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Buttles Road Pathway
Originally set up as a cross country ski trail, Buttles Road Pathway in Mackinaw State Forest now also attracts mountain bikers as well as an occasional hiker interested in the sink hole terrain. But the pathway is still best enjoyed in the winter on skis or snowshoes as a layer of snow makes the clearcuts and old gas fields scattered in the area much more tolerable.
Buttles Road is located in the western edge of Montmorency County, only a 30-minute drive from Gaylord and less than 4 miles north of Lewiston. The pathway is basically a 6-mile loop from the trailhead off Buttles Road with two crossover spurs for shorter loops of 2 miles and 3.1 miles.
The most interesting features of Buttles Road Pathway are the karst sinkholes, a landscape unique to the counties of Presque Isle, Alpena and Montmorency. Sinkholes, also known as sinks or swallow holes, because they "swallow" streams, are created when water dissolves away passages and holes in layers of limestone, leaving behind weakly supported ceilings. When the ceilings collapse, large depressions that range from soil-lined bowls to bedrock-edged chasms are formed.
The first two loops of the pathway follows the rim of a ravine that contains seven sinkholes while the third loop passes Hidden Lake, a sinkhole filled with water. The karst formations along with the rolling jack pine forests and open meadows makes Buttles Road an interesting ski.
The pathway is not groomed, other than locals skiing it before you do. In that respect the best day to ski the trail is Monday when you can usually count on skier-set tracks, at least on the first two loops. If the snow is particularly deep or you arrive just after a heavy snowfall, snowshoes might be a better choice than skis.
Scattered along the trail at each junctions are six numbered posts set up in a clockwise direction. Buttles Road is marked by both blue blazes and triangle DNR pathway signs and is easy to follow. However, there will be times on the third loop when you will need to stop and search for the next blue blaze to stay on course.
From the trailhead at the parking area you quickly reach post No. 1 and then head west (left) to enter a gently rolling woods of jack pine. Soon, the pathway follows the rim of a long, pine-studded sinkhole valley past post No. 2 to post No. 3, reached at Mile 1. Post No. 2 marks the crossover spur for the 2-mile Loop A with the returned reached after a steep descend and climb out of the ravine. Post No. 3 marks the crossover for Loop B, a 3.1-mile route.
Within a third of a mile from post No. 3, the pathway crosses County Road 495, a snowmobile trail in the winter, and then a gas line corridor. More scenic terrain lies ahead on Loop C. The trail winds through rolling hardwoods before climbing a ridge above Crystal Lake, just before arriving at post No. 4 at Mile 2.2.
The post marks the steepest hill of the pathway, a wild dog-leg descent to the shoreline the lake. With the exception of a lone cabin, Crystal Lake is undeveloped, and it’s frozen, usually unmarred surface is a beautiful sight. The trail immediately climbs away from the lake, the steepest ascent of the day, and then swings west (left) onto an old two-track when it tops off. Keep an eye out for trail markers here.
At Mile 2.7 Hidden Lake, a cylindrical sinkhole lake that is surrounded steep wooded bluffs, pops into view. A downhill run follows and then the pathway swings east and emerges from the woods into its first clearing crowned by a capped gas well. A handful such pipes follow before the trailhead is reached — partially buried in snow, the wells do not seem as intrusive as much as when they were active wells.
County Road 495 is re-crossed at Mile 3.4 and Post No. 5, marking the return of Loop B at Mile 4. For the next mile the pathway remains relatively flat, winding between woods and open meadows with capped gas wells. At Mile 4.5, post No. 6 is passed and 0.7 mile later you arrive at the edge of a sinkhole, where somebody, no doubt two befuddled skiers, have posted a sign that reads “Willie’s Wipeout & Teresa’s Trauma” with arrows posted in opposite directions. Here the pathway descends into the sinkhole and then climbs out and no matter whose route you follow, Teresa’s or Willie’s, either can be a short downhill thrill on skis.
The pathway swings south and resumes following the rim of the sinkhole-filled ravine for one last stretch of interesting scenery before reaching post No. 1 at Mile 6.
At the trailhead off of Buttles Road is a large parking area, an information sign and a vault toilet. There is also a fee pipe as donations is what maintains the trail.
There are no vehicle entry fees at Buttles Road Pathway but there is a donation canister to help with trail maintenance.
Getting There: From Gaylord head east on M-32. After passing through the hamlet of Johannesburg, continue east another 9 miles and then turn south on Buttles Road. The trailhead parking lot is on the west side of Buttles Road, 3 miles south of M-32.
Contact the Gaylord office of the Department of Natural Resources (989) 732-3541. For snow conditions contact the Gaylord Area Tourism Bureau (800-345-8621; www.gaylordmichigan.net).
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