Huron-Manistee National Forest Overview
|Huron-Manistee National Forest (Travel Michigan)|
The Huron and the Manistee forests, united by rivers, lie at opposite ends of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Reaching from Manistee's 140-foot high wilderness dunes at Nordhouse, stretching across thousands of acres of wetlands and through rolling hills and thick hardwood and pine forests of the Huron, the total forest area reveals the full monty of the Great Lakes region.
Nine rivers within the forest's boundaries provide canoeists with some 550 miles of waterways that snake their way through deeply cut sand and clay banks, as well as across vast floodplains. Spring runs of steelhead and brown trout and fall salmon runs have given the Pere Marquette River a reputation as one of the best fishing streams in the state of Michigan. In the swamps and marshes of the Manistee, birders can ogle at a variety of warblers, sandpipers, vireos, gulls, and meadowlarks. In the Huron, you're more likely to see loons, osprey, and northern waterthrush.
Hikers can meander along some 330 miles of trail, many of which also serve as cross-country ski trails during the winter months. A significant section of the North Country National Scenic Trail winds its way through the forest. When it's complete, the trail will link wilderness areas across seven northern states and cover a distance of approximately 4,000 miles. The forest is also home to a rare jack pine ecosystem found in the Au Sable River Valley.
During the late 1880s and early 1900s, large swaths of virgin oak and pine were cleared for timber. The land was burned and farmed but yielded poor crops and was eventually left fallow. The idle windswept sand dunes were combined to create the 481,000-acre Manistee National Forest in 1938. For administrative purposes, the Huron and Manistee were combined in 1945 into a forest that now spans an area of 964,413 acres.
Explore the Nordhouse Dunes
The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness features 140-foot dunes, some of them 4,000 years old, which rise up suddenly at the edge of Lake Michigan. In this unique dune system, you will also find pockets of hemlock, juniper, and jack pine. Walk along vast sand beaches skirted by dune grass, marshes, and water holes. Look for the tide's high water mark delineated by a boundary of driftwood and shipwreck timbers.
Hike the North Country
This North Country National Scenic Trail snakes its way through the hills of the Huron-Manistee and meanders its way along lakeshores. Some 1,600 miles of the trail's projected 4,000 miles are complete, and will eventually stretch across seven northern states. Of the seven states, Michigan has the highest percentage of certified trail within its boundaries. Every year, a section of the trail is used for the Mackinac Mush—a dog sled race held every January.
Bike the Hungerford Trail
Are you hungry for the Hungerford Trail? This 13-mile mountain bike trail snakes its way through a forest of towering oaks in the White Cloud District. The terrain is gentle and rolling, so if you're just learning to pedal there are no major obstacles to overcome. You do have to watch out for galloping horses that share the trail, as well as overtaking hikers with discretion. Another trail to check out is the 18-mile Big M Trail.
Fish Pere Marquette
The wild and scenic Pere Marquette River is also considered one of the best fishing streams in the state of Michigan. Expect a bountiful spring run of brown trout and steelhead. In autumn, salmon run the Pere Marquette. Don't overlook opportunities on the Au Sable River; this gravel-bottomed limestone stream is home to mostly wild brown trout, with some brook and rainbow thrown in for variety. The Au Sable fishes best in spring, early summer, and fall.
Paddle the Au Sable
Another one of Huron-Manistee's wild and scenic rivers, the Au Sable offers a 23-mile stretch of tranquil canoeing along a gravel-bottomed limestone stream. Launch at Mio and paddle your way smoothly downstream. Canoe angling is particularly popular as the calm waters of the Au Sable lend itself to the sport. Ten-pound brown trout are not unheard of on this river, so be careful you don't get pulled into the drink.
Ski the Big M
The Huron-Manistee is home to the Big M cross-country trail system. Situated in the Mantisee Ranger District, the trail features groomed paths amidst beautiful northern Michigan scenery. Other cross-country opportunities can be found at Hoiset Lakes and Wavery Lake. Downhill skiing can be found at the historic Caberfae Resort.
Spot a Kirtland's Warbler
In the Au Sable River Valley, you may be blessed with a rare glimpse of the highly endangered Kirtland's warbler. The area's unique jack ecosystem is specially protected to shelter the warbler population and ensure its survival. In the area, you can also stop and behold the Au Sable High Banks Overlook, O'Brien Lake, and Beaver Pond. Scan the skies for the magnificent bald eagle.
Camp Bowman Bridge
On the shores of the Pere Marquette, this quaint campground in the Baldwin Ranger District offers easy access to the North Country Trail as well as numerous places to launch a canoe. The individual campsites are sheltered beneath a canopy of maple and oak. Spring fishing on the river boasts brown, steelhead, and rainbow trout as well as autumn salmon.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication