~19 miles one-way
Highlights: Paul Henry Thornapple Trail, Barry State Game Area, Yankee Springs State Recreation Area, McDonald Lake, Hall Lake
Of all the national scenic trails, I have currently hiked the most miles on the North Country Trail, a 4600 mile trail from North Dakota to New York (soon Vermont). Whether it be beautiful segments in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Border Route Trail, Kekekabic Trail), along Lake Superior's beautiful shoreline (Superior Hiking Trail, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore), or in Michigan's Lower Peninsula (Manistee River, Jordan River Pathway), the NCT has provided exceptional backpacking opportunities.
With a travel PT job in southwest Michigan, I have had the opportunity to complete much of the established NCT in southern Michigan. While much of the NCT in southern Michigan includes lengthy road walks, there are still many excellent sections of trail.
This hike is one of the the prime hikes on the NCT in southern Michigan with a fairly continuous stretch of foot path. I started at the North trailhead on N Peets Road.
I decided to hike north to the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail. This meant that I would start with the longest road walk first.
I arrived at the trailhead just at sunrise.
The road walk on M-37 was somewhat busy.
After turning onto McCann Road, it was a pleasant walk by some wetlands.
I reached the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail.
The kiosk had a sign indicating trail mileage. It was interesting that I was 2,434 miles from Lake Sakakawea to the west, just a little less than the entire distance of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was also 2,149 miles from Lake Champlain to the east, just a little less than the Appalachian Trail.
Paul Henry Thornapple Trail
The trail was covered with fresh snow and few tracks, if any.
I reached the Thornapple River and there was a bench with a nice view.
Looking back on my tracks in the snow.
I crossed the river on an impressive bridge.
There was nice morning light on the trees in some wetlands.
As I neared Middleville, I found a large group of mallard ducks.
The was a dam in the river ahead creating a small lake.
I saw some swans resting on the ice.
I reached Middleville and thought of continuing on the Middleville State Game Area but decided to save it for later.
I turned around and began my return journey.
Crossing over the river again
back on the road walk
I reached the trailhead and got my backpacking gear ready. I could here gunshots in the distance.
the northern N Peets Road trailhead
I entered the Barry State Game Area with a pleasant walk through a pine forest. There were no tracks in the snow.
It was a short hike before the trail would return to the road. I enjoyed the pleasant walk beside a field.
I reached the southern N Peets Road parking area and continuing south on the road.
There were few vehicles on the road.
The road crossed Glass Creek.
Then the trail entered the woods.
I came to a view of a clearing.
There was a special pair of NCT benches.
I reached the trailhead on Bowens Mill Road.
There was another short road walk.
The road was next to a field.
I entered the forest again and the trail was parallel to S Yankee Springs Road.
After passing through the trailhead on S Yankee Springs Road, my camera failed. I had to use my phone as backup.
I hiked on a gaited road and then there was some great forest hiking. I passed a woman out with her dogs.
Soon I entered Yankee Springs Recreation Area and took a short side trip to McDonald Lake.
Then I descended to the western shore of Hall Lake.
The lake was frozen and I could see people fishing on the other side.
The trail came out to Gun Lake Road right beside the lake.
I crossed the road and continued back into the forest.
I didn't take many pictures to save battery on my phone. The terrain was nice with rolling hills in the forest. I passed a couple other hikers who were going the opposite direction. There was a scenic bridge close to the actual Yankee Springs I believe.
At the eastern trailhead off Norris Road I met a man who was trying to cross country ski. He started ahead of me but didn't turn off when the trail turned off into the woods.
I continued through the southern portion of the Barry State Game Area.
After some time I reached a sign telling me that I was leaving state land.
I continued a short distance to Mullen Road. From Mullen Road it is a lengthy road walk to the Kellogg Biological Station. I opted to turn around here.
I hiked the short distance back to the Barry State Game Area and found a place to set up camp. I prepared for a cold night. Day light was short and soon it was dark. I heard some strange sounds through the night but had a restful night's sleep.
I continued my return hike fairly early in the morning.
Soon I was back at the boardwalk.
After crossing Norris Road, I took an alternate route up to a lake I'm not sure of its name. The trail took me beside Gun Lake Road and had previously been marked with the classic NCT blue blazes. It was a nice alternate, but unfortunately my phone's battery had died so I didn't take any pictures.
By the time I reached Hall Lake it was quite warm and there was a shiny layer of water on the ice. There were still many people fishing.
From Graves Hill, I left the NCT and hiked over to Devil's Soup Bowl which was quite impressive in size. Then I went off-trail heading north until two dogs came running at me. I had seen them the day before. The same woman was out hiking the NCT in a different location. I continued back on the NCT.
My phone came back to life when I took a break on the NCT benches.
Much of the snow had already melted.
I opted to road walk instead of the last portion of trail on N Peets Road.
Overall, this was an excellent hike, with ~19 miles of trail one-way with only a few short road walks. Definitely one of my favorites on the NCT in Michigan south of Croton Dam.