In Michigan, being outdoors can mean relaxing on a sandy beach or getting lost in the wilderness. One of the hidden places described below will let you do both. Here are three places that you haven’t seen in magazine articles and guide books.
You can float the Manistee River from Baxter Bridge (the next crossing down from Hwy 131) north of Cadillac, all day without seeing a house or a road. The majority of the route is in the Manistee National Forest, where you can camp without permits. The Manistee isn’t a river full of exciting rapids (at least not on this stretch). It is a river for relaxing.
A few years back, we used to park where Road 17 crosses the river, and hike upstream with a small day pack loaded with snacks, water, a saw, hatchet, and rope. By early afternoon we would build a raft of dead trees cut to length. We spent the following hours floating back to the car. We called it Tom Sawyer Day, and on six of these trips I have never passed another canoe or boat on the river.
Michigan Outdoors – Beaches
Probably you have heard of or been to the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore (and the dunes), and the other sandy spots along the east side of Lake Michigan. They are beautiful, and I highly recommend them, but what if you want a beach to yourself? Head north, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
From Highway 2, a couple miles east of Rapid River, turn south on County road 513. Follow it until it splits, and take the road to Wilsey Bay. Where the road first comes to the water, it is a public access point. Leave your car here and walk a mile to the end of the road, and then along the rocky beach past the last house (stay below the high-water mark and it is legal to walk past private property).
Just past the house you enter the Hiawatha National Forest for the next seven miles of beach. The last time I camped out there, I never saw a person in two days. One morning I followed fresh black bear tracks along the sandy beach, and later explored the ruins of an old cabin. There are no roads into this area, and ATV’s are not permitted. If you want forested wilderness, just walk away from the beach – and watch for wild blueberries in the forest clearings if it is August or September.
Michigan Outdoors – Really Hidden
You’ll want a topographical map for this one. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, north of Ishpeming, there is some wild and rough country. Driving out of Ishpeming, you’ll wind through rocky lakes and woods. An hour north, on a sandy road, you’ll come to a river with two-hundred foot high cliffs on the other side. I promised friends not to get more specific than this, so you’ll have to work a bit to find it.
Continue a bit further, until the road gets too rough or the puddles too deep. Park the car and find a log to cross the small river on, then head uphill (you may need your hands to go up the wooded hillside). Beyond and on top of those cliffs and hills there are two lakes, just a thirty minute walk away, surrounded by a rocky wilderness, and with no trail going to them. My brother had a trout on the line in ten seconds the first time I took him there. Good luck!