Threatened & Endangered Trails

Last year at Quiet Water Symposium, I presented a brand new program “5 Popular & 5 Not so Popular segments of the North Country Trail”

I’m renaming it to “5 over-run segments and 5 segments you won’t see another soul”.

In recent years, the number of people who backpack and day hike has grown. A lot. Exponentially? Maybe not, but there are sure a lot more people hiking our trails now than ten years ago. Which is a great thing, knowing so many people are enjoying the natural beauty Michigan has to offer.

However, with growth, comes challenges.

Most recently, Porcupine Wilderness State Park has implemented a new policy that requires reservations for their backcountry sites. There are 63 sites, and, it was a first-come, first serve, and if full, wandering into the nearby woods to set up camp was an accepible practice. Until people forgot that whole pesky “Leave No Trace” thing. Its now the point where there is so much toilet paper on the ground it looks like it grows there naturally. The campsites are beaten down, there are a gazillion social trails.

Not exactly the backcountry experience one was expecting.

Therefore, the MDNR Parks has implemented a policy of one group: one campsite.

Amazingly, this policy has upset those that forgot the #1 LNT princilple: “Plan ahead and prepare”. As an outfitter, I can tell you the #1 reason people get into trouble on trips like this leads right back to a lack of planning. But, the disconnect is real, as those that seem to be most upset about it are 1)those that wing it and/or 2)Ignore #1 LNT rule. Actual comments:

              “man that sucks… a lot. Less and less places to just head out on a whim and camp in the wilderness.”

               “That’s really lame, but perhaps understandable due to problems last season? This was a destination to hit up this year but it seems that I                    will not be going. ( I’m a last min decider.)”

                “Personally I hate this policy. You enter a park with your hiking limits in mind only to find the ideal campsite is reserved. So is the next one.                   And the next one. Now you have two choices, give up your trip and drive 10 hours home or sign to a marathon death march itinerary to                         reach the only available campsites. “

               “If campsites were first-come-first-serve then people could disperse camp if campsites were taken and otherwise adjust their itinerary if                       they  find terrain and conditions don’t allow the miles they thought they could hike. I’ve done that at the Porkies and had a blast. No                            fires when dispersed and leave no trace. I’ve advocated that parks like Tahquamenon Falls follow the Porkies backcountry camping rules.                     Sad it’s now the other way around.”

I’ve never understood the whole “winging it” to places that recommend or require reservations.

And of course, there are those that think it is a money grab. I just want to shake these people and tell them “You know, if everyone practiced LNT, there wouldn’t be a need to have a reservation system because, get this, they wouldn’t know you were there!”

And, it’s frustrating reading about “stealth camping” & not paying fees. Then, out of the other side of their mouths they will gripe about trail conditions or lack of backcountry wifi or some other nonsense.

           “Totally sucks, I hate Lansing”

            “It’s all about the fees $$$$$$$$$”

          The disconnect is strong with this one: “I mean… im ok with paying if it gets me some services…. but if its literally just going to be a poorly                   maintained path in the woods… f*ckoff with those fees.”

And here we are, loving these places to death.

When someone posts the question “I’m looking for a two day loop hike” in one of the hiking forums to which I belong, seventy eight responses in a row are “Manistee River Loop”. Seriously. It has gotten to the point where the admins set an over/under every time this question is asked.

What are the over-used trail systems, you ask? To make this more relevant, I’ll categorize them like we do rare animals. Instead of Endangered Species, lets call them Threatened & Endangered Trail Systems.

Manistee River Loop (No permit system, no limits, toilet paper has come part of the flora)
Jordan River Loop (No permits, no off trail camping but people do anyways)
Porcupine Mountains (Permits required)

Pictured Rocks (Permits required–however, squatting is problematic & TONS of day hikers)
Grand Island (No Permit system)
Nordhouse Dunes (No Permit system, its the place to party-hike)

Special Concern
Fife Lake (No Permit System)
Hoist Lakes (No Permit System)

Quality Experiences
Isle Royale (Permit System)
North Manitou (Permit system)
South Manitou (Permit system)
Sylvania (Permit system)
High Country Pathway (No permits)
Pigeon River Pathway/Shingle Mill/Green Timbers (no permits)
Tahquamenon Falls (campsite reservations)
Craig Lake State Park (campsite reservations)
….and the other 1000 miles of North Country Trail outside of these places.

Do you see a trend here? I certainly do.

The most popular trails are those that have loop systems. A common and constant conundrum (and complaint) for using the other two thousand miles of backpackable trails (1100 miles of it on the North Country Trail) is logistics. You either double back, spot two cars, pray LYFT is available (its available statewide in Michigan), have a friend spot you/find you, hitchhike, or, use an outfitter to spot you. My recommendation is to embrace one of these options in order to hike a linear trail.

Did you know that Indian Trails stops right on or very near the North Country Trail in several places? If you wanted to do a section hike of more than a few days, there are plenty of stretches on the NCT statewide where you could do this.

The Bus stops ¼ mile from the NCT in Battle Creek, on the trail in Rockford, 6 miles from the trail in Manton, on the trail in Petoskey, ¼ mile from the trail in St. Ignace, 5 miles from Strongs Corners, 1 ¼ mile from the NCT in Marquette, and 4 miles from the NCT in Ironwood. Heck, it crosses the trail

In the Upper Peninsula, Trailspotters has the ENTIRE Upper Peninsula covered when it comes to spotting on the North Country Trail. There is no excuse anymore to make a linear trail work for you.

We need to spread out more. We need to practice LNT. We may need to browbeat those that don’t, because, it is their actions that ruin it for those of us that do.

I will always be a strong proponent of Leave No Trace. I challenge you to as well. I also challenge you to NOT visit any of the places on the Endangered or Threatened List until you’ve hiked 100 miles outside of these areas.

And when you do your 100 miles, please, Plan and Prepare.

NCT M123 to Naomikong Overlook

Hiking a linear trail has its challenges, foremost, avoiding the dreaded double-back. Worse, someone forgets to bring you back to your vehicle. Therefore, either leave your car where you want to end and ride to the start point or employ a spotting service, which is what I did when hiking a section of the North Country Trail just south of Paradise.

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The North Country Trail exits Tahquamenon Falls State Park and is a road walk on Tahqua Trail and M123. It passes the Rivermouth unit then juts into the woods sharing time with a snowmobile trail. The trailhead is well marked but there appears to be no place to park. So, I left my car at the Naomikong Overlook Trailhead on the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway.

I would like to note the scenic byway is an excellent place to explore, if you are not up to a ten mile hike. Numerous places to park and spur trails bring you right to Tahquamenon Bay on Lake Superior. Several pullouts have interpretive graphics. All the trails in the are well marked and easy to follow.

My first mile or so was on a snowmobile trail, until it crossed Silver Creek, then it became a tread through a tunnel of trees. Although well marked and having a definite trail corridor, the late summer vegetation was knee high in places.

After 2.2 miles from Silver Creek, the trail comes out to the scenic byway, and, you’ll have to walk a marked road walk before the trail goes back into the woods. For the next 4 miles, the trail follows the shore of Lake Superior. On this particular day, a stiff wind out of the northwest, compounded with water that was barely 40 degrees, made for a day where warm clothes were a requirement. I also witnessed a seche, where water is pushed from the north and was higher than normal on this day.

For the next 4.8 miles, the trail has to use the road to cross the Ankodosh, Roxbury, and Naomikong Creeks, and to circumvent where Lake Superior ate away the beach. Keep following the blue blazes in and out of the woods and you’ll find your way.

Although lightly used, I did run into a trail maintainer, two groups of dog walkers, and a grandfather with his grandkids fishing one of the inland creeks.

Tahquamenon Bay is very shallow, and, was under water for quite a period of time after the glaciers retreated. Today, many of these inland areas are conifer swamp. This is evident when the trail turns inland for the final mile as you utilize several boarwalks in cedar swamps. Climb up several set of stairs to the overlook and hopefully your car will stll be there.

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Tom Funke is the author of 50 Hikes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Notable Segments of the North Country Trail

Looking for a good hike? The North Country Trail has plenty

I have recently inked a deal to write my second book, which will cover 50 different segments of the North Country Trail. To celebrate, I thought I’d share some notable sections of this 4600 mile long trail. 

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My dad and I hiking Trapp Hills

In the same class of trails as the Appalachian, the North Country National Scenic is over twice as long as its older cousin. However, few Michigander’s have heard of this trail let alone walked any part of it.  Here are some notable segments worth noting. .

 The longest & wildest section of trail that crosses the fewest paved roads runs from Copper peak (near Ironwood) to Sidnaw. This segment is about 110 miles long and is a true wilderness experience.  Traversing through the Ottawa National Forest, experience hills, waterfalls, and deep forests during this wild hike. 

Although the trail passes through some federally designated wilderness areas, I believe the wildest segment can be found on this stretch in the Trapp Hills. Deep in the hilly forests of Ontonagon County, encounter high peaks, gorgeous views, low swamps, rivers, and hardwood forests. These features will allow for a scenic, but strenuous hike.  Make a day trip starting at M-64 and end on Forest Road 222.  Make sure to pack a lunch and enjoy your siesta gazing over the treetops. This is bear country so take the usual precautions, since you are more likely to see these furry creatures than another human. 

The closest segment? You probably have walked on it without even knowing it.  If you have stepped foot on the Linear Park, you’ve walked a certified segment of the trail.  Next time you are eating a meal at Clara’s, stare out the window and wonder if the hiker in view is on their way to Crown Point, NY or Lake Sakakawea, ND, the eastern and western ends of this longest National Scenic Trail.  


Backpackers on the North Country Trail

The most used segment hosts well over 10,000 backpackers a year. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has a very popular 42 mile long stretch that parallels Lake Superior. Although it is a high quality experience, best to hike before Memorial Day or after Labor Day to avoid the crowds

 The trail is not designed to isolate the user from surrounding land uses.  As it does in Battle Creek, the trail penetrates downtown areas in other cities, too. From small towns like Petoskey to metropolises like Cincinnati & Duluth,  the trail shares sidewalks, old railroad grades, and bike trails winding its way through many urban centers 

A segment worth mentioning is the stretch in Minnesota that parallels Lake Superior. The trail is within eyeshot of Lake Superior most of its 300 mile stretch but only comes into contact with Lake Superior one time. The name of this segment? Superior Hiking Trail! 

Finally, there is a segment of this National Scenic Trails that is only open for one day a year, and a very short time at that.  Walk the Mackinaw Bridge on Labor Day and claim you’ve walked the least accessible segment of this trail. 

For more information:

Tom Funke is the author of 50 Hikes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His next book, “50 Hikes on the North Country Trail in Michigan and Wisconsin” will be out in the summer of 2015.







I am my own boss

Well, I finally did it. 

I stepped down from my full time job to pursue my writing & outfitting businesses full time.

Such a decision was not taken lightly, and, was years in the making. 

I have leveraged a career and income opportunity using my 50 Hikes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula book (you do have a copy, right?). It all started with the Tahqua Trekker at Tahquameon. My wife and I, while at Tahquamenion, had a couple of people bum rides off of us. Upon calling the park manager, we found out there was no shuttle service. That was in 2007. 

In 2010, we started the Pictured Rocks Shuttle Service. We also contracted with another vendor to run shuttles on the Kal-Haven Trail. The Kal-Haven Trail shuttle shut down temporarilly as we were competing directly against the county bus, which was charging $3 a ride. They have stepped aside and we will be resuming shuttles shortly. 

At Pictured Rocks, we still compete directly against the county transit system, although, we clearly offer a better service with more routes, flexibility, and knowledge of the trail. Hopefully, they will step aside like they did on the Kal-Haven but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

In 2014, we opened Fort Custer Outfitters, operating as the state park concession at Fort Custer Recreation Area. We offer rentals and food service, but will be moving into programs, tours, trips, retail, and gear rental. 

So, you can probably see why I cannot work a full time job!