National Scenic Trails - North Country Trail Overview

Gorp.com
Trail at a Glance

Length: 4,200-4,600 miles
Route: Links New York's Adirondack Mountains with the Missouri River in North Dakota, crossing seven states
Highlights: Extensive exploration of eastern woodlands, dramatic landscape of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Manistee National Forest
Completion: 51%
Hiker Purity: Good. Certified parts of this trail are for foot travel only.

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Threading its way across our landscape, the North Country National Scenic Trail links outstanding scenic, natural, recreational, historic, and cultural areas in seven northern states—New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. The eastern end of the trail is at Crown Point State Historic Site on the Vermont-New York border. The western end of the trail is at Lake Sakakawea State Park in west-central North Dakota, where it joins the route of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

From the grandeur of the Adirondack Mountains in New York, the trail meanders westward through the hardwood forests of Pennsylvania, through the countryside of Ohio and southern Michigan, along the shores of the Great Lakes, and through the glacial-carved forests, lakes, and streams of northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The trail ends in the vast plains of North Dakota. The diversity of landscapes and the scenic and historic features along the trail are perhaps its most appealing qualities.

The North Country NST exists as much for the enjoyment of the casual walker as it does for the challenge of hikers who travel its entire length. Whether used for an afternoon of walking, a day of cross-country skiing, or a week or month(s) of backpacking, adventure is found along forested pathways, marshes and bogs, waterfalls, sand dunes, tallgrass prairies, old logging railroad grades, lighthouses, Revolutionary War forts, and small rural communities. From the Missouri River in North Dakota to the shore of Lake Champlain in New York, diverse features along the trail communicate how the land was formed, how it has been settled, and how it has been used and altered by humans.

Here's what's been done so far...

New York - In New York, the route of the North Country Trail coincides with the route of the Finger Lakes Trail for much of the distance across the state.

Pennsylvania - A total of almost 450 miles of continuous foot trail is in place straddling the New York-Pennsylvania border—from where the North Country NST first joins the Finger Lakes Trail, near Cazenovia, New York, to the west edge of Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania there are several short segments of trail within various state parks and an 87-mile segment within the Allegheny National Forest.

Ohio - In Ohio, much of the route of the North Country Trail follows the route of the Buckeye Trail. There are 289 miles of trail in Ohio that are certified segments of the North Country NST. Most of these miles are in short, often disconnected segments, but the Little Miami Scenic Park and the Miami and Erie Canal Trail are each 40 to 50 miles in length. These are developed as multi-use trails, where bicycles are permitted. Most of the Little Miami and portions of the Miami and Erie are paved and thus wider than a typical hiking trail. Still, they are quite wooded and offer a feeling of seclusion—especially the southern portion of the Little Miami. Completed segments in the Wayne National Forest, Shawnee State Forest, and other large public lands offer moderate lengths of more typical hiking trail.

Michigan - There are 575 miles of certified trail in Michigan—which covers more ground than in any other state. In the Upper Peninsula, the best long-distance hikes can be found in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ottawa and Hiawatha National Forests, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Additional segments in Lake Superior State Forest provide continuous trail for most of the way from Pictured Rocks to the Mackinaw Bridge. However, the state forest segment is not in the best of repair. A short, but pretty 7.5-mile segment is located in Craig Lake State Park. Some feel that the segment within Pictured Rocks may be the most scenic of the entire trail. It is a 43-mile segment that parallels the shoreline of Lake Superior, sometimes at beach level and sometimes on top of the high, colorful, sandstone cliffs, offering spectacular views across and down into the clear waters of Lake Superior.

In the Lower Peninsula, the longest completed segment is in the Manistee National Forest. The sandy floor of the Manistee provides a very nice walking experience for about 125 miles, through open woodlands, rolling hills, and along several beautiful rivers. During the summer of 1994, two people hiked the entire trail—from New York to North Dakota. They thought the Manistee segment was one of the best.

Wisconsin - There are four certified segments in Wisconsin. The longest one is in the Chequamegon National Forest. This very pretty segment offers opportunities to fish along the way and passes through two small Wilderness Areas. While this segment is often remote and offers some challenges, it is still a moderately easy trail due to the fact that there are no large elevation changes such as would be experienced in a more mountainous area. Farther west in the state, the fourth certified segment is located in Brule River State Forest—near Solon Springs. Beginning at Douglas County Highway A, just east of the junction with Highway P, the trail progresses northeasterly for 4.2 miles. The first 2.1 miles are along a historic portage that has been used for hundreds of years. Along this portion, eight commemorative stones name the early explorers, traders, and others who passed through the area.

Minnesota - A completed segment in the Chippewa National Forest is very beautiful. It passes through a variety of terrain and vegetative types. Wetlands, lakes, and streams abound in the area and the segment skirts south of Leech Lake—the third largest lake in the state. A relatively short distance to the west of the Chippewa is Itasca State Park—the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. A 13-mile segment, which skirts many small but beautiful lakes is completed in Itasca. Trail developers are working to extend the trail west from Itasca, and also to complete the missing link east of Itasca, through Paul Bunyan State Forest to the Chippewa National Forest.

North Dakota - Visitors to sections of the trail in North Dakota will experience the vastness of the northern prairies. There are two rather long segments of certified trail—a 25-mile segment crossing the Sheyenne National Grassland near Lisbon and a 32-mile segment crossing the Lonetree Wildlife Management Area near Harvey. In either of these areas, one can see native grasses and forbs and is likely to sight great flocks of geese, ducks, and sandhill cranes as they migrate through the area.

The trail through Lonetree will probably be the area where hikers will tend to feel that they are experiencing the prairie as it was when the pioneers passed through. Perhaps as much as 70 percent of the 30,000-acre area eventually may be restored to native prairie. The trail passes near booming grounds for prairie chicken and sharptail grouse so the hiker may have a unique opportunity to observe or hear these birds. However, use extra caution to not disturb them during mating season.

From east of New Rockford to the west end of the trail at Lake Sakakawea State Park, the projected route of the North Country Scenic Trail follows the corridor of the Garrison Diversion Project canals. While not yet certified, the canal corridors are available for off-road hiking or horseback riding. Combined with the Lonetree Area, there are about 150 miles of continuous off-road route.


Published: 30 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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