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Negwegon State Park-Chippewa Trail
What visitors see first at Negwegon State Park is only 50 yards from the parking area; a crescent-moon bay framed in by a sandy shoreline and the turquoise waters of Lake Huron and unmarred by beach blankets and beer coolers. It’s such an amazing scene that this as far as most people go in the 3,738-acre park in Alcona County.
But beyond the beautiful sandy beaches and 6.5 miles of undeveloped shoreline, Negwegon is a mixture of lowland areas and small ridges with pockets of wetlands and meadows mixed in with stands of mature pine forests, hardwoods and aspen. An abundance of wildlife, from bald eagles and wild turkeys to whitetail deer and black bears, thrive in the area.
Acquired in 1962, Negwegon was renamed from Alpena State Park in 1970 to honor a chief of the Ojibway tribe who was loyal to the U.S. side during the War of 1812. Besides the gravel entrance drive and parking area, the only development Negwegon has ever experienced is the construction of a 10-mile trail system in the early 1990s which was enhanced with the addition of four backcountry campsites in 2009.
The trail system at Negwegon is divided into three loops with posted trailheads located in the parking area. Heading south is the Potawatomi Trail, a 3.3-mile loop that hugs Lake Huron before swinging inland for its return. Departing to the north is the Chippewa Trail, a 7-mile loop past all four backcountry campsites and the spectacular views at the end of South Point, making it one of the finest treks on the sunrise side of the state. A crossover spur labeled Algonquin Trail shortens the loop to 3.7 miles.
The hike to the sites range from a mile to 2.2 miles and the only amenities they feature are a picnic table, fire ring, wilderness toilet and a bear pole. But all are on the Lake Huron shoreline, rewarding campers who spend the energy to hike in with quiet evenings and spectacular sunrises.
Numbered posts are laid out in a counter-clockwise direction on the Chippewa Trail. The first half of the loop follows an old two-track that in the 1800s was Stage Coach Road, the main route between Alpena and Harrisville. The park can be a wet area in the spring or after heavy rains but a series of boardwalks keep you out of the deepest water.
At Mile 1 you arrive at the posted spur to Blue Bell Campsite. Surrounded by pines, the campsite overlooks Lake Huron and is marked along the shoreline as well for kayakers needing a place to pull out and spend the night. In another half mile you reach post No. 2, marking the Algonquin crossover spur to the west and the side trail to Twin Pines Campsite to the east. The hike remains level and easy and quickly you reach the spur to the Pewabic Campsite.
Post No. 3 is at Mile 2, on the edge of a large meadow, marking the side trail to South Point. The open field is where stage coach passengers once took a well deserved break from their jarring journey. Today it's where hikers depart the main loop for the most spectacular views in the park.
The rocky tip of the small peninsula is reached in a half mile and provides a spectacular view of Lake Huron. To the north are Bird Island and Scarecrow Island, a protected nesting area that is part of the Michigan Islands Wilderness Area, while across Thunder Bay you spot the water towers of Alpena. To the south is Negwegon's jagged shoreline. On the way to the rocky tip you pass South Point Campsite, a 2.2-mile hike from the trailhead. This is the most scenic spot by far to pitch a tent as it’s located a low bluff overlooking the waters of Thunder Bay and the two islands just offshore.
To complete the loop return to post No. 3. The Chippewa Trail swings to the west and provides an occasional glimpse of Thunder Bay while crossing a series of high arching bridges over streams and wetlands. Post No. 5 is reached at Mile 4.2 and here the trail swings south and winds through the interior of the park on its return to the trailhead. This stretch, particularly between posts No. 5 and No. 6 is only lightly posted at best and can be wet at times.
Post No. 6, reached at Mile 5.6, marks the junction with the Algonquin Trail that heads to the east (left). Chippewa trail continues south (right). Eventually the trail swings east emerges at the trailhead parking area at Mile 7.
The only facilities in Negwegon are the vault toilets and drinking water in the parking area. There is no drive-in campground in the state park, only walk-in backcountry campsites.
A vehicle permit or annual state park pass is required to enter Negwegon and there is a nightly fee for the campsites. The sites can be reserved in advance through Harrisville State Park (989-724-5126).
From Harrisville head northwest on US-23 for 13 miles and then east on Black River Road (right). Head north (left) on Sand Hill Trail where the park is sign posted and the park entrance will be reached in 2.5 miles. In the past Sand Hill Trail, the only access to Negwegon, was a sandy, deeply rutted county road that in effect made the Lake Huron park the most remote in the Lower Peninsula. But now the Alcona Country Road Commission grades the dirt road on a regular basis during the summer, making the drive in considerably easier.
Additional information about Negwegon is available through Harrisville State Park (989-724-5126) or the web site of the Friends of Negwegon (www.fonsp.org).
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