Conquering the North Country Trail
Posted on August 2, 2019
I have set a goal. It’s kind of a scary goal for me, because it’s a big one. But I’ve given myself, basically, the rest of my life to achieve it. So, it’s a new bucket list item, I suppose. I originally wanted to hike the entire North Country Trail. With the recent addition of 1400 miles in Vermont, the trail is now 4600 miles. That’s…..a bit much. So I’ve decided that I want to, at least, hike all of the NCT in my home state, Michigan. Michigan hosts 1159 miles on its own. I’m doing it a little at a time, which is why it’s a “before I die” kind of goal. I’ve hike on the NCT throughout my life, but I’m starting at 0 as of January this year, rather than trying to remember, for sure, which sections I’ve already done.
I thought you all might be interested in my progress towards this goal, so each month, one of my featured subjects will be a North Country Trail update. I’ll tell you about progress I’ve made, which sections I’ve hiked, what they were like, as well as share photos from the trail. This first one will be a bit longer, as I’ll be covering 3 months worth of mini hikes. But in the future, especially during the winter, these update will be much shorter, much quicker reads.
In May, June, and July, I hiked a total of 7.13 miles on the NCT, bringing my total so far up to 11.84 My feet touched five different sections:
Mile 614.5 to 613 – Krause Rd to Brubaker Rd, Petoskey
This is a hilly section, just a couple miles from Petoskey city center. The lowest elevation (according to the MapMyFitness app on my phone) is 966ft, and the highest is 1182ft. If it was a simple, linear loss or gain, that wouldn’t be that bad, but there is very little flat terrain on this mile and a half section. The trail zig zags down and back up the hills, rather than shooting right down the hillside. My knees are thankful for that. I tried out my hiking poles for the first time. I found that they’re really handy when you’re hiking uphill, and you feel like you’re going to die, and need a tree to lean on so you can take your inhaler, but you just can’t take another step to make it to a tree (uh, other hikers experience that too right?). I also found them to be a great help on the way down hills, when the dirt and gravel are loose and you normally worry that you’re going to lose your footing and end up sliding all the way down on your (now very sore) rear end. There are a couple little spur trails. One takes you to an overlook where you can see Petoskey about four miles away, the other to a shelter. The shelter was much more that I expected. I’ve seen photos of some trail shelters, most of which look like lean-to’s that will protect you on three sides from the weather. This shelter is a fully enclosed mini cabin that can sleep 6, with a front porch. There’s an outhouse out back and a fire pit nearby. Whoever maintains the shelter even has a dated jug of fresh, clean water on site.
Au Sable Falls – Grand Marais
We took my nephew with us for a short walk after dinner. We had limited time before the sun set. Since we didn’t have any gear with us, we didn’t want to be out in the woods after dark, so we just went down to the falls viewing platform. There are 168 steps down to the platform. And if you go down, you must come back up. I’m not warning you against going down. No, no, no. This is not a trail to skip out on. From the top, there’s really not much to see. I just want you to be prepared. The view at the bottom is so worth the climb back up. When we were there, it was the end of spring, most of the snow had melted. The result was SO MUCH WATER coming down the falls! This area has seen a LOT of erosion in recent years. It’s tempting to climb over the railing to get a better photo shot, or go for a swim in the river. Please, please resist those urges and stay on the path, to avoid additional damage.
Mile 375 to 377 – Grand Marais
This was a spur of the moment, lets do one more thing before we go back home, hike. The person or group who is in charge of keeping this section in good shape, hadn’t been out for their spring cleanup yet. The effects of heavy winter snows could be seen in all the downed trees and branches. We tried to move what we could, but we didn’t come prepared with hatchets or chain saws, so there was only so much we could move. Beyond that, it was just a matter of finding the best way over, under or around the obstacles. I was pleasantly surprised that none of us came home with ticks after all that. We had two teenagers and my best friend’s 4-year-old grandson with us. How do you keep a 4-year-old going on the trail? What worked best for us was putting him “in charge” of finding the next “blue dot” – the blue blazes that mark the North Country Trail. He turned out to be a pretty good little trail scout.
This section of the trail is not hilly, but winding and strangely lumpy in some places. Like, you’ll take two steps up and two steps down, then a step up, and another two steps down. I spotted several nice, flat, moss-covered spots off trail that would make good places to pitch a tent, and the nearby creek is a great water source. Like all the water levels in Michigan this year, the creek was running higher than usual, but the trail is high enough that it’s still dry.
Mile 610 to 608 – Petoskey
Hubby and daughter play Pokemon Go. They had a community day to attend. I decided to go on a hike instead of riding with them. I stuffed my pack with water, snacks, sunscreen, and bug spray. We parked my truck at my designated ending point, and they dropped me off at my starting point. This two mile section is almost completely within the North Central Michigan College (NCMC) grounds. They keep the trails in fantastic shape! We’ve gone on family walks, on these trails, countless times over the years.
I went backwards on purpose (from 610 to 608, rather than 608 to 610). It was a hot day and I was looking for a fairly easy hike. Going backwards, this section is almost all downhill. It starts with a walk across a farm field, from the road to the woods. The trail intersects the NCMC trail loop when it enters the woods. At the fork, going right is a really short walk to the college parking lot, but you’d actually be skipping about a mile of the NCT, which follows the other three-quarters of the loop. Although close to the center of town, its very quiet and peaceful – although on this particular day, I could hear the crowds cheering from the nearby soccer fields. The trail goes along the Bear River, and crosses several smaller streams – so there’s lots of water available. I stopped at a flowering tree (apple or cherry perhaps?) and listened to the humming of hard working bees. Flower petals rained down from above, having been bumped off their branches by the bees. I haven’t looked into it because I live so close, so I’m not sure if camping is allowed here. I did discover one hitchhiker tick after this walk, although I’m not sure where I picked him up, since the trail is wide and well kept.
Mile 368.5 to 370 – Grand Marais
After hanging out at the beach for the majority of the my week of vacation, I was itching to get out into the woods and cover a few miles. I convinced hubby and daughter to come with me, and we brought my nephew, who seems to have a never-ending supply of energy. The section we chose goes from the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Visitor’s Center, right outside of Grand Marais, to Draft Hill, which overlooks Grand Sable Lake. Again, knowing the trail goes uphill, we opted to go backwards. We parked one vehicle at the visitor’s center and drove to Draft Hill. The trail follows the road down the hill and along the lake. There are some places where there isn’t a LOT of room to move over, and traffic travels way too fast on this section of road. Well, too fast in my opinion. They definitely are not seeing the sights, just whizzing by them. At the Sable Lake parking lot, the trail finally veers from the road, crosses the river and is in woods or grassy fields the rest of the way. Having grown up in Grand Marais, I was surprised to realize I had never been on this portion of the trail. The trail is super, super narrow. Like, you can’t stand with your two feet beside each other, in many places. Because the park service so strongly believes in letting nature be nature, the trail is almost overgrown – the grass was taller than me. I was pretty sure we were all going to come out covered in ticks, despite the repellent we applied before starting. Turns out I was the only lucky one to end up with a creepy crawly hitchhiker. Thankfully, I found him before he made himself comfortable inside my skin. Aside from ticks, other bugs were abundant: swarms of teeny tiny blue dragonflies followed us near the river, horse flies circled our heads, sand flies bit at our ankles. But the mosquitoes!! Grrrr, the mosquitoes!! They. Were. Awful. We were swatting, swinging, swiping, and slapping like crazy. I’d clear off my right arm, clear off my left arm, and my right arm was covered again. Covered, seriously. As a result, this hike was the fastest 1.5 mile hike I’ve ever done. Normally, my pace is an hour for a 1.5 mile hike (I like to take my time so I can see all the things, and take pictures) – this one we completed in 45 minutes. Later in the summer would have been better – or bring a bug net. Do they make them in full-body size? Another result of so many bugs? I didn’t take the time to take many pictures – I would have lost too much blood LOL
Stay tuned for future updates of my progress towards completing the Michigan portion of the North Country Trail. Check back in next week – I have some exciting news to share about my adventure-mobile! In the meantime – read, like, comment, share and follow me here as well on social media – links can be found at the top of the page!