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Amenities

  • Camping
  • Dog Friendly
  • Difficulty - Easy
  • Foot Path

Highbanks Trail-Huron National Forest

River Road
Oscoda, MI
Phone: 989-362-8961
Website

Get Driving Directions:

Iosco County
Lat: N 44° 26' 29.55"
Lon: W 083° 40' 36.76"
Distance: 4 to 7 miles
Trail Type: Foot path, Nordic ski trail
Terrain: Au Sable River, scenic vistas, Iargo Springs
Difficulty: Easy
Nearest City or Town: Oscoda

Strung along the towering bluffs above the Au Sable River is the Highbanks Trail, a skiing and hiking route that was developed through the Corsair Ski Council and the Huron National Forest. This is a point-to-point trail, and without two vehicles, it’s almost impossible to avoid backtracking. At times the route also winds close to River Road, and the sound of cars speeding by occasionally breaks up the peaceful tranquility of the wooded path.

But the drawbacks are hardly worth considering when compared with what the Highbanks Trail has to offer: outstanding scenery and views, the possibility of spotting a bald eagle during the spring and summer and an opportunity to learn about the life of a logger in the 1800s at the Lumberman’s Monument. With its mostly level contour along the tops of the bluffs, this trail makes an excellent outing for children. The monuments to the past and the panoramas of the river will keep their minds off tired feet.

The entire trail is a 7-mile hike from Iargo Springs to Sawmill Point, where the U.S. Forest Service maintains 17 primitive campsites and a boat launch. Built in 2001, the Sawmill trailhead allows hikers to turn the trek into an overnight adventure with an evening spent on the banks of the Au Sable River.

The most popular stretch to hike is the most scenic portion of the trail, the 4-mile walk from Iargo Springs to Lumberman’s Monument. This segment can also be turned into an overnight trek by camping at Monument Campground before backtracking to Iargo Springs the next day.      

Trail Guide
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This trek begins at Iargo Springs. To view the springs requires to desced a 300-step stairway to the Au Sable River. At the bottom of the bluff a quarter mile of boardwalk winds through towering cedars to eight observation decks; half of them perched above the gurgling springs, the rest overlooking the Au Sable.

From the Iargo Springs parking lot, Highbanks Trail heads east where it follows the edge of the bluffs briefly, skirts a gully, and then merges into the powerline corridor. You follow this man-made intrusion for a quarter mile until you come to another panorama of the river at Mile 0.8 (including descending to the springs), at which point blue diamonds mark where the trail and electrical lines part company.

The trail continues to hug the forested edge of the banks for another mile, providing you glimpses of the Au Sable River valley between the trees. You break out in the parking lot for Canoer’s Monument at Mile 2.2. The stone monument, topped by a pair of giant paddles, was originally built as a memorial to Jerry Curley, who died training for the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon. Today it stands in honor of all racers who attempt the annual 150-mile event from Grayling to Oscoda, often cited as the toughest canoe race in the country.  

Beyond the monument, Highbanks Trail again skirts the powerlines for a half mile through a terrain that is very sandy and rolling. Eventually the trail swings north to return to the edge of the bluff and at Mile 3 you arrive at one of the best overviews of the AuSable River in the first half of the hike. Standing from the edge of a high bluff, you gaze down at the Cooke Dam Pond, a simply spectacular sight in the fall.

You stay close to the edge for the next half mile and then breakout again at the powerlines before passing underneath them. The final half mile is a level stroll through a red pine plantation before arriving at Lumberman’s Monument at Mile 4.

The monument itself is a 14-foot bronze statue of a timber cruiser with his compass, a sawyer with his cross-cut saw and a river rat using a peavey to turn a log. The adjacent outdoor exhibit area features replicas of a rollway and logjam while a hands-on peavey display lets you try your skill at being a river rat turning a log. 

Nearby are observation decks along the edge of the bluffs and a stairway that descends 260 steps to the shores of the Au Sable. Tied up at the bottom of the stairs is a replica of a wanigan; the cook's raft that followed the log drives and kept the river rats well fed. 

Along with parking, Iargo Springs features vault toilets, picnic shelters, and drinking water. 

Along with the bronze lumbermen at Lumberman's Monument is a day-use area with picnic tables, restrooms, drinking water nature and the Lumberman's Monument Visitor Center that is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from May until the colors fade away in the third week of October.

Monument Campground is a U.S. Forest Service facility with 20 rustic sites in a red pine plantation. Amenities include fire rings, picnic tables, drinking water and vault toilets.

Highbanks Trail is used year-round including by cross-country skiers in the winter but is not track-set or groomed. There is a nightly fee for camping at Monument Campground, a rustic facility near Lumberman’s Monument. 

Highbanks Trail is access via River Road.  The 22-mile, paved road along 4.3 miles of M-65 roughly parallel the south bank of the Au Sable River and in 2005 was designated a National Scenic Byway. Iargo Springs, the western trailhead for the Highbanks Trail, is located a mile east of M-65 on River Road. The Lumberman’s Monument is 3 miles farther east along River Road.

For more information contact the Huron Shores Ranger Station (989-362-8961) in Oscoda or check the Huron-Manistee National Forests web site (www.fs.fed.us/r9/hmnf). 

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