Sunday, August 9, 2015

2001 Backpacking Michigan's Bay de Noc - Grand Island Trail

The 860,000 acre Hiawatha National Forest is located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and has five ranger districts. It takes its name from Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" and borders three of the five Great Lakes - Michigan, Huron, and Superior (Longfellow's "Gitche Gumme"). The Bay de Noc - Grand Island Trail passes through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, running from near Little Bay de Noc on Lake Michigan to ten miles from Grand Island on Lake Superior, tracing the approximate route of an old Indian portage route used to carry supplies between these two Great Lakes.

The Noquets (meaning "bear") are the Algonquin Indian tribe for whom Bay de Noc is named ("Noc" is a shortened form of "Noquet"). In the 1800s, the Northwest Fur Company and American Fur Company established posts at Grand Island, and traders, trappers, lumbermen, and others used this trail. At the northern trailhead of this 40 mile trail at Michigan route 94, you will find a spur trail heading north to the North Country Trail near Munising. Trailheads also are found off County Road 509 (also called H-05) about 2 miles north of U.S. Route 2 outside Rapid River, Michigan, and about midpoint of the trail at the intersection of 509 and County 440.

The Whitefish Wild and Scenic River runs parallel to the trail a half mile to 2 miles to the west, and the trail follows the river bluff for quite a distance with a few views overlooking the river valley. The southern section traverses red and jack pines, aspen, and poplars, with occasional open meadows, double tracks, fire breaks, and areas of lumbering activity. The northern section goes through maple, birch, and beech forest, ending at Ackerman Lake. It crosses County Road 509 six times, as well as County Road 440 and Michigan 27.

One Hiawatha National Forest campground is available to hikers at Haymeadow Creek CG, about 10 miles north of the Rapid River trailhead. It has 15 sites, water, and pit toilets, and is about a half mile east of the trail on route 509. A spur trail and directional sign are located just north of the bridge over Haymeadow Creek. Water and a large camping area (often used as hunting base camps during hunting seasons) are also available where 440 intersects 509. The trail is open to hikers, equestrians, and cross country skiiers, but not to any mechanized travel, although we saw plenty of ATV wheel tracks on the trail. It is maintained on a volunteer basis by an equestrian organization, and is located in the Rapid River Ranger District.
Though much of the trail follows the escarpment east of the Whitefish River Valley, there is enough terrain change to make the trail interesting and more than just a simple, level hike. Most of the trail is in beautiful, dense forest, with a variety of trees as you make your way north -- sometimes pine plantations, sometimes deciduous forest. The fall colors were spectacular, and the lack of bugs in October is another plus of fall hiking. Numerous forest roads and two-tracks are crossed, and at times followed, as the trail wends its way north. Although the trail is marked for non-motorized travel only, several ATVs passed us (hunters baiting for deer with apples) and tire tracks were obvious in many areas. Equestrians and cross country skiers are also authorized to use the trail.

Several "hollows" (as they are called in Tennessee and elsewhere) were traversed on our second day, giving a different feel to the trail, as we found ourselves surrounded by hills on all sides. I named one "Muddy Hollow" and the second "Endless Hollow," both for obvious reasons. Leaves were falling profusely as we hiked, making for rustling sounds as we walked. The trail was very well marked with blue diamonds and yellow arrows at turns, which was very helpful given the number of turns on the trail. Mile markers are also located at nearly every mile, with mile zero being at the southern trailhead. We encountered many downed trees, but all could be easily negotiated.

After our hike, we drove down one of the County Roads heading west and crossed the Whitefish River, just to assure ourselves that there really was a river there since we never saw it from the trail. Two large creeks and several smaller creeks were crossed in the first 22 miles. Safe water is available at Haymeadow Campground (mile mark 10) and at the trailhead at the 22 mile mark.

Only twice in the first 24 miles did we have a view out over the river valley, but the river itself is never evident due to the dense woods and foliage. The fall colors were vibrant and the bugs were non-existent, making fall (early October) a perfect time to be hiking here. Daytime temperatures were in the upper 50s and low 60s for us, and at night in the mid-40s to 50s. We heard gunshots numerous times as this was grouse and bear season. A guide we met said his group had taken seven black bear, one being 300 pounds, though one of his hunting dogs had been mauled pretty badly by the large bear.

The only large body of water we saw was Upper 18 Mile Lake, which is adjacent to the trail. You hit the lake about mile 20 on the trail and it would be a fine place to spend the night (much nicer than the trailhead reached at mile 22).

Our campsite in the campground.

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