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Spring Backpacking: A True Escape

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A backcountry campsite at Negwegon State Park

This year, thanks to a warm winter, instead of thinking “spring ski,” many of us are pondering and planning our first backpacking trek.

The nights can still get cold (pack that heavy jersey) and rain or even wet sleet is a possibility but camp fires at night are much more enjoyable in weather like this. Best of all the summer rush of tourists has yet to materialize and, more times than not, that backcountry campsite and even the lake it overlooks will be all yours.

A true escape.

Just keep in mind this might be the first time you’ll shoulder that backpack since last summer. Begin the backpacking season with an easy overnighter. Throw together a light pack with just the essentials for a quick escape somewhere up north but not too far up north. Don't even think about crossing the Mackinac Bridge.
     
Here's where to go in the Lower Peninsula for that early season backpack along a trail that ends at a backcountry campsite: 

Pine Valleys Pathway: Located 13 miles north of Baldwin or a half hour from Cadillac is this state forest pathway in Lake County. The trail is basically a 4-mile loop that winds through the open forest to Lost Lake.
       
This totally undeveloped lake features clear water and a shoreline of steep, wooded bluffs except at the west end where there are five walk-in campsites. Camp here and wild turkeys and deer will be your neighbors for the evening.

Manistee River Trail: Completed in 1992, Manistee River Trail is a level and easy 11-mile hike that skirts the river bluff providing backpackers numerous opportunities to gaze down at the Manistee. It’s lined with 22 walk-in campsites and a number of them can be reached after a short trek from one of several  trailheads.
 
The best in early spring, however, are sites No. 2b and No. 2c that are located near the trail’s waterfall, one of only two in the Lower Peninsula. The cascade is best enjoyed in early spring when there is enough runoff that it actually looks like a waterfall as oppose to a dribble in mid-August.
 
The 3-mile hike is from Seaton Creek Campground south of Mesick in the Manistee National Forest. Along the way you’ll pass four more campsites with site No. 1c located on the edge of the river bluff with a spectacular view of the Manistee River flowing through a horseshoe bend. For a map of the trail click here.

Negwegon State Park: Acquired in 1962, Negwegon is a 3,738-acre park in Alcona County with few amenities. Besides the gravel entrance drive and parking area, the only other development in Negwegon 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. 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. Algonquin Trail, a crossover spur, shortens the loop to 3.7 miles.
 
The hike to the South Point campsite is a 2.2-mile trek and features only a picnic table, fire ring, wilderness toilet and a bear pole (pack a water filter!). But it overlooks the Lake Huron shoreline, rewarding campers who spend the energy to hike in with quiet evenings and spectacular sunrises.

Bowman Lake Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized Area: Part of the Manistee National Forest near Baldwin, this 1,000-acre tract features its namesake lake, rolling wooded terrain and 3 miles of the North Country Trail that splits it north to south.
     
Bowman Lake is a glacial depression that filled with water when the ice melted. Its shoreline of steep ridges gives you the feeling of northwoods seclusion even though you're only a half mile from a paved road. The tract also contains several more depressions that were carved by glaciers 10,000 years ago but never filled with water. Today they appear as large pits devoid of trees in the middle.
 
You can wander and camp anywhere in the tract but the vast majority of visitors never venture much beyond Bowman Lake where there are a series of walk-in campsites. Encircling the lake is the Bowman Lake Trail, a 2.5-mile foot path that is separate from the NCT and marked by a series of gray diamonds.
 
Many turn Bowman Lake into an overnight trek from Bowman Bridge Campground, a one-way hike of 2 miles to the campsites. But you can easily shorten it to just a half mile by beginning at the Bowman Lake Trailhead on 56th Street west of Baldwin.

Reid Lake Foot Travel Area: This non-motorized area is on the east side of the state in the Huron National Forest. The centerpiece is Reid Lake but the 4,000-acre tract also contains beaver ponds, marshes and a 12-mile network of trails.
     
Overlooking the lake is a series of a backcountry campsites with fire rings. You can reach the sites with a hike of less than a mile or turn the two-day adventure into an easy walk of 5.25 miles.

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