Without a doubt, any trail that can be done as a loop is most convenient for backpacking trips. It avoids repeating trail sections and backtracking to your car. There are no time-consuming two cars shuffles from trailhead to trailhead. If you are looking for an awesome beginner loop hike to try out backpacking, the Jordan River Pathway is an ideal candidate. The trail is easy to navigate, has a rustic but convenient campground, and has fairly easy hiking with diverse trail conditions to keep you interested while you learn the ropes of backpacking.
This is another beautiful section of the North Country Trail that can be part of a longer hike if you wish, or done as an awesome weekend adventure. If you are looking to get away after work on Friday, the trail is only a straight, 3.5-4 hour drive north from Detroit. Michigan continues to amaze me with its diverse pockets of landscapes like the Jordan River Valley area. This trail would be great during any season. Spring brings beautiful wildflowers and animal life, summer has great temperatures and green views, while fall creates sweeping, colorful views from the various outlooks.
What: Jordan River Pathway Loop with North Country Trail
Where: near Mancelona, Antrim County, Michigan
Distance: 18.7 Miles *Note Detour*
When: Year Round
Awesomeness Factors: Rivers and creeks, several vistas and overlooks, Deadman’s Hill.
Depending on your adventure style, there are a couple of options available since you are limited by camping regulations in this area. Camping is only permitted at Pinney Bridge Campground along the Jordan River Pathway. The Graves Crossing State Forest Campground would be a convenient option for the night before the hike. Both campgrounds have fire rings, picnic tables, a water pump and toilets for $13 self pay/night. The only difference is that Pinney Bridge is a walk-in campground (about 1/4 mile from parking area).
Option 1: Backpacking Style
Stay at Graves campground on Friday night.Drive to Deadman’s Trailhead (25min drive). Hike with all of your gear (approx 10 miles/day) and overnight at Pinney Bridge Campground. From here, hike the rest of the trail to Deadman’s Trailhead on Day 2. The same option could be done if you arrive at Deadman’s hill trailhead on Saturday morning.
Option 2: Day hiking/Car Camping Style
Set up camp at Pinney Bridge on Friday night. Drive to Deadman’s Hill trailhead (30mins drive) in the morning. This would allow you to hike with small day pack to Pinney Bridge for the night. On day 2 you would complete the trail to Deadman’s Hill. The only downside of this option is that you either have to carry your gear with you on Day 2, or drive back to pick up your gear at Pinney at the end of the day.
There are several places to start the trail, but I would recommend starting at Deadman’s Hill, the general halfway point of the trail. There is plenty of parking and overnight hiker parking at this location. If you can, resist sneaking a peek of the view from Deadman’s Hill so that you are rewarded at the end of the hike with the stunning vista. You can pick up the Jordan River Loop trail from the parking lot by the trail marker and sign. The Jordan River Pathway is marked with blue circles. When the NCT and the JRP are marked together, the trail markers resemble an exclamation mark !
We started on the west side of the trail, heading south on Day 1. NOTE: There is currently a detour (see map at bottom of post) on this side of the trail. The detour has you walk down Deadman’s Hill and then back up, via the 3 mile loop trail before you catch the detour near the top. You will follow a flat road bed and pick the trail back up at Jordan River Rd. The detour is very well marked. We did this hike in late April and were expecting flooded sections in this low-lying area. A couple of sections were muddy but our feet stayed dry throughout the hike. We found lots of evidence of beaver life around the river. The wildflowers had just started popping up and a green blanket was taking over the forest floor.
A steep climb before reaching camp leads to an incredible lookout over the River Valley. A great reward for a long day’s hike. The trail departs the lookout and leads downhill to Pinney Bridge Campground. Total mileage on day one is about 8.7 miles (more if you encounter the detour along the way).
We saw lots of fisherman trying their luck at the bridge at Pinney Bridge Campground. Bring along your fishing rod and see if you can catch your dinner tonight. Enjoy an evening being serenaded to sleep by the songs of spring peepers, the trickling creek and the distant howls of coyotes.
In the morning, pick up the east side (heading north) of the trail in the Pinney Bridge parking area. Prepare for lots of ups and downs on this side of the trail. It starts with a steep incline from the parking lot to make sure you are warmed up for the day. Landslide Overlook, about 3.6 miles from the Pinney Bridge Trailhead, is a great spot for a picnic lunch.
You will finish the trail at the much-anticipated, Deadman’s Hill. Your reward is the view you have waited for all weekend. Take in the pretty incredible combo of sweeping hills and valleys. I imagine this view would be even more breathtaking during the fall in full color. All in all, another perfect weekend spent enjoying the beauty of Michigan.
What other Michigan gems do you know of? Care to share?