Hike and Snowshoe the Upper Peninsula
Ashford Lake Pathw.
The NCT crosses the northern part of the Upper Peninsula through beautiful rolling and hilly terrain and wonderful forests. Some of it is not well traveled and may not be well cleared or marked so maps and compass is recommended. But the hike is well worth it! The Superior Shoreline Chapter is the central portion NCT group (and a great group of folks it is!). Info and map, including distances and descriptions of segments, at: https://northcountrytrail.org/trail/michigan/ssc/
NCT maps are very good but also take a good local map since the NCT maps, unfortunately, don't include non-NCT markers such as minor roads, other trails, and non-NCT points of interest that are important to help determine where you are and where to find the trailheads. This is particularly an issue in an area such as this that is mostly forested. See also 'Little Presque Isle'.
About fifteen years ago we spent quite a bit of time working on this center area of the Upper Peninsula NCT, adopting a far too large section of trail from Munising to Rock River Road west of AuTrain. This is a great woods and we loved it. But there were (and probably still are) too few volunteers to maintain it, and we couldn't do it alone. Not living nearby and having lives full of work and other commitments limited our time and the work overwhelmed us. We finally decided that having the trail marked was most important as people were getting lost, so easy to do on an overgrown and not well marked trail. So we took that project on, enjoying and feeling good about it. Then we backed out, giving up this section of the trail to no one.
We're happy to have been involved even for only a few years. We met a lot of nice people and learned a lot. Our own trails are better for it! And we automatically pick up downed branches on any trail we walk. But we never went back to walking this wonderful section. It was too hard to see brush that needed clearing, branches that needed to be cut back, work that needed to be done, places that could use a reroute, feeling guilty for not working on the trail. A common problem for volunteers who have worked on trails. We had in our mind the vision of a well cleared path (so hard to maintain in an unmanaged woods) and couldn't see that a "wilder" trail can be just fine if it is well marked, which we thought we had done reasonably well.
Forward to winter of 2020-21 -- we had renewed our interest in hiking and one day in early March, on our way home from a trip to Marquette, with snowshoes in the car, we decided to take a walk on our old trail after having walked the Valley Spur Snowshoe trail across the road. It felt good to be back, and we knew that when the snow was gone we would once again hike this beautiful section of the NCT.
September 23, 2022 -- One More Time
Two realizations helped us plan our day. The first was that it appeared this would be the last "nice" day for a stretch, the weather turning cold and rainy tomorrow. And we had one more chance for a Mama Cow's ice cream before they closed for the season. Now we're not big ice cream eaters, but this small but special "shop" in the small town of Chatham has truly caught our fancy. The place itself, the building, the corn crib, the pastoral backdrop, the owner and workers, are wonderful. But it's the super premium rich ice cream, made in Madison, Wisconsin, by the Chocolate Shoppe that gets us there, us and a crowd of others! This is a very popular stop. As the information on their paper bowls states: "Nutrition? Don't even ask. ... it has Gobs of rich Wisconsin cream, tons of real ingredients for boat-loads of luscious flavors. That means it's not low-fat, low-calorie or low anything, and that's why everyone Loves it. If you want nutrition, eat carrots." And we do, of course, but we also eat their ice cream!
But we needed to do something first to make it a real treat to look forward to. So we spent the morning on outdoor projects we wanted to get done before the weather turned then after lunch headed north for a hike. There are a number of trail options but we decided to go to Valley Spur (west of Munising), cross the road and walk north on that section of the North Country Trail. This was a trail we knew as we had worked on clearing and marking it some years ago. It's a real nice single track through the woods, and being a NCT trail, it winds over-around-up-down in an enjoyable and energizing way. It was a nicely cool, mostly cloudy but no rain kind of day. Very pleasant walking.
Since we "knew" the trail we were surprised to very soon find ourselves on a route different that what we remembered. This was obviously a fairly new and extensive reroute, and a lot of work had gone into it. I was a little disappointed because there was a section missing that I liked. But we also remembered the low swampy area that this reroute avoided so we understood and appreciated the work done. Soon though we were on familiar ground, enjoying the variations in the woods, and the magical sections full of large ferns and low spreading yews. This is pretty much an all-woods trail with few obvious "landmarks" but we happen to love walking in the woods and had a rough idea of where we might be based on a couple of road and two-track crossings.
There is one special landmark though, well known to hikers of this section of the trail, a sudden change from the trees - two ponds, one on either side of the trail, called (not surprising) The Ponds, with a small bridge where the two try to meet. It was on this trail almost twenty years ago that friends Lynn and Lon Emerick introduced us to the North Country Trail by inviting us to go for a walk with them. Lynn took a photo of us on the bridge at the Ponds. The vegetation around the bridge has now grown up quite a bit but below is today's picture just a few yards away. A little less color, a few more wrinkles, different caps, but we're still hiking!
It was a real nice four hours on the trail (we took sandwiches to sustain us) and we once again made it back and to Mama Cow's in plenty of time for our last ice cream treat of the year. But it certainly won't be our last hike!
December 3, 2021 - Finding Forestville Trailhead
A day similar to our Seney walk Monday (mostly cloudy, mild wind, about 32 deg.) found us in Marquette and ready to stretch our legs after the 2 hr drive. We took care of our other commitments and headed out into the confusing pattern of trails and roads among which was to be found the Forestville Trailhead, a main hub on the Noquemanon trail network. And, we hoped, the North Country Trail, having decided to walk from Forestville back to where we had stopped last trip, then northwest where we hadn't walked yet. The Noquemanon map is very nice but comes up a bit short on finesse when it comes to fine points of exactly where a trail is, especially the NCT when it intersects their trails. On the other end the NCT maps are precise and clear, showing most roads plus elevation (which helps a lot in this variable terrain) but only a little of the Noquemanon trails. There is more information online though. Not to complain in any way; this area is a complicated mass of criss-crossing trails and roads, many with no names or designation, and both organizations do an amazing job with their trails. Steve had an idea where to go so off we went, hoping for signs for both getting to the Trailhead and finding the NCT.
Not to worry. It was a lot of turns and corners on un-named dirt roads but Noquemanon had signs at every corner. We made it there in good time and it was indeed a mega trailhead compared to the usual little pull-offs with a sign. But the focus and reason to be of the Forestville Trailhead is the cross country ski and biking trails complex, with ample parking, large building, lights, constructs, equipment, outhouses, etc, and signs saying the area was for members and guests only. We decided we must be a guest and found a spot out of the way to park the car. There was only one other vehicle plus someone on an ATV plowing so there was plenty of room. And though there was only maybe 4-6" of snow with bare ground showing here and there it appeared they had groomed the ski trails already! Sure enough, in came a skier (and a couple of bikes were heading out when we returned). But there was room for everyone and we headed on down the snow covered and very slippery drive to the equally slippery road looking for the NCT, which by the maps should be nearby. We hoped it would be easier walking on the trail.
It wasn't far and I spied the friendly blue rectangle of the NCT trail. It felt good to step off into the woods and start following the very well and recently re-marked trail. Back on then off a rutted snow covered dirt road then finally settling in to walk another beautiful section of the NCT. Since this was a continuation of the territory of our last walk we weren't surprised to very soon encounter a hill of rock, with enough rocks and roots underfoot to slow us down to very mindful walking.
Up, over, down, through a beautiful section of mixed woods, made a bit trickier walking with snow covering the wet leaves but the temperature near the ground stayed in the sweet spot of cold enough to not be too wet and warm enough to give traction in the snow. There were also sections of bare (leaf covered) ground and we relished what was likely (based on the weather forecast) the last we'd see, and walk on, that for many months. After about a half hour the trail heads fairly close to the road and through some lower, flatter, no rock woods which gave some relief. We tried to determine where we had turned about the last trip but it's surprising how different a trail can look coming from the opposite direction, and now mostly covered with snow. We guessed at the spot but decided to continue on to the Big Rock. There were some wet sections along some lower parts but easy enough to go around. And though you could hear traffic on the nearby road it's a nice part of the trail.
After about another half hour up, up the trail went, and we went slowly, slowly, carefully choosing our steps on the jagged rough snow and leaf covered rocks up onto the wonderful rounded bare top with a grand view across nearby valleys to other large rock outcroppings in the distance. But the last time we were here the only trail markers had been older painted ones on the rocks at your feet and now there were new blue aluminum trail markers on the sparse but hardy small trees along the rock (great work by the trail volunteers!). But this was indeed where we had been before and we walked across on the rock-top trail to look down the even trickier descent on the other side. Yes, we remembered that, too, and decided this was a good spot to turn around and go back. It was definitely cooler up on top and we were happy to make our way down and into the warmer woods.
Back to near the Forestville Trailhead we discovered where the NCT crossed the road and went along beside the Trailhead complex (there was our car), coming out on the other side, sharing or crossing ski and bike trails through what must be (based on the tipped up picnic tables and fire-rings) the Forestville Campground and through an obviously logged oak woods (must have been beautiful before!). Crossing or following for a short distance two-tracks and trails we left the Trailhead area. Going through some light woods and heading up we came across a wide cleared expanse of major power lines, going straight through hills, valleys, woods and anything else, to the (recently demolished) power plant at Lake Superior. One could not only see the Lake but Presque Isle as well. The NCT does have its non-scenic times, but this section was comparatively short and was a good contrast to the rest. We really appreciated stepping back into a nice woods, leaving the other trails, tracks and roads behind. The walking on this NW side of Forestville Trailhead was much easier - no rocks.
We walked through a beautiful mature cedar and hemlock woods high along a ridge and were surprised to look down onto a delightful winding creek at the bottom. The surprisingly swift running small water crossed over, under and through little dams of downed branches and trees. Soon the trail made its way at an angle down the slope to follow along beside this magical and musical creek, deep in the shadows of the woods. The sound was equally as wonderful as the view. We wanted to take a photo of this highlight to share but it was too dark. On the other side of the little valley the trail headed back up to follow through a beautiful hemlock woods.
It was getting time to turn back so we looked for a memorable spot to mark (in our minds) the turn-around for a future continuation of our walk on this section of the NCT. Up ahead was a clearing which turned out to be an old road. Across that was a nice entrance back into the woods where we sat for a rest snack before the return trip.
The sun came through the cloudy sky enough to cheer the stop though rifle shots in the woods reminded us that though the main firearm deer season was over there were still people with guns in the woods, and we didn't want to be out there as the sun went down. We did consider that maybe dog bells might be a good idea this time of year. So we ate our cookies, crossed the old two-track and headed back into the woods, down and across the wonderful musical creek, up the other side and through the beautiful hemlock and cedar woods.
Soon we saw the Forestville complex through the logged woods and only 40 minutes since we left we were back at our car. These two walks from the Trailhead, east and northwest, showed how one really can't estimate how long a trail section might take based on distance. The east walk with a lot of slippery rock and ups and downs was about 3 miles out and back and took us 2 hours. The northwest part with relatively easy walking was about half that distance on the map and only 40 minutes time. Thankfully, our criteria isn't distance but enjoyment. And we had a very enjoyable hike indeed.
October 29, 2021 -- NCT - Noquemanon Marquette North Trails
This is a wonderful and popular trail system with wonderfully varied terrain. An amazing layout of trails, roads, railroad, water through a fairly narrow stretch of land north (and west) of Marquette shows what can be done to happily accommodate varied interests. The many non-motorized trails are maintained by the Noquemanon Trail Network. One of the trails running through is the North Country Trail. Roughly paralleling is a popular (mainly) biking trail, and along the Tourist Park Reservoir is the 'EZPZ' route which seems to be a favorite of dog walkers. Since the three trails often cross or come close to one another it's easy to switch to another should you want. The NCT trail is for hikers and it has some good challenging walking up, over and around the rock hills as one heads west.
We have walked from Tourist Park previously along what used to be called the Dead River Reservoir (then the Dead River amidst the amazing mudflats after the big dam failures upstream, now called Tourist Park Reservoir after dam rebuilds. This is an active area in more ways than one!) It's a wonderful and convenient place to walk when in town; quickly getting one out in the country. This spring/early summer we had gone a bit farther on into the larger rocks. It was a bit wet and more than a bit buggy though a good walk. I remember what a relief it was to climb out of a low marshy section (big bugs) up into the rocks (big rocks) to take a break where the light breeze was cool and mosquito free. Ahhhhh. We decided there were better times for this walk.
And this was the time! We had to go to Marquette and would have just enough time for a good hike if we didn't travel too far; just right to redo this section of the NCT. It was cool and cloudy, windy, maybe a bit damp but no precipitation. And, most important, no mosquitoes or black flies! We do love this time of year.
The trail is well marked and beautiful any time of year and every month has its challenges. This time we dealt with damp fall leaves covering rocky pathways which kept one on one's toes, so to speak. It did require concentrated deliberate steps on the downhills and uphills. The lower elevation flatter sections through the woods in between gave a nice contrast and ease of walking. It's a particularly nice trail that way.
At one point along the trail where it heads down close to the water we came upon a man on a small pontoon beside the bank at what one might call a 'primitive launch ramp'. A sound on the other side of the trail made us look up, startled to see a tractor with boat trailer coming down a fairly steep two-track! Pull out time for the boat. There didn't seem to be any room for what was obviously the plan to pull the pontoon out but the two men seemed confident so we laughed in amazement, exchanged amused words with the tractor operator and continued on our way, out of their way, up the same rocky rise but afoot on our trail.
We came to last spring's buggy marsh and subsequent climb into the big rock area, so we climbed up onto our 'spring break' rock once again, though this time the breeze was stronger and a bit chilly instead of refreshing. The view was incredible, however, looking over valleys to other rock ridges, maybe Sugarloaf Mountain area but we weren't sure. We considered returning then but there was still time, and daylight, so we decided to walk on, going at least a short ways on the section we hadn't been on before.
This part winds among the trees between a road and the higher elevations on our left so is a gentler walk but very nice. We could hear more road noise, likely on 550 off to the north. It was getting time to turn back and we looked for some memorable spot for a turn-around so we could have a starting point to extend a hike farther some next time. Soon the trail came closer to the road and we could see an intersection (later finding on the map that it was 550 coming down to the lesser road next to the trail). We went on to see if the trail crossed the road but when it turned southerly away from the roads we decided to turn around and head back.
As usual, it was as good and interesting a walk back (roughly points 260-263 on the NCT map). As we got closer to the end along Tourist Park Reservoir area we stepped down onto the nearby EZPZ path. It's a pleasant walk along the water and we exchanged greetings with several people with their dogs, and more starting out as we got to the parking lot. It's great to see so many people out enjoying the day and the trails. We certainly did!
April 6, 2021 -- North Country Trail at Little Presque Isle
As we drove north to LPI the temperature slowly dropped until it was back where we started - mid 40's. I replaced layers I'd taken off in town. We were the only car in the parking lot on this cloudy cool mid-day but soon another car pulled in beside us with three men out for a walk. There would be many more when we returned 5 1/2 hours later. This is a very popular area. We were most familiar with the trail along the Lake which is also part of the North Country Trail (so no bikes to watch out for). But this special recreation/natural area covers about 430 acres, including Harlow Lake, Wetmore Creek, Hogback Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and numerous trails and special and historical sites. There just anything like it anywhere else. It was a great hike (roughly points 253-256 on the NCT map).
Go to Little Presque Isle page for description of this hike, one of our all time favorites!
March 9, 2021 - Revisiting "our" section of the North Country Trail
The second day of our first real Spring Melt, with temps in the 40's and a stretch of sunny days. The snow was soft and melting and especially in the southern half of the U.P. snow sports season was over (unless there comes a good snowfall, which could easily happen). Even up north things were getting iffy. But on a trip to Marquette we tossed in our snowshoes in case we might be able to get a walk in somewhere. We could have just walked in town but decided to stop at Valley Spur on our way home. Even at home we had enough snow (we had snowshoed all our home trails in the soft snow yesterday to flatten them and with our wide snowshoes it was good walking) so knew the snow-belt VS would.
There was indeed plenty of snow with a nice soft layer on top for traction. We had an enjoyable hour snowshoe walk around the 2.6 mile Valley Spur Snowman snowshoe trail. We still had some time and leg energy left so we slogged on through the wet slush of the parking lot, crossing the road to check out the NCT.
Right next to the where this section of the trail starts is a Forest Service road that is a snowmobile trail in the winter. Snow from the entrance to that road had been plowed up blocking the NCT trail. But there was a clear fresh NCT marker visible beyond and we knew the trail was there, or at least had been. It had been ten or fifteen years since we'd been on that trail. We clumsily (in snowshoes) climbed up and over the bank and were disappointed to find no one had walked this beautiful trail section. We had an attachment here as we had spent many hours, many miles, and many muscles those many years ago clearing trail. We couldn't keep up with the work that was needed (it was far too long of a section for two people) but we had marked the trail from Munising to Rock River Road west of AuTrain and felt good about that. Well, we certainly knew this trail and didn't need tracks to follow, so off we went, making new tracks in the snow.
We immediately felt contentedly at home. We recognized places on the trail. Some of our old trail markers were still there. New ones had been added, filling in just enough. This section of the NCT is simply beautiful through mixed hardwoods and spruce/fir/red pine forest. The snow was settled enough that it was fairly easy walking (given we were on snowshoes in soft snow). After a short distance the trail crosses the Forest Service Road/snowmobile trail then heads down into a low area (which we remembered well). And we happily discovered snowshoe tracks. Folks had apparently been walking down the easy snowmobile trail to get on the NCT here. The tracks were slightly narrower than our bearpaw shoes but the snow was soft enough on the edge to not be a problem. And there had been enough traffic for easy traveling but not so much to make the trail icy-packed. With the top layer of warm-softened snow it was a joy to snowshoe. We walked through the marsh and carefully crossed two small bridges with even narrower snow tops, hoping not to slip off into the water (successfully). The little plank bridges were nice as I'm pretty sure there were just logs across before. Then back up onto higher ground.
This trail was made by and for hikers. Up and down and around through the hilly terrain and mixed forest, nothing too steep yet well varied and ever-interesting. We snowshoed farther than we had planned, and if we had had more time and less tired legs we would have kept going. But at the half hour mark we turned back and made our way along the now even better packed trail to the road as the sun went lower into the trees, enjoying the back track as much as the initial. This trail most definitely gets five stars and more. When the snow is gone we will be back to re-acquaint ourselves with this special section from here to AuTrain area. Meantime, there is enough snow that there may be some more good snowshoeing opportunities still for folks, depending on what the coming rain and more above freezing days does. We did our bit of trail work, too. Or rather Steve did. We had a metal shovel in the car so Steve came back and chopped and lowered that plowbank so the next snowshoers can easily get on and see the trail entrance here.
For being a town day with just a bit of walking planned to stretch our legs we ended up with a two good hikes and ready for a rainy day off tomorrow.
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© Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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