Nestled just minutes west of Cadillac, Michigan, is the National Forest where a perfect weekend-size adventure awaits. There, the plus or minus, 20 mile Manistee River Trail (MRT) & North Country Trail (NCT) loop takes you on some of the best terrain in the Lower Peninsula. Many hike here throughout the year, with some of the best hiking offered in the fall when peak color hits the Udell Hills in the distance. It’s also quite beautiful after the first new snow fall when the sun peaks and glistens across the 500,000 acre forest canopy.
We recommend hiking this trail loop twice. First time, starting on the North Country Trail on the west side of the river, and the second time, the Manistee River Trail on the eastern shoreline of the Manistee River. You will forget you are hiking the same trail – it changes that much between directions. Here is a comprehensive overview of this up and coming trail system.
Views. You’ll experience awe-inspiring views from Red Hill Lookout after scaling it’s 100’ vertical climb to the top. This amazing peak provides an incredible view over the Udell Hills, an unforgettable view.
Varied terrain & elevation. The terrain has hundreds of feet worth of elevation changes in a 2.5 mile stretch that will test your legs, and for this very reason we recommend you proceed in this direction on the first day.
Suspension Bridge. The lifeline between the NCT and MRT is the longest pedestrian foot bridge in the Lower Peninsula. It crosses the Big Manistee River just a little under a half mile from Hodenpyl Dam. Views from the bridge are incredible, and walking it is always energizing.
Dam Detour. If you have not seen a functioning hydroelectric dam, we recommend taking the extra time and check the Hodenpyl Dam. You will typically see paddlers making the portage on the northern side of the area during the peak summer seasons.
Small Waterfalls. About three miles into the MRT hike, you will come across a small wooden foot bridge that takes you over a series of small waterfalls feeding into the Big Manistee River below. A great place for a group photo op.
Downhill to the Dam. Taking this route lends your final leg downhill. Making your way to the beginning of the backwaters of the Tippy Dam, another hydro-electric dam with a pond and some of the finest trout, steelhead, and salmon fishing in Michigan. During the fall salmon run anglers line the banks shoulder to shoulder trying to catch king salmon that can weigh well over 20 pounds.
TIPS: Summer weekends are popular with anglers, canoers, mountain bikers, and hikers. This area is known for fall colors. Spring and fall midweek hikers will find absolute solitude. The North Country Trail is shared between hikers and bikers, while the Manistee River Trail is designated for hikers ONLY.