Manistee River from the "Highbanks Rollway"
Part of the North Country Trail maintained by Grand Traverse Hiking Club
Our section of the trail,between 50 and 60 miles in length, lies mostly south and east of Traverse City, Michigan map, traveling through Manistee,Wexford, and Grand Traverse Counties. It is a beautiful section of the trail because much of it follows the Manistee River through state and national forest land. In places the trail is high above the river providing spectacular views of the river and surrounding mixed northern hardwood and coniferous forest. These views are especially good in the fall as the leaf color season reaches its peak sometime between October 10 and 20.
A detailed map is available from the North Country Trail Association. Ask for the Freesoil Trailhead to Cedar Creek Road map (Map TM105). This map covers 88 miles of the NCT including all of the Grand Traverse Hiking Club section.
Southern Section - Beers Road to M37
The GTHC (Grand Traverse Hiking Club) section begins just north of Hodenpyl Dam between Beers Road and No. 16 Road. This is just north of a very popular loop trail, the Manistee River Trail which I have described briefly . There is a campground off No. 3 1/2 Road at Hodenpyl Dam Pond and camping in the National Forest is allowed anywhere but must be at least 200 feet off the trail. From the village of Mesick drive west past southbound M-37 and turn left on Hodenpyl Dam Rd. You will be driving on the north side of Hodenpyl Dam pond. Past the pond the road becomes Beers Road and look for NCT signposts on both sides of the road. There is parking on the south side. Walk across to the north side and begin your hike. The NCT markers are silver diamonds for the first couple of miles as this section is maintained by the National Forest Service. Then you will see the markers change to blue which is the beginning of GTHC maintained trail. Carry water as there is only one small creek and it tends to dry up later in the summer.
The trail is hilly and forested with one small section along a power line corridor. Eventually the wooded trail ends at No. 16 Rd. (you have walked about 3.25 miles) where you walk along the road for .7 miles east to No. 3 Rd. Walk north on No. 3 Road for about 1 mile, then east on No. 14 Road until you see markers heading into the trees again. This wooded section is very short and you soon cross M115 where there is a roadside park. There is a water pump and toilets. The trail heads north for about 4 miles from the roadside park to No. 8 Road where you walk east on the road for about 5 miles to M. 37
This section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, about 14 miles long, is perhaps our most scenic section of trail. The trail follows the Manistee River for much of its length and is often high above it, giving you panoramic views of the river and its valley. Unfortunately, it is not pristine wilderness for all of its length as there are several places where two-tracks allow vehicle access. In particular, about 11 miles into the hike you will come to the "High Bank Rollways" which has a beautiful panoramic view and is accessible to vehicles. The DNR has built a viewing platform and parking area. It is a very popular place, especially for leaf peekers in the fall.
If you are beginning your hike at M-37, from the town of Buckley drive west on M-37 out of town. The road soon turns to the south and you should begin looking for No. 8 Rd.The trail head is on your left. If you are continuing your hike from the previous section, the trail comes from the west on No. 8 Rd. to M-37, turns south for about 200 yards then continues eastward on a old two-track. The GTHC has carved out parking places and there is a nice large signpost marking the NCT. There are also mileage markers but I believe they over estimate the distances. According to the map it is about 14 miles to Baxter Bridge and that is probably about right.
The trail leaves the two-track after about 1/2 mile and crosses Wheeler creek on a nice new bridge built on National Trails Day, 1999 by GTHC. There are also two marked campsites, one even has a view of a little waterfall that falls into a little pool. Continuing east from Wheeler Creek the trail crosses No. 17 Rd. after a total distance of 3.1 miles, then another 2.7 miles to Anderson Creek, and another 8 miles to Baxter Bridge. Most of the trail from east of No. 17 Rd. to Baxter Bridge is on the north side of the Manistee River with lots of views. Baxter Bridge State Forest Campground is just south of Baxter Bridge.
To hike this section of the trail from east to west, start at Baxter Bridge. To get to Baxter Bridge drive east out of Kingsley on M113. Just out of town turn right on Summit City Road. Follow it until it ends at a T, make a right here, then take the first left onto 291/2 mile rd. Baxter Bridge will be a couple miles down this road. The state forest campground is on the left past the bridge and the trail is before the bridge on the right. The trailhead is not obvious. There is a boat launch at the bridge on the west side of the road. If you walk north up the road for a hundred yards or so, you will see the trail marker below and to the left side of the road. The trail goes into the forest just before the forest ends at an open field. If you are walking beside that open field, you have gone too far
Compared with the previous section, this is a little know stretch of treail, but it is perhaps equally beautiful.This part of the trail continues along the north side of the Manistee River. As of 1999 the trail has places that are brushy but it is well marked and definitely hikable.
If you are continuing your hike from the previous section hike north on 29 1/2 Road 1 mile to County Line Road, then east 1 1/2 miles to Dell Road. If you begin your hike here, from the town of Kingsley drive east on M113, just out of town, turn south on Summit City Road. Drive several miles until the road T . Turn left on County Line Road and drive east 1 1/2 miles to Dell Road. Drive down Dell until it ends, park and look for NCT markers on the fire lane to your right.
The trail runs south on the fire lane through second growth forest and pine plantation, then turns east and parallels the Manistee River along the north bank. There are many places to camp, but a particularly nice one is less that a mile along the trail where a little streamlet flows into the river. Several miles later the trail crosses an old railroad grade and turns south to Old U.S.131 State Forest Campground.Just before the railroad grade is another tent site, placed there by Grand Traverse Hiking Club. The total distance to the campground is 7.4 miles.
From the campground continue east across U.S. 131 for about 1 mile , then turn north. The trail crosses Co. Line Road about 1/2 mile east of U.S. 131 and continues north to again cross U.S. 131. This is also where the trail joins the Shore To Shore Trail, a distance of about 5 miles. This is were GTHC maintained trail ends.
The Shore To Shore trail is a horse back riding/hiking trail and the NCT and it continue northward as one trail. Unfortunately horses have made their mark by creating deep ruts in the trail and have made this a difficult trail on which to hike. Our club is working to reroute the NCT so it is a separate trail.