Over the last few years I’ve heard of these trails you can hike in the Manistee National Forest. Never really thought too much about it until my trip to the Manitou Islands came to a slow halt. The day I started hiking the Manistee River Trail Loop, I wasn’t even planning on hiking it. I knew I didn’t want to go home and since Emily and I were driving down from this awesome little town called Suttons Bay, we figured we would try to find these trails we had heard about somewhere near Manistee. We eventually found them and realized it would take us about 3 days to do the loop and get back to our car. We discussed briefly if we wanted to do it or not and we knew we had to do it. We were still on our planned schedule so why not, right?
So we quickly packed our hiking packs with the rest of our hiking food, our somewhat clean clothes, and we started the trail at 5:30 in the afternoon. It was later than I would have liked but it is what it is. We started off trekking north on the North Country Trail which goes along through the hills west of the Manistee River. We stopped around 8:30 to leave enough daylight to set up camp and cook some food. We had made it about 1/3 of the total distance. Not bad for 3 hours of hiking.
Now I wasn’t sure what kind of animals were in the area such as bears and wolves. I knew there had to be bears in the area so we hung our food up in a tree away from camp. There would be nothing worse than to wake up to a bear scrounging through your food and leaving you nothing for the rest of the trip. But we saw no signs of bears on the whole trip. As for wolves, I thought I had heard they had been spotted in the lower peninsula. In all reality it is possible for them to cross the Mackinaw Bridge. We saw no signs of them either. Nonetheless, I couldn’t sleep at all the first night. I heard constant yipping from coyotes and kept thinking of a bear wandering up to a bag of fresh meat hanging there in the trees, A.K.A. me in my hammock. I know bears most likely wouldn’t mess with me, especially black bears. But I just couldn’t shake that thought.
We managed to make it through the night and hit the trail bright and early. A few miles into the trail the next day we came across the section of trail we had been waiting for, the suspension bridge known as Minimac. Maybe it’s only a nickname but some guy on the trail told me it was called Minimac, so that’s what we’ll call it. It’s basically the section of trail that splits the North Country Trail from the Manistee River Trail. The two trails officially diverge about a half mile on the west side of the bridge.
By the way, it’s completely free to camp on the trail.
Once we had enough hiking for the day we were on the lookout for a nice campsite. We ended up finding the perfect site (3A) on top of a hill overlooking the river. The entire Manistee Trail side (the east side of the river) follows the river, so it provides amazing views compared to the North Country Trail side (the west side of the river). I’m pleased to say that I slept good that night. The next day we finished our journey that we had very quickly set out on and were very happy to make it back to the car. It was well worth it! And you should try it too!
Some info on the loop
The Manistee River Trail Loop is approximately 30 miles with the North Country Trail on the west side of the river and the Manistee River Trail on the east side of the river. There are no designated campsites on the North Country Trail, It’s all backcountry camping. meaning you can set up camp where ever you like. I believe you have to be at least 200 ft. from the river, but that part of the trail really doesn’t come close to the river. There are a few spots already “cleaned” for you to throw up your tent or hammock. When on the North Country Trail, be sure to ration your water because the only sources are at a small creek just south of the suspension bridge and the parking lot located at the Red Bridge. There’s a lot of trail in between.
The Manistee River Trail side has 26 designated campsites, including the campsites at Red Bridge. There’s many more streams to get water from as well, so no need to ration water. It’s much more scenic on this side of the river, which includes a couple of water falls as well. You can also stay at Seaton Creek campground to get access to this part of the trail. So if you’re looking for a day trip or a simple over nighter with some friends, I highly recommend this side. If you’re wondering what to pack on a hiking trip, check out my article, What To Pack For A Multi-Day Hike.
I’m not sure if there’s any maps that you can get in paper form, so feel free to print mine that I’ve provided.
Happy hiking out there!