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Cheboygan State Park
Acre for acre, Cheboygan State Park might be one of most underused units in the Lower Peninsula, a park that contains almost 5 miles of Great Lakes shoreline yet attracts less than 50,000 visitors annually. For hikers who take the time to visit this park and are willing to endure soggy socks, that means a scenic beach walk and a bit of solitude with few if any other people around.
The 1,250-acre park features a day-use area and swimming beach in its southwest corner along Duncan Bay and a modern campground with 76 sites just north of it. Other than that Cheboygan for the most part is either low-lying forest and cedar swamps or Lake Huron beach and windswept dunes. It’s a place where soggy trails often lead to spectacular sand.
The park has 6 miles of trails and this hike is the perimeter of the system, a 5.5-mile trek that begins and ends at the campground and includes what was once known as the Lighthouse Ruins Trail. Today the various trails are color-coded and labeled on park maps by their colors but Lighthouse Ruins Trail remains a much more descriptive name for this walk.
The highlight of any hike in the park is the excellent coastal scenery that includes several offshore lighthouses, miles of beachcombing, and the ruins of an 1859 lighthouse. The Red and Yellow Trails through the interior of the park are the wettest. If you begin at a trailhead along the park road, you can bypass these sections and combine the rest of the trails for a relatively dry 4-mile hike to Cheboygan Point.
In the campground the Yellow Trail departs site No. 54 and by staying right at every junction, you will follow the most interesting section of this loop: a long boardwalk. Reached Mile 0.5, the planked trail leads a quarter mile through a cedar swamp that can be buggy in midsummer but beautiful in the spring and fall.
Head north (right) at post No. 11 and at Mile 1.2 you break out at Seffern Road and cross it to post No. 12, marking the Blue Trail. This short segment returns to the woods and quickly crosses the dirt two-track that serves as the cabin access road to post No. 3. Head east (right) at the junction to quickly reach post No. 1 and then north (left) to pick up the start of the Green Trail. At Mile 1.5 you finally emerge at Lake Huron at post No. 2 just down the shore from the Poe’s Reef Cabin. A bench is located here and you can take a break while viewing Poe Reef Light almost 3 miles offshore.
Head west (left) and follow the green-tipped posts for one of the most scenic hikes on the east side of the state. For almost 2 miles, the trail is literally a walk along the beach in an area of the park that is open only to hikers and the handful of people who are renting the cabins. At Mile 2.3 you pass 14-Foot Shoals Cabin and then come to a sign and spur leading to the lighthouse ruins that will also be passed on the return. Nearby is a bench with a fine view of 14-Foot Shoals Light less than a mile offshore.
You continue west along on a wide, sandy beach, and at Mile 2.7 come to Lighthouse Point Cabin. This is newest park rental cabin and also the most spectacular. The two-room cabin sleeps eight and includes a screened-in porch and is within view of the lapping waters of the Lake Huron beach.
Within a quarter mile the Green Trail cuts the base of Lighthouse Point and then reaches post No. 6 near Cheboygan Point at Mile 3.3. Another bench is located here with a view of 14-Foot Shoals Light while the Green Trail swings south to become the Black Trail.
The return on the Black Trail begins in open and grassy dunes before moving into the woods just before crossing the dirt road leading to Lighthouse Point Cabin at Mile 3.8. Within a 0.3 mile you reach the old stone foundation and partial rock walls that are the lighthouse ruins. Cheboygan Point Light was first built on a pier in Lake Huron in 1851 but lasted only a few years due to rough water and winter ice. In 1859, it was rebuilt on shore and was operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service until 1930. The crumbling rocks that remain were the foundation of the lightkeeper’s house that was attached to the tower.
Just beyond the ruins you arrive at post No. 5, indicating the start of the Blue Trail which begins by paralleling the cabin access road. At times it’s easier just to hike the two-track than to hunt for the foot path. At Mile 4.7 you arrive at the post No. 4, marking the junction with the Red Trail that heads south (right) for the campground. This 0.7-mile segment can be wet when it passes through some cedar swamps in the middle. The Red Trail then ends just up the road from the campground contact station.
The park maintains a modern campground of 76 sites along Duncan Bay, 4 miles away from its day-use area. The campground is in a semi-open area with no sites directly on the bay but all a short walk away. Duncan Bay along the campground is a rocky shoreline with a heavy growth of aquatic plants, great for bass anglers but not too desirable for swimmers.
Scattered along the trails are three rustic cabins that can be rented in advance for $65 a night. All three state park cabins are situated just inland from Lake Huron in the restricted portion of the park; only those who rent them are allowed to drive the rutted two-track along the north shore. Amenities include eight bunks, a hand pump, outhouse, your own stretch of beach, and quick access to the trail system. For $65 a night many people think this is the best summer rental in Michigan.
Cheboygan State Park is open year-round and a state park pass or daily vehicle entry fee is required to enter. The campground fills on holidays and a few weekends, especially Labor Day, when people arrive for the annual walk across the Mackinac Bridge, but there are usually available sites the rest of the summer. Cabins and campsites can be reserved in advance(800-44-PARKS; www.midnrreservations.com).
Cheboygan State Park is 3 miles east of the city of Cheboygan with a posted entrance off US-23. Once inside follow the Seffern Road to the campground. Two posted trailheads with display maps will be passed along the road before reaching the campground where the third trailhead is located next to site No. 54.
For more information or trail conditions contact Cheboygan State Park (231-627-2811).
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