout and trailhead. The one where we couldn't find the trail east two months ago in the deep snow. Now it was obvious - right across the south entrance to the turn-out. We had been looking across the north entrance, between those two short posts which usually indicates here is the trail for hikers (being too close together for vehicles), but not this time. But we very much appreciate having the trail at all, and this turn-out on Hwy-13 with outhouse is especially appreciated by us and very many other people being a stopping point for travelers, snowmobile/ATVers, fisherfolk, bikers, and hikers. It's also a beautiful little Lake.
On down the trail, along Moccasin Lake, happy to turn off into the woods and out of the wind, along the straight historic rail-bed and the interesting plaquard site-spot. This is a very much-trod part of the trail so exposed roots keeps one on one's toes. We decided to stop and eat dinner (leftovers) at the small bridge across a narrow spot where the Indian River flows from Fish Lake into the widewaters section, a very relaxing spot with its own early black fly scouts to remind us that it's May. But early and peaceful. It won't be long and the campground will be open and full of vacationers, the road full of cars and campers and boats of all kinds, birds and bugs in the air and smaller critters active on the ground. It's a great interim right now. We were so happy we took the day for a hike.
A somewhat muddy walk along the River and we were back to the car, and home before Lilli could wonder how late supper was going to be.
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© 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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