I have found another Michigan trail close to home that serves as an easy  weekend get away. Hoist Lakes is located in the Huron-Manistee Forest and is only about 3 hours north of Detroit. Three short hours to lake-side campsites, wildlife sightings and old growth forests.  This is just another hidden Michigan gem that provides great wilderness adventures and an opportunity to make a quick departure after work on Friday or early Saturday morning to escape the city and enjoy a bit of solitude and natural Michigan beauty.

Byron Lake

The Hoist Lakes foot travel area has about 19 miles worth of trails, all connected to make a loop system. The loop can be accessed from the east or west side trailheads.  The northern trail is somewhat hilly but mostly forest scenery. I didn’t see another person on this section of trail. What it lacks in impressive views, it makes up for in tranquility and animal life. The southern loop is a bit more scenic, dotted with wetlands, ponds, and 6 small lakes.  Byron Lake and the Hoist Lakes draw the biggest crowds because their campsites are primo.

The trail system is perfect for newbies since you won’t need mad map skills to navigate. The trails are wide, cleared and well maintained. Each section is marked with a number post and the loop trail map with distances.

PDF of USDA Forest Service Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Map

The trail on the north section is about 9.2 miles long (following posts 1-6-8-10).  This would leave about 5.5 miles (from post 10-14-1) left for a scenic hike back to the car the next day. The miles can be broken up any number of ways depending on the number of nights you want to spend and the sections of trail you wish to hike.  This trail can easily be done as an overnight, but a two night adventure would give you an opportunity to enjoy camping at both Byron and Hoist Lakes and enjoy a more relaxed pace.

East Trail Head Parking Lot: the start of this one night journey.

Our group left the east side trailhead (off M-65 road) parking lot on a chilly Saturday morning for an overnight trip. I had my new pup en tow for his first backpacking trip since the trail wasn’t a technical adventure and was pet friendly. Ottis seemed pleased to be sporting a pack of his own; nose to the ground and smells all around.

Ottis taking in the trail and carrying his own gear.

The northern loop is more of a pleasant walk in the woods; certainly what you would expect to find in central michigan as far as landscapes go.

Calm before the storm.

There is plenty of wildlife to be seen here; lots of birds chirping, deer trotting through the woods, coyote tracks left behind from their cunning nighttime social hours.  Almost running into mama bear and cub on the trail while turning a corner was a friendly reminder that you’re never alone outdoors and are a visitor in someone else’s home.  Be sure to be alert and hang your food at camp.  Other hikers on the trail that weekend saw bears here as well.  I had missed peak fall colors by about a month and the forest floor was covered in brown leaves, but somehow was still beautiful. On a cold November day, the weather (true to form for Michigan) took a turn and hail teemed down before turning to a bitter rain.  Thankfully, a couple of hours later the foul weather let up and gave way to a beautiful evening.

Byron Lake by day.

Byron lake was jammed packed with campers and hikers. For a frigid, drizzly November weekend, I was shocked to find so many people here. This is apparently a popular trail with the local Scout Troops.  No problem though, there are several great campsites around the lake, each separated and secluded enough to provide privacy at your campsite.

Every site has a great view to Byron Lake.

Many of the sites can accommodate several tents and most have some type of fire pit area.  A spur trail loops around the lake and leads to all of the lakeside sites.   I believe there were about 8 to 10 established sites around the perimeter of lake.

Each campsite had a make-shift fire pit and seating area.

Because Byron lake is easily accessed from the west trailhead (approx 1.7 miles in), it can be a popular spot. Get there early to snag the best sites on the lake. My two favorites sites were at the NE and SW ends of the lake. One is next to the sandy beach, close to the water with views of the entire lake. The other is at the opposite side of the lake, a bit more secluded but also has a pretty spectacular view across the lake and both with established fire rings. That being said, you really can’t go wrong with any of the sites here. There is no water other than lake water here so be prepared to treat the water you drink.  There is plenty of dead wood laying around to get a fire going. On a frigid November night with temps dropping to the low 30s, a campfire was a welcome treat. A bit of birch bark had the fire up and blazing in a hot second. Ottis and the crew enjoyed unobstructed night sky views from the campsite. The stars reflected on the lake and the howls of coyotes filled the air as the night came on.

Star’s reflection on a crystal clear night over Byron Lake
The stars on this night were brighter than I’ve seen in a very long time. With no nearby cities to spoil the view, the star gazing here is phenomenal.   The trees block the direct views of sunset and sunrise but the colorful clouds are reflected on the lake surface creating an artistic, serene setting.
Frosty Morning on Byron Lake
Waking up to this view in the morning was the icing on top of the cake.  The mist on the perfectly still lake and the reflections of the trees and frosty grass on the water was an errie and mystical sight. These are the kind of places so quiet and perfect, they help reset your body and slow the over-taxed mind after a hard week at work; bringing you back to appreciate the simpler things in life.
Another lake on the south trail.
Sunday’s hike was across the lake-filled southern trail section on a beautiful sunny day.  The southern section is far more interesting and scenic than its northern counterpart. I did see a couple of campsites at No-name lake but they were not as impressive as those at Byron.  Hoist lakes (north and south) were as impressive as Byron lake in my opinion. There are some fabulous sites here (I’ll know for next time) that sit on a bluff overlooking the lake in all its glory.  The trail in this section is more hilly so it’s a bit more challenging but totally manageable for all skill levels.

Most people think that you have to cross over the Mackinac Bridge to Michigan’s UP to find great hiking. I beg to differ ! The more I explore this awesome state, the more I discover these little gems that are not often talked about or known, but are treasures worth checking out.  And so close to home? What’s your excuse now? Throw your pack in the car after work on Friday and escape the city for the weekend.  Your over-worked body and mind will thank you for the quick dose of nature therapy.
Byron Lake from the Sandy Beach

Do you know of another Michigan Trail worth exploring! Please Share !

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3 thoughts

    1. You could hike and camp one night at Byron Lake and One night at hoist lake. While the National Forest does allow dispersed camping according to their regulations: it is always best to aim for a campsite that already exists to reduce your impact and abide by Leave No Trace Principles. There are many campsites in the Lakes location that would suit a 2-3 day trip and it will make your first backpacking trip easier for you to have a designated area already laid out 🙂


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