2-3 days segments of the NCT in the UP

I was recently asked by Chris Gray, moderator of the Facebook Group Northern Michigan Hiking, Backpacking, and Kayaking (and trip leader), to recommend 2-3 day / 40 mile stretches of backpacking opportunities in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
Naturally, I gravitate towards the North Country Trail. Chris asked me to leave out Pictured Rocks, as, that is the most obvious and recently, most utilized (and some say over-run) segment of North Country Trail in the UP.
The North Country Trail Association (www.northcountrytrail.org) has several trip planning resources on their website. One of which I reference several times a week in helping customers and folks like Chris, plan backpacking adventures. Click on “The Trail” then “Map and Planning Resources”. Scroll down and click on “Launch the Online Map”. The NCT Online Map is a treasure trove of information. Water sources, parking, camping, and length of trail segments are all available. It even shows half mile and mile markers of trail, making it very easy for anyone, even me, to quickly find a forty mile segment of trail.
There are several base maps to choose from, from streets, to USGS topo, to aerial views.
Craig Lake State Park to Silver Lake Basin parking is about a 35 mile journey which brings you through the McCormick Wilderness. There are no services. Both trailheads are accessible by car. This is a wild area with no services and a segment of trail few backpack. In addition, it really isn’t a day use area so anyone you encounter is probably there on a multi-day journey themselves.

 

Little Garlic Falls to Laughing Whitefish Falls is 40 miles
Coming in from the west to the Little Garlic Falls parking & trailhead is mostly a gravel & paved road walk. From Little Garlic Falls Trailhead the NCT is a mix of tread, paved trails, & sidewalk through Marquette, bike trail out past Harvey, then back to tread as it leads you to Laughing Whitefish Falls. Ideally, you could stay in downtown Marquette, then the trail shelter at Lakenland Sculpture Park (http://www.lakenenland.com/) then finish at Laughing Whitefish Falls.
You’ll experience the Donnelely Wilderness, Hiking to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (on a side trail, if you so choose), wild Lake Superior Beach, downtown Marquette, the sandy plains along lake Superior east of Harvey, and the heavy woods near Laughing Whitefish Falls.
As you come into Marquette, you’ll encounter many types of trail users, from dog walkers, to roller bladers, bicyclists, and fitness walkers. Outside of Marquette, past Harvey, you’ll have the trail to yourself.
Grand Marais NCT trailhead to Mouth of Two Hearted River is about 40 miles. Wonderful hike.
It continues to amaze me when a potential customer calls me and wants me to recommend a Pictured Rocks itinerary that is free of people and full of seclusion. My answer is invariably “February”. Pictured Rocks is a National Park, and, it is so popular the park uses a permit system to control the number of backpackers in order to afford everyone a quality experience. That being said, hiking east or west of the park will afford you a quality hiking experience free of the hoards of day trippers and seemingly numerous backpackers.
Two miles east of Grand Marias is a North Country Trailhead with parking that is your gateway to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The trail winds along the Lake Superior Shore. Sometimes up on a bluff, sometimes inland to avoid private land, and others right along the beach. Be prepared to lose the trail as Lake Superior has eroded bluffs that carried portions of the trail that were close to the edge. When in doubt, walk the beach.
This is by far the most popular backpacking route on the NCT outside of the Porkies, Tahquamenon, and Pictrured Rocks. That being said, the traffic on this segment is about 5% of the popular parks. It is unlikely you’ll see another backpacker. But, you will be walking through a state park and several state forest campgrounds. Plus, the beach is popular with day trippers as there is relatively easy access to the beach along most of this stretch. Bring your fishing pole as you’ll encounter several trout streams.
Mouth of the Two Hearted to Mouth of Tahquamenon is 40 miles.

Should I mention there is a brewery on this segment? Falls Brewery at Upper Falls, a must stop!

The NCT turns south from the mouth of the Two Hearted River and enters an area ravished by the Duck Lake Burn of 2012. The trail goes through burnt out pine forest, which is beginning to regenerate to the point you are seeing less and less of the damage caused by this massive, 21,000 acre forest fire http://greatlakesecho.org/2015/01/06/when-fire-changes-the-landscape/
After passing Culhane Lake, the trail leaves the fire burnt area and continues south. Cross over CR500 at the Little Two Hearted River and follow a snowmobile trail for several miles before turning east and entering Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Even though the park sees near a million visitors a year, most do not venture more than 500 feet from a paved surface. The only exception is the popular hike between Upper and Lower Falls. But other than that, you’ll probably not see another day hiker.
There are three backcountry campsites in the park, however, you have to pre-register to use them. Which can be a pain if you are hiking in from the east as two of the campsites are before you reach the ranger station. Call ahead and secure your reservations.
After Lower Falls, the trail traverses old dunes, swamps, streams, and along the Tahquamenon River before ending at Rivermouth Campground.
Feel free to contact me about planning your backpacking adventure and helping with logistics.
Next time, we will cover a couple more segments of NCT and two long spur trails that connect into the NCT