Fife Lake / North Country Trail

  

On Saturday, we drove southeast about 45 minutes to the village of Fife Lake.  This is a town we have a long history with, as stated in an earlier post.  The Grand Traverse Hiking Club chapter of the North Country Trail Association was celebrating the designation of the village as a ‘Trail Town’.  They were also dedicating the completion of the 21 mile Fife Lake Loop on the 4,600 mile long North Country Trail (NCT), along with a one mile spur trail that connects the NCT to the village. The celebration included a 2.7 mile hike.  We were shuttled out of town and we hiked back in.

  
There were around 40 people on the hike.  The weather was perfect: dry, clear and in the low 70’s.

  
The point that we started from was about 1/2 mile from where Diana’s parent’s cottage was.  We used to cross country ski on this portion of the trail when it was just a local pathway through the woods, so it was exciting for us to see it being administered by the National Park Service now.  More than half of the North Country Trail is complete (2700 miles); an amazing accomplishment, seeing it was just established in 1980.

  
The trail is well marked with blue blazes on the trees.

  
There are also signposts all along the trail, so it is fairly easy to follow.

  
The NCT skirts through Spring Lake State Forest Campground.  Spring Lake is a little body of water that connects by a small channel to Fife Lake.  It is very peaceful in the campground, even though it is fairly close to US-131.

  
After we left the campground, we met Luke Jordan, a gentleman who has hiked the entire trail, even along the incomplete portions.  He is in the process of having his book about the experience published.

  
At one point, the trail crosses the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad.  These tracks are used maybe one or two times a week.  This is the route that Ernest Hemingway used to take on his trips north to Walloon Lake from Chicago.

  
We also traversed a newly completed bridge over a small creek.

  
When we were hiking on the spur back into town, we met Linda Forwerck.  She is the Fife Lake Township Supervisor.  We had a delightful conversation with her about all of the exciting things that are happening in the area.  Fife Lake was a logging center in the 1800’s, and at one time there were three sawmills on the lake.  Today, there are several businesses in town, all doing quite well.  The trail town status will bring even more business to the village.

  
Some are housed in century-old buildings.  Diana’s dad used this hardware store often.

  
The hike ended up at Fife Lakeside Park.  The North Country Trail Association had tents set up, handing out information about the trail and volunteering opportunities.  They also had food and soft drinks, along with a trio playing contemporary music.

  The park has a small beach, and is located next to the state boat launch.  Fife Lake is best described as one mile in diameter, and is fairly close to symmetrical.  There are two small islands in the southwestern portion of the lake.  This photo looks towards those islands, and the cottage Diana’s parents owned is just to the left of the islands and just to the right of the tree in the foreground.
  
The Grand Traverse Hiking Club had their trailer at the event.

  
Inside was just about anything they would need to construct a trail.  They are obviously well organized!

While we were at the park, we heard a commotion by the tracks.  We went over to investigate.

  
We saw these little restored railroad service cars coming down the tracks.  After a little investigation, we found out that they are part of an organization called the North American Railcar Operators Association.  They are all privately owned, and they take tours on local railroads.  This particular event had 40 cars and went on a round trip from Traverse City, through Petoskey and Cadillac.  It cost each car a little over $500, and that included two night’s lodging.  We’ve never seen anything like it.  Their air horns were particularly amusing!

  
After the event, we took the Escape out on the two-track seasonal roads south of town. We were curious to see some of the outlying portions of the trail.  

  
This is Headquarters Lake, which is a large wetland.  It is fed by Fife Lake Creek, which is the outlet from Fife Lake.  The water finds its way from Headquarters Lake into the Manistee River, then into Lake Michigan and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The NCT runs alongside the creek and Headquarters Lake.

  

We used to snowmobile and ski along these two-tracks. It was a lot easier to find our way this time, as we had Google Maps to guide us!
  
At the southern end of the loop trail, we came to the Old US-131 State Forest Campground.  It is located on the Manistee River.  Part of our reason for checking it out was to find a kayak take-out point on the Manistee. The canoe launch looked like it might be difficult to use to disembark.

  
We did find this trail sign though.  Looks like an easy 2400 miles to go to get to the eastern terminus of the trail in New York!  Eventually, they will link it to the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.

After leaving the campground, we headed down to the rest area on the new portion of US-131.  There is a boat launch at the south end of the rest area, and it has a nice concrete ramp. We decided that this would be an ideal place to use as a kayak take-out. Plenty of parking to stage a vehicle also.  We talked to the owner of Missaukee Paddlesports at the ramp, as she was waiting for a group of paddlers to come in.  She tipped us off to a put-in a little ways up the river. Looks like a paddle day is in our future.

  
On our way out of the rest area to go check out the put-in, we noticed this sign for the NCT.  Looks like an easy 2200 miles to the western terminus of the trail in North Dakota.  There it links up to the Lewis and Clark Trail.

All in all, it was a tremendous day to get out in the woods.  What made it better was the fact that we were familiar with these pathways, and to see them being celebrated as a national treasure just made it that much sweeter.

Do you have a favorite trail that you would like to share?  We would love to hear about it!

21 thoughts on “Fife Lake / North Country Trail”

  1. Hiking as many trails as we have over the last few years, I have such an appreciation for those that created (and continue to create) trails. What a tremendous amount of work finding the best location and then creating it, not to mention adding all the signs. We just learned about the NCT while hiking some trails around Lake Superior. Quite a lot of hard work by many dedicated people:) Looks like a fun day!

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  2. Never heard of that trail. What an amazing amount of work that goes into building and connecting trails. The lakes are lovely and what a great time it looked like you had hiking. I really loved those cute rail cars! I didn’t know you could put your own “car” on a track. What a fun trip that would be. Just goes to show you, there are so many varied interests out there! Looking forward to a future post about the paddle. I love the PCT in the west. Would love to hike the whole thing at once, but don’t have anyone else up for it. As I get older, I’m happy with hiking segments of it.

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    1. It is very well marked. The only thing you have to watch for in that area is the point where the much older Michigan Shore to Shore hiking trail crosses the NCT. Both are blue! I’m sure that is well marked at that intersection. Diana hiked that all the way across Michigan as a Girl Scout in her teens.

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  3. You guys are having way too much fun! Particularly seeing as I’m stuck mostly in bed for several days nursing a sprained ankle (more on that in my blog in a few days).
    I’m curious how they have gotten 4700 miles of trail in 7 states! I will be exploring their website for sure. The trail itself (the parts in your pictures) is really nice. The hiking groups there do a fine job of making them accessible. Kudos to them!
    I am fascinated by things railroad, and things MINING railroad — the cars they used to get minerals OUT of the mines. Usually on the way East I stop in Wallace ID and go through their museums again, but not this year (we’re further south).
    You almost make me want to come to Michigan. 🙂

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    1. We hope your ankle is OK! I am always tripping over things, and did so on the trail…due to my trifocals. 🙂

      They only have 2700 of the 4700 miles of the trail done, but they have a good idea where they want to go with it.

      Funny you should mention Wallace. We happened into that town when they were filming Dante’s Peak. Downtown looked like it had been hit by a bomb. When they told us it was a movie about a volcanic eruption, we laughed…as there isn’t anything that remotely looks like a volcano in sight! We still laugh about that movie and the fact that they HAD to go through the acid-filled lake (resulting in Grandma’s demise), yet their dog Scruffy found his way around along the shore.

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      1. We’ll be ok — it just takes time to heal.
        Your trail sounds like the process of building the Glacial Trail in WI — they got a grant and then worried about where they were going to build it! Still and all it looks lovely!

        So funny about the movie. I’ve watched it and not realized that was Wallace.

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  4. While I’m thinking about it, seeing that small hardware store brings back memories. My parents owned one of those in the early 50’s and I spent some of my formative years living in the back of the store with my folks. I’ve always had a soft spot for hardware ever since.

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  5. What a wonderful place to walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. Great way to celebrate this piece of the North Country Trail – it looks like an amazing trail btw looking at your map. It definitely crosses some beautiful areas. Kudos to all the volunteers making these types of trails available! 2400 to NY and 2200 to ND Fife Lake loop seems to be situated in the middle of the trail?

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    1. Fairly close to the middle. I think the center is closer to Grand Rapids. The headquarters for the trail is located in the town of Lowell, which is just east of Grand Rapids, Inger. We can’t wait to experience other segments of this trail farther east and west. When we do, we will post about it. 🙂

      We really liked that latest hike you and your hubby shared on your blog!

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