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Michigan Backpacking - Three Unknown Places


Michigan backpacking usually means hiking the trails of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, or Porcupine Mountains State Park. These are all well worth doing, by the way. However, if you want to really get away from the crowds, here are three places to try where you'll likely be backpacking alone for days.

Backpacking Lake Michigan Islands

Bring a canoe for this first destination. Just south of the Garden Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (take Highway 2 to 183), there are several islands. They are all uninhabited. Little Summer Island is just a mile or so offshore from the tiny community of Fairport, and makes a nice rest stop. Note: we paid $10 to leave our car parked behind the barn of a fisherman who lived there. There is no public parking, but just ask around - the people are friendly here.

Next in the chain are Summer Island and Poverty Island. They are wooded islands, and have some old foundations of houses remaining from long ago. There is also a lighthouse still standing on Summer Island. The land is primarily part of the Lake Superior State Forest (despite the fact that they are in Lake Michigan), and although there aren't really any trails for backpacking, hiking the shore and exploring the interior of Summer Island could fill an afternoon or more.

Be careful past Poverty Island, where you have to cross a shipping channel to get to Saint Martin Island. St. Martin is privately owned, but open to the public as far as I know. The caretaker told us that camping there was no problem. He even left the lighthouse open for us to explore, with our promise to lock it up when we were done checking it out. He took a boat home to Wisconsin (less than 10 miles south), and we were the only ones on the island for the night. There are a few miles of trails here, and though it was quiet when we were there (2005), there may be a few rental cabins on the south side of the island by now.

Backpacking Along the Manistee River

The little-known trail along the Manistee River in Northern Michigan is never crowded. A part of it is the North Country Trail, a long trail from New York to North Dakota (which may never be done). Although I haven't hiked it in four years or so, when we used to hike here or float homemade rafts down the river, we almost never saw another person.

The trail I'm referring to runs from Highway 131, North of Cadillac, to Highway 37 near Mesick. It follows the river on the north side, and passes mostly through the Manistee National Forest. After one road (and a bridge) that you'll pass the first day, there are no more houses or cabins for many miles. You'll be hiking in rolling maple and beech woods, with some big sandy bluffs overlooking the river. The river is deep in places, but great for swimming.

Note: For the story of a rafting trip on this same stretch, see the page: An Ultralight River Rafting Adventure

Drummond Island

When a friend and I took the ferry to Drummond Island, we brought a canoe on the roof of the car. There was a string of lakes on the map and we put the canoe in a canal leading to the first one. Soon we had to haul the canoe over a beaver dam, and then we were in a big open area, where the seemingly floating islands of plant life made navigating interesting, to say the least.

Our plan was to camp somewhere on the shore of one of the lakes, but maps don't show all the details. The lakes were surrounded by marsh, full of cattails, reeds, and chest-deep muck that didn't want to give back our probing paddles. It was not actually possible to get to shore, we realized. Dry land was clearly visible in the distance, but we couldn't paddle through the thick brush, nor move well enough in the thick muck to get out and pull the canoe in to shore.

We ended the day back where we started, and drove to an isolated part of the island - easy to do, since it all seems fairly isolated. With night coming, we parked the car right in the road to set up a tent in the field next to it. No cars passed us that evening. In fact, not a single car passed before we left at 11 the next morning. So if you want isolated backpacking - or canoeing or even parking - this is a part of Michigan you might want to visit. Watch out for the bears.

Visit EverythingAboutTravel.com for information on Vacation Spots in Michigan.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Michigan Backpacking