I was fortunate enough to get out and spend the weekend hiking the Manistee River Trail (MRT) this past weekend. Located just south of Traverse City, this 11-mile trail is a prime destination for fall color change. The hiking, while listed as “difficult” on online sources, is fairly mild with relatively no elevation gain and parallels one of Michigan’s oldest and longest rivers.
We got in Friday night and slept at the Marilla Trailhead. You’re definitely not supposed to do this, but we had some navigation issues and it was starting to snow so we went ahead and hunkered down. We got in late and spend the night sleeping in the truck bed accompanied by a 30lbs beagle and a 60lbs puppy. It was a tight fit. The next morning we woke up to a beautiful dusting of snow and crisp dry air. We were in a group of 4, with 2 cars to place at either end of the trail. Our plan was to leave 1 car at the Marilla trailhead and the other at the Red Bridge Boat Launch about 100 yards from other trailhead. All in all it took about an hour to drive there and back to drop a car.
The hiking and navigation was incredibly well marked. The Marilla Trailhead actually connects with the North Country Trail (NCT), which then connects with the Manistee River Trail. Starting out on Saturday morning, we did about a Mile and half of the trailhead and NCT before hitting the notable suspension bridge that marks the official start of the MRT. The trails were wide and flat with minimal ankle-breaking potential and the sky was coated with fresh fall colors. In the beginning of the hike, we did hear some road noise, but that’s to be expected near a trailhead. We didn’t start seeing any major human traffic until we hit the start of the MRT, as many groups were out doing day hikes to see the trees.
The Campsites were perfect. Almost every site was marked with an obvious sign (to prevent bivying and maintain Leave No Trace goals), and a large metal fire pit. Wood was a bit scarce but again, that’s expected given the popularity and foot traffic during fall color season. Wildlife was minimal, however there were reports of a bear in the area. We figured the dogs did a fairly good job of scaring of small critters and the larger ones avoided popular hunting areas. The parks service has done a great job of making bivy sites permanent sites. I like this because it places them at places were people want to sleep, and it stops them from having to clear a new site on the trail. They simple find a popular sleeping destination, install a sign and add a fire pit.
All in all it was a wonderful trip. The trail and the river wind and bend with the flow of the water, creating incredible scenery that feels like a mini-grand canyon. The park system has done a wonderful job of highlighting the incredible views and beautiful scenery without making it look like a tourist trap which gives the trail a private feel while being highly used and very close to civilization. If you’re ever in the Midwest and you’re looking for a long day hike or an easy overnight, I’d highly recommend it.