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Hike and Snowshoe the Upper Peninsula
with Steve & Sue

~ ~ ~

McKeever Hills Trail
 

McKeever Hills Ski Trail map


Nestled within the lakes and hills of the Hiawatha National Forest area around which Bruno's Run Trail goes is the smaller but mighty McKeever Hills Trail, with three loops, occasionally groomed for skiiers in winter. Six miles of hilly trail with beautiful vistas of mixed woods and occasional glimpses of the nearby lakes. Easily accessible from FH-13, the southern section connects to Bruno’s Run. More info on the USDA HNF website: McKeever Trail.

Ashford Lake Pathw.
Beaches/Shorelines
Bruno's Run

Days River Pathway
Escanaba Pathway
Fayette State Park
Indian Lake Pathway
Little Presque Isle
ManyTracks

McKeever Hills Trail
North Country Trail
other trails
Presque Isle Park
Pine Martin Run
Rapid River Ski Trail
Seney WL Refuge
Snowmobile-ORV
Valley Spur
 

Running through the same wonderfully scenic area as Bruno's Run Trail McKeever was obviously laid out with different objectives in mind. Where Bruno's goes around hills, with moderate curves, switchbacks, gentle descents and climbs suitable for biking, McKeever's trail is for skiiers with more energetic hills and curves, and a C Loop for experienced skiiers only. That is one wild and exciting trail! Hikers will want to tighten their shoe laces and loosen up their knees. The other two Loops are more moderate but just as enjoyable and interesting. It's great hiking or snowshoeing.


March 4, 2022 -- It's a Hiking Day!

Sunny, upper 20's, calm -- no question, it was a day to be outside. I know, it won't be long and this will feel downright cold, but it's still winter and this was a Cat's Pajamas of a day. Even LilliB agreed (for a short time). We were on the trail at McKeever Hills by 12:30, lunch in our packs and sun on our faces. Definitely more snow here but the pathway was well packed and recently groomed. Three happy skiiers came off as we were getting ready and we all agreed it was simply a most beautiful day. With freezing rain forecast for the next few days (yep, it's March) I think everyone who could (and wanted to) was out enjoying the day. One of the skiiers was from Milwaukee and was happy to be where there was snow (he was bicycling on bare ground back home); the other two were from Ishpeming who were taking a break from having had to shovel their roofs off twice this past week (when we got 4" of snow in the last storms Ishpeming/Negaunee area got upwards of 4 feet! McKeever area was somewhere inbetween.)

We felt so good we decided to head on down south-east to the infamous C Loop and see if it was do-able on snowshoes. It was a nice gentle walk down A to get there. This had to be the easiest snowshoeing we'd done, perfect conditions. Then onto C.

McKeever Hills C Loop uphill March 4, 2022

Sure enough, the hills were as loopy and curvy and steep as we remembered - beautiful, and fun. The photos all seem to "flatten" out the hills, but trust me, there is nothing flat about this trail! One skiier had been through fairly recently. You had to be a very confident, experienced skiier to do this Loop, and there were a lot of herring-bone tracks up and down some of those hills. There was just enough traction for our snowshoes to get up the ups, with a bit of slipping on the downs.

But we were getting hungry and started looking for a good spot to sit. There are plenty of downed trees, comfortable big ones, but the snow was so deep they were well buried. As we went on, looking for a possibility and a thinking we'd just have to pack down a spot in the snow along the trail we headed up a particularly steep series, with the usual curves, (between Fantastic and Heart Attack -- they love labeling these "special" hills!)

McKeever Hills C Loop, Sue, March 4, 2022

to find at the top -- a bench!! With a view through some trees of nearby Wedge Lake. We happily settled ourselves in the sun for a nice long lunch break. Cool enough but warm enough. There simply wasn't a better place to be at that moment.

But the rest of the trail called so, refreshed, we gathered ourselves and gear and looked down, down - and down we went.

McKeever Hills C Loop, downhill from bench, 3-4-22

And on around C, along the short moderately flat piece where Bruno's Run crosses, onto the Thunder (steep up, where we had to hunker down to keep going up without sliding back) and Lightning (steep down, with a bit of sliding and running to keep our feet under us), and finally on to the crossroads of B. Did we want to go around the figure8 B loops? It was just too beautiful a day to end yet, so around the B's we went, with moderate hills compared to C. Again a bit of confusion at the intersections (a few more signs would be nice here) but we got ourselves going in the right direction so we didn't end up going around B again (and we definitely didn't want to go around C again!). A real nice return on A (past Hemlock Hill and Stride Out). As we neared the parking lot a voice behind us made us move quickly to the outer edges as a skiier glided by in the groomed tracks, having made an enjoyable loop around A. Living fairly nearby and skiing here often he confirmed what we suspected, the conditions were too fast today to comfortably ski C. 

We finished off our outing with what has become a bit of a habit, dinner at the Buckhorn on the way home, where there are more snowmobiles than vehicles in the parking lot. We sit at our usual small table on the edge of the crowd of generally big people made bigger by their puffy specialized outfits, snowmobilers toting colorful big helmets and likely big appetites. All of us having enjoyed the outdoors each in our own way.  


February 5, 2022 -- More Good Walks

The weather continues to match the hiking trails with its many ups and downs. But after a stretch of non-hiking weather it comes on back to some inviting days, and this past week we had three! For us that means mid-teens to twenties, light wind, little precipitation, and a bit of sunshine is a bonus.

McKeever Hills Trail side trip off A

Friday was one such day and McKeever called us. We just had to go back to see if the trail was as nice as it was last trip. And it was! Firm base, enough snow for traction, cool but not too cold. There were (it appeared) two skiiers and dogs ahead of us and we followed their tracks around A & B loops. We had noticed before several side trails folks had made off the main track and we decided to follow a couple of them. The were both nice loops off of the north-west part of A, going down closer to Pete's Lake, on un-trod snow. On one we found a good large downed beech near some beautiful large hemlocks to sit and eat lunch, enjoying some light sun filtering through the clouds and branches. Though we didn't see the owners there were plenty of squirrel and rabbit tracks (including under our beech-seat) who no doubt made good use of the plentiful little hemlock cones (the little dark dots in the lower right of the photo). Since the area is rich in large hemlocks there are often cone-strewn patches along the trail, breaking up the solid white (along with the usual colorful beech leaves). It was again a wonderful 2 3/4 hrs in this beautiful area, and plenty long enough on snowshoes.


January 17, 2022 -- Return to McKeever Hills on Snowshoe

We thought we'd snowshoe on a portion of Bruno's Run today. Parking is the big question this time of year but there are several options to get on Bruno's and all of them off Hwy 13. So we drove up to check them out, and also see if there were any tracks on the trail. There are only short sections on Bruno's that are reasonably well marked or easy to determine in the winter (near Pete's Lake Campground and Widewaters); the rest are quite often iffy and one can easily find oneself wandering through the woods lost in the snow. Ideally a snowshoer (who knows the trail) will have gone on before. There was a brisk west wind but one way or another we'd be walking in the woods so that wasn't a concern, especially with temps in the mid 20's.

We found two spots to get off the road, but at the Indian River crossing saw only a lone ski track which meant we'd be breaking trail. That would be OK, just a shorter walk. As we drove by and considered the options we saw that a plow had gone into the McKeever Hills spot. Maybe? Steve pulled in and we found a fully plowed parking lot! Not only that, when we got out to check the trail there was an even bigger surprise -- a wide groomed pathway with ski tracks down the middle and plenty of room on either side for snowshoeing. Plus a sign that indicated snowshoers were welcome (rare on a ski trail), just please stay off the tracks. Easy enough to do. And, to top even that, there was a section of this trail we hadn't walked yet. The decision was easy. Before the snow we had walked the infamous C Loop so knew we didn't want to do that one on snowshoes (more steep hills and curves than one could imagine getting into a fairly short loop) (it's a great walk though!). But we would do A and B -- clockwise on A and however it looked best to do the figure8 B loop.   

Underneath the recent snow we saw plenty of tracks -- mostly dogs. At first I thought a big pack of coyotes had gone through, but this wouldn't be their style. Boot and snowshoe tracks were there so the dogs had apparently brought their humans with them, who kept nicely off the recently set ski tracks.

McKeever Hills trail in snow Jan. 17

The entire trail through this beech-maple-hemlock woods is beautiful. There are a scattering of the large dead beeches still standing, still impressive, even when they finally fall. And their progeny are numerous, giving such wonderful color to the subdued mid winter forests, their fallen leaves pesky to skiier, pretty to us. The north part of A Loop goes roughly along the south side of Pete's Lake with glimpses of its snow covered flatness. It would be a great Lake to explore in our kayaks. The terrain is pleasantly hilly and the trail curves around enough to be constantly interesting. A few steeper hills give the skiiers a nice downhill without being overwhelming on snowshoes. (In the photo below that dark spot down the trail is me.)

McKeever Hills A Loop hill Jan. 17

After an hour or so we found a suitable downed tree nestled out of the wind to stop for a lunch break just a short ways off the trail. Soon we heard voices and along glided a couple on skiis, and their dog who stopped in surprise to look into the woods at us. He was well trained and didn't come on over to check us out (or maybe he quickly determined we didn't have anything to eat of interest to him) which alerted the couple and we exchanged greetings as they went by. It was nice that someone was enjoying the set ski tracks before it snowed again.

As we went along we were very impressed by the groomer. He (or she, of course) obviously understood both the skiiers needs and the foot traffic, and was skilled in the use of the equipment. This is a well established, wide, cleared pathway which makes a difference, too (compared to one like Indian Lake Pathway's brushy, narrow track). But the ski tracks were consistent, in the center area except on steep hills where he moved the tracks to the appropriate side to give the skiier room to "walk" up, or down, with plenty of room for the snowshoes. The majority of the time we walked easily along, side by side on either side of the ski tracks. Such an easy trail to walk. We were a bit concerned at one point when it appeared the groomer had made a circle in a sudden opening and headed back, ending our wonderful groomed track. But no, he hadn't abandoned his trail users, he just made a comfortable nice curve around and continued on the trail into the woods. 

McKeeever Hills A Loop large curve

When we got around the B figure8 Loop we came to the only confusing spot. But a compass helped orient us and we headed back on the rest of A Loop which we had walked our previous trip here. In the parking lot there was a new arrival, a man with two lively dogs who were very anxious to get out of the truck. He nicely held them back until we were in the car then a quick moment later they were well on their way down the path. They knew where they were going. This is obviously a popular trail, for good reason.

We ended our delightful three hour walk by leaving a thank-filled note and donation in the donation box. It had been a great way to celebrate my 70th birthday! With dinner at Buckhorn on the way home to finish it off; a very nice day.


November 10, 2021 - A New Trail for Us

No casual sauntering here! Surrounded by lakes and woods and hills and valleys, and the popular Bruno's Run Trail, is this amazing hilly trail. We were aware of the trail as we had snowshoed into the National Forest Service's McKeever Cabin many times to visit a friend who comes up annually to enjoy skiing amidst the calm and quiet of the northwoods. That route in is on a fairly flat old two track and we had only gone on the main trail a short ways, though we did remember it as hilly. And we'd seen the trail when on Bruno's Run where the two cross paths.

McKeever Hills trails map signBut this day we decided to check out the whole trail. The weather forecast was for a week of wet and cold and we wanted to get in at least one more hike in milder weather before all that began. Plus the trail was only a little over an hour away. Or would have been if we hadn't decided to take a back road or two. But that was part of the adventure. We figured we still had time for a good walk.    

The map said Loop A was 3.7 miles, a nice distance for a few hours walk, and we could add B if there was enough daylight. It was mostly cloudy, a bit chilly and moderately windy, but we were in the woods and comfortable enough. We did notice the trail designation for skiiers as "More Difficult" for A and B, and "Most Difficult" for C. That was OK, we liked hills. We had no idea...

As is so often the case, the trail markers are for skiiers, not hikers, so a bit lacking in some places. We had to backtrack right away as we realized the track we were on wasn't heading in the right direction. We figured it out, began again, deciding to walk the trail the "right" way (for skiiers) so we could see the signs/markers head on. Very soon there was another Y option with no markers. Sigh... We chose to go right, continuing to enjoy the hilly terrain. Then we came to the back side of a sign -- we were going in the opposite direction from what we thought. There were a number of signed hills, with names such as "Whoa" and "Sinkhole", such as ski trails seem to have. But these weren't on our trail map so didn't help much, except to confirm what you were looking at -- a very steep hill (up or down). But we had a compass, a general idea of the area, and Steve's good sense of direction so weren't worried. We soon figured out where we were, walking the SW part of A and heading for McKeever Cabin (on, not surprising, McKeever Lake).

Other than the trail going more up and down rather than around, the surroundings were similar to the very enjoyable Bruno's Run. We soon came to the familiar path to the cabin but were dismayed to see the area all around the cabin had been "cleaned up", with the underbrush and branches piled in eerie short TPs topped with a piece of plastic. What a sad sight. The trail runs down below and around the cabin and I was anxious to get beyond that weird project. But we were stopped by the "bridge" that the trail crosses just beyond the cabin. Too bad whoever made the brush TPs hadn't spent their better time making a proper bridge. The logs laid across wet area were well down in the water and the only way across was to wade. We turned back. warning sign at McKeever Hills Ski trail

Happily back on the trail we came to the intersection of B and C loops. C was only 1.8 miles long so we could easily do that, then the little B loop, returning on A. There was that warning sign, but we'd hiked Rapid River Ski Trail, we knew about steep hills. Off we went.

To say this is a delightful section of the trail doesn't give it full credit. The sign isn't kidding. It wasn't just the numerous roller coaster hills, all straight up and down (no going around on this McKeever Hills hilltrail), but the curves. I think every climb or descent incorporated a curve, top, bottom or inbetween. I can't imagine doing this trail on ski's!! Not to mention downed trees to step over. I think there was only one, very short, straight, flat section on the whole loop. It was a great hike. But it was a great reminder that one can't get a feel for a trail, or how long it might take to walk it, based on mileage. This was not a fast walk but certainly a fun one.

When we came to the intersections of A, B, and C we decided (once we figured out which trail was which) to head back to the trailhead on the milder A loop, leaving B for another time. The days are definitely shorter now. We found the spot where we'd gotten off the clockwise track of A, at an unmarked cross trail. But we were glad we made the "error" as we really enjoyed the C loop and probably wouldn't have had time for it had we taken the longer northern A loop. So we still have unwalked parts of this trail to experience and look forward to on another day.




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Copyright 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
 



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