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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.
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.
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© 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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