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The Best Backpacking in Michigan, a Comprehensive Guide!

Featuring spectacular views, when backpacking in Michigan, mountain peaks top out at 1,000 feet above Lake Superior. Including one of the wilder sections of the North Country Trail, with 60,000 acres, you have more than 90 miles of trail!

Backpacking In Michigan
Backpacking In Michigan

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, backpacking in michigan

Reserve or camp one of the rustic backcountry cabins.

Spanning at least 31,000 acres, the Porcupine Mountains are home to the most extensive stand of old growth northern hardwood forest west of the Adirondack Mountains in North America. Yellow Birch, Eastern Hemlock, American Basswood, and Sugar Maple, in these forests, are the most abundant tree species.

Porcupine Mountains
Porcupine Mountains, backpacking in michigan

To protect this large stand of old growth forest, Porcupine Mountains State Park was established in 1945. Michigan passed the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act in 1972. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, this act gave the park the new designation. Including various interpretive programs led by park rangers, boating and swimming areas, modern campgrounds, rustic trailside cabins, and an extensive network of backcountry trails for wilderness backpacking and hiking, are the facilities provided by the park.

Backcountry Trails
Backcountry Trails, backpacking in michigan

Making up a portion of the 87 miles (140 km) of hiking trails, the North Country Trail passes through the park. A ski area also operates within the park in the winter. It is a cooperating unit of Keweenaw National Historical Park, because of the copper mining history of the park.

Wildlife in the park includes porcupines, black bears, lynx, bobcat, minks, marten, fisher, beaver, river otters, red and gray foxes, coyotes, white tailed deer, gray wolves, and moose.

Black Bear
Black Bear, backpacking in michigan

Backpacking in Michigan Area History

Near the shore of Lake Superior, the Porkies, or Porcupine Mountains, are a group of small mountains spanning across the northwestern Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties. Supposedly because their silhouette had the shape of a porcupine, the Porcupine Mountains were named by the native Ojibwa people.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior, backpacking in michigan

In the 19th century, the Porcupine Mountains were the site of copper mining. Which operated sporadically from 1867 to 1912, one of these mines is the Nonesuch Mine. Home to many black bears, the Porkies are also the location of a large stand of old growth forest. Especially the Lake of the Clouds in the heart of the mountains, the area is popular among tourists.

Lake of the Clouds
Lake of the Clouds, backpacking in michigan

Features of the Park

On the other side of Lake of the Clouds, a ridge farther inland, includes Summit Peak, the highest point in the mountains at 1,958 feet (595 m). Lakes, swamps, waterfalls, and rivers lie between the rocky outcroppings. In the extreme western side of the park, there are a number of waterfalls on the Presque Isle River.

Manabezho Falls On The Presque Isle River
Manabezho Falls On The Presque Isle River, backpacking in michigan

From Lake Superior, the mountains are subject to heavy Lake effect snow. No official records are maintained anywhere in the mountains, but the relatively high elevation of the mountains and their proximity to the lake provide perfect conditions for lake effect snow. In the higher elevations, totals of well over 250 inches annually are likely. In this area, 300 inch seasons are not uncommon.

Lake Effect Snow
Lake Effect Snow, backpacking in michigan

Frequently encountered in the park are Black bears! Bear bags must be suspended at least twelve feet above the ground and far enough from the tree to prevent an animal from jumping on or reaching it, when backcountry camping. Ask a park ranger if a bear canister can be used instead. Never feed animals! Feeding wildlife causes them to lose their natural fear of humans, exposes them to other dangers and predators, alters natural behaviors, and damages their health.

In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is fifteen miles west of Ontonagon. In the Midwest, the park's 60,000 acres are one of the few remaining large wilderness areas. Streams, and miles of wild rivers, secluded lakes and towering virgin timber make a visit to the Porkies a trip to remember! Planning your backpacking in Michigan trip may require the use of various backpacking maps at Michigan's largest state park. Along with trail maps, make sure you have these.

Ontonagon, backpacking in michigan

Backpacking in Michigan on The North Country Trail

In the Manistee National Forest, hikers get their first glimpse of the Northwoods. Enjoy great hiking along the Manistee River Trail and sandy soils that support a pine hardwood forest, which forms a great loop hike opportunity, within Manistee National Forest. Near the Hodenpyl Dam Pond which features a fabulous new trail along the Manistee River and Hodenpyl Dam Pond, the NCT leaves the Manistee National Forest.

The Manistee River Trail
The Manistee River Trail, backpacking in michigan

The NCT, continuing south of Traverse City to Kalkaska, is routed through the Pere Maruette State Forest which feature a number of year round recreation opportunities. Featuring a scenic loop hike near Alba, the next jewel along the NCT is the Jordan River Pathway. Through the Mackinaw State Forest, from here the trail heads towards Petoskey.

The Jordan River Pathway
The Jordan River Pathway, backpacking in michigan

Where the trail follows the Lake Michigan shoreline, north of Petoskey wonderful hiking opportunities exist in Wilderness State Park. The lights of Mackinaw Bridge become visible, as one leaves Wilderness State Park and heads towards Mackinaw City.

Wilderness State Park
Wilderness State Park, backpacking in michigan

You are sure to find much beauty, serenity and peace on your backpacking in Michigan hike, wheather you take one of the other fine Michigan backpacking trails or the North Country Trail!

The North Country Trail!
The North Country Trail, backpacking in michigan

More of the North Country Trail

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