Hikes Log



Hike and Snowshoe the Upper Peninsula
with Steve & Sue

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Seney National Wildlife Refuge

Seney Wildlife Refuge trails map

A fascinating re-wilding project begun decades before the term became popular, Seney National Wildlife Refuge is an ongoing managed wildlife habitat. Established in 1935 on vast wetlands that had been logged, drained, ditched, plowed and unsuccessfully exploited, it is over 95,000 acres encompassing both natural and human-created areas. Not totally a refuge for wildlife (hunting is allowed and encouraged) it is nonetheless an important home and rest area for a wide variety of northern wildlife, and a popular tourist destination. Website:

Ashford Lake Pathw.
Bruno's Run

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

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

Though the Refuge resides in the same County in the Upper Peninsula that we do (Schoolcraft) we are on opposite corners of a large tract of land, and our visits to Seney have been sporadic and occasional. But it is always an interesting trip and wildly varied depending on the season. We have a bit of a close connection to Seney since several of the large beams in our house came from there, logged after the large Seney fire of 1976, which was burning when we bought our land. I assume the trees were cut from State land adjacent to the Refuge.

November 29, 2021 -- Seney Wildlife Refuge         

watercolor sketch Seney Refuge Aug 2003This wasn't our first visit to the Refuge; we've visited several times over the years, but not in the winter and not very often. I have sketches I did there about 20 yrs ago, and I remember our first walk with a group of friends maybe 10 years before that (cold early spring, none of us prepared for the weather or the length, but fun nonetheless). Then another walk in summer with a friend about ten years ago, a fast paced trot due to the flies and because he's a runner, but with stops to admire the many ducks in the ponds. We've thought off and on about heading up there again but it's not on the way to anywhere and more than a hour's drive so it never happened. It is indeed a unique and interesting place but we tend to think of it more as a casual destination with paved and graveled roads where one can also walk or bike, which is actually quite a small section of the Refuge. It does have wildlife though, depending on the time of year. When large groups of sandhill cranes or geese fly over our place in the fall we figure they've come from Seney. And as large as the Refuge is, it is just a part of the larger Seney wetlands area, so it's not a surprise that it is also known for its awesome population of mosquitoes and flies! 

Seney Wildlife Refuge Ski trail mapBut bug season is over, and a few days ago I ran across a list of U.P. ski spots and to my surprise there was Seney Wildlife Refuge. Seney? Sure enough, they have made trails around and through the small area of upland ridges on the Refuge -- the Northern Hardwoods Hiking/Cross Country Ski trails. Well, that certainly required looking into. A quick search brought up info and maps and a plan to go check it out. Though most of the Refuge is open to hunting, the area where most of the trails run is not, though we weren't all that concerned anyway. Today came up calm, cloudy with maybe some sun, maybe above freezing, and less enticing weather in the days to come. Perfect. We had maybe 4" of snow here, shouldn't be much more up there, not enough to be a concern. It's definitely still hiking season.

The sun was hazy, the snow 4" to 8", and it didn't get above freezing, but it was calm, incredibly peaceful and beautiful, and a wonderful afternoon of exploring these new trails. We were the first humans to walk the trails since the latest snow, but there were ample deer tracks as well as squirrel and mouse/vole. In the first half hour we saw a chipmunk, eagle, and red squirrel, doing a good job of representing the Wildlife part of the Refuge.

The Loops are short, 1 to 2 miles each, so we laid out our plan to cover all but the north and south sections heading out into the "hunting allowed" areas, keeping mostly to the hilly sections. We parked in the small lot by the lower entrance and walked in on the flat access road. There were fresh truck tracks but no foot traffic. Soon we headed off south onto Skunk Ridge loop and into the quiet world of the woods. This was definitely different than our usual ideas of Seney. Mixed age hardwoods, maple that look quite different than ours, a lot of yellow birch with their cute little bird's foot seed scattered across the snow, a few long dead large beech still standing with many more providing a different kind of habitat as they decay on the ground, young beech providing color with their "all winter" leaves. Hemlocks mixed in, other trees, plenty of hills, quiet except for our snow-squeaky steps. We were getting back in the swing of walking in snow once again. The trails weren't cleared of brush which was no problem for hiking but wouldn't be much for skiing until there is much more snow to cover everything.

Back on the access road we finished that loop and turned north on the Bear Hollow loop, looking for a particularly nice downed tree (there were plenty of choices in this untampered woods) to sit and eat our lunch, surrounded by friendly forest.

Hardwoods Trail at Seney Wildlife Refuge Nov 29

Re-energized we walked on, including Cub Hollow loop tacked on the east side of Bear Hollow, both wonderful sections. This area was more diverse, with the trail going off the ridge into a beautiful low forest of hemlock (and later a small natural red pine woods) (I'll try to refrain from saying 'beautiful' every sentence).

hemlock woods at Seney Wildlife Refuge

Though we knew we weren't far from roads and managed areas, the feeling we had was one of being deep in the wilderness. The woods are "northern mixed hardwoods", the same as our own woods, but they are different here. Of course, the underlying soil and terrain is different, and not being filled with logging roads and ORV trails gives a much wilder feel. We were almost surprised when we found ourselves suddenly back on the access road.

We decided to head west out of the woods for a short jaunt on flat open ground and a different world on the Goose Pen Bend loop. Crossing the bridge of the Upper Goose Pen Pool we realized how much warmer it was in the woods this time of year, with no sun to help out. A nice walk along the Pool brought us to the small dam on Gray's Creek which manages the Pools. It is quite an impressive construction and arrangement, with a grated platform so one can stand on and see the wild, noisy water underneath, or look out on the quiet of the Pool to the north and the calm water of the Creek, heading on down to the Manistique River. 

Gray's Creek/Upper Goose Pool at Seney Wildlife Refuge

This was a reminder that the Refuge is very much a people-managed area, and it is quite a job that has been done, and continues to be done, a very long term project. Quite impressive considering the history.

We crossed back over onto our original Skunk Ridge Loop and into the woods, deciding to leave the flatter southern Manistique River Run for another time. This east side of the Skunk Ridge trail follows above along the edge of the low Smith Farm field and trail. Our legs were beginning to feel the difference of walking hills in snow versus bare ground so we decided to leave the ridge and return on the flat Smith Farm trail. Back on the access road we could feel it getting cooler. Though not late by the clock, the daylight hours are definitely shorter, and snow covered ground doesn't add any heat. Thankfully, there was still no wind, still peaceful and beautiful. And the temperature had stayed just below freezing which is preferable for walking in the snow.

As we headed toward the car we met two dogs with their human in the distance (which seems to usually be the case). Turns out he was a musician we knew who lives nearby. After a nice chat they headed into the Refuge and we to our car. What a pleasant and enjoyable afternoon, and a good start to the snow portion of hiking season. This is a time when the miles walked get shorter as do the hours available but the experience on the trail seems to expand. Though less than 3 hours it felt like we were out there much longer. It was enough and we were well satisfied.

watercolor sketch Seney Refuge August 2003

A rough watercolor I did on a sketching trip to Seney in August 2003 amidst a sea of so many different shades of green. I well remember the loud audio of geese and cranes safely gathered in areas blocked off from visitors.

pencil sketch Seney Refuge June 2004

and another sketching trip in June 2004. This time the noise was much smaller, much more irritating, and much more up-close and personal. The sketches were sketchier, and there was a note to bring bug spray next time!

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Copyright Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck

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