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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Do you know of another Michigan Trail worth exploring! Please Share !
probably a silly question but can I camp any where besides the designated camp areas near the lake? this will probably be my first backpack trip and I want to make it 2-3 nights
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: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5270138.pdf 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 🙂