The Manistee River Trail in West Michigan parallels nearly 11 miles of the eastern edge of its namesake river between the Seaton Creek and Red Bridge trailheads in Manistee National Forest. A product of the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal, the land which is now home to this mixed woods was once logged to an all but barren wasteland. The Civilian Conservation Corps re-planted the area, and in 1938 the Manistee National Forest was born. Depending on what one reads, the name Manistee could be derived from either the Native American Ojibwe or Ottawa language and is thought to mean “The whispering through the pines”.
Waist-high ferns create a 2nd, miniature forest beneath the trees
The out and back nature of the MRT (10.6 miles one way) creates a logistical challenge. For those who have the time, the North Country Trail runs along the other side of the river and can be incorporated to create a much longer, multi-day loop. A very interesting walking bridge, aptly named 'Little Mac', spans the river near the northern end of the trail for this very purpose.
Alternatively, having a car parked at both ends would be ideal since it appears that none of the nearby canoe liveries will take bribes to spot cars for day hikers. Having a crazy hiking partner who comes up with an insane Plan B for car retrieval also works when circumstances are dire. More on that later.
Mushrooms and moss near a cliff overlooking Manistee River
With many trails, the scenery is the main attraction – mountains, valleys, waterfalls, etc. With the MRT, the trail itself is the object of interest. Hikers follow a path which often hugs the ridge along the Manistee River, which bends and snakes alongside. Truthfully, the view of the river in this area isn't particularly stunning. The water is muddy in appearance, and the banks do not stimulate much excitement with their sandy slopes and grassy ridges. However, the forest provides much in the way of enjoyment for lovers of the trail. The variety of evergreens and hardwoods undoubtedly paint a stunning picture in autumn, and dozens of small streams trickle across the trail on their journey to the river. Simple foot bridges protect the banks and make it easy for hikers to cross these obstacles.
Campsites are sprinkled along the trail, some legitimate, others created by those who have rebelled against the establishment. These being backcountry sites, fire rings have been conveniently provided, but there are no outhouses and no potable water. Be prepared to filter from streams (I collected some extra water from a creek when my camelbak started to get low and just put a purifying tablet in it) and utilize essential hole-digging skills if spending more than a day on the trail.
Upon reaching Red Bridge, Craig unlocked his single speed road bike from the small tree we had secured it to and rode back 7.5 miles on the (mostly dirt) roads to Seaton Creek to pick up the car. Though I had fought against this idea, in the end no other options presented themselves. Under normal circumstances, 7.5 miles on a bike is easy; however given our weakened state, I was impressed that he didn't hallucinate a hammock in the shade, have a head-on collision with a deer, and lose consciousness along the way. We must come up with a better plan for next time.