The third week in September Eric, Alia, and her dog, Ace, did the Fife Lake 21.1 mile overnight loop. Fife Lake is just southeast of Traverse City and about 3.5 hours from Detroit. We left Saturday morning and arrived to the trailhead around 1:30, ate lunch, and set out on the trail. We used the trailhead that was just west of the town, on M-186. It is easy to pass the entrance as it is set back and covered.
A section of the loop (13.6 miles) is part of the North Country Trail that spans from North Dakota to New York. Most of the Fife Lake Loop is on the North Country trail. The other section was recently connected and is called the Fife Lake Trail (7.5 miles), which connects west of the campground and heads north back to the trail head. We chose to hike the longer section of the loop on the first day.
Choosing the longer section first, day one, totals 12.8 miles from the trailhead to the campground. For the most part the trail wasn’t too technical or hilly. I would consider this an easy trail. It had some areas of shade and some of full sun. Some of the paths were wide as they were shared with ATVs. We also crossed a few county roads, railroad tracks, and scenic lakes. We arrived at Spring lake fairly soon and here the trail jogged through the campground. There was water and “bathrooms” available for use there.
We continued on the trail and hiked in between two other small lakes that were divided by a narrow road. We continued on for many more miles and near the end we started to hear and see glimpses of the Manistee river. Soon after we passed through the 131 rest stop, crossed under the highway, and continued for another mile before arriving at the scenic overlook. This was my favorite
part of the hike and we spent some time here soaking in the views.
We arrived at camp before 7 p.m. and of course used the walk in sites. There were car camping sites available, as well as “bathrooms”, and potable water. The walk – in sites were all together, very open, and situated right next to the river.
The night was cool but not too cold and we enjoyed sitting by the river. The bugs (mostly mosquitos) were pretty bad so we made sure to set up camp a little further back from the river. By the time we ate dinner it was nearly time to call it a night.
The next morning left camp around 8 or so. We were quickly rewarded with this scenic view of the bridge for a railroad crossing over the river. We soon crossed the railroad ourselves and shortly after made the turn for the Fife Lake Trail section. This section was not as scenic as the North Country Trail. There were more road crossings and the trails were pretty wide, mostly flat, and grassy. It was still an enjoyable hike. We were able to see the beginning of fall colors and crunchy leaves beneath our boots.
We made good timing back to the car and passed by some marshes and one more lake. We were surprised by the steep uphills in the last mile. The trip as a whole was pretty flat so we weren’t complaining we just weren’t expecting the ups and downs during the last mile. It was nice to get your heart rate up a little at the end of the trip.
Overall, all 3 of us and Ace, really enjoyed the hike. It is hard to find a two day overnight hike when driving out from the Detroit area. So we appreciated having this hike as an option. I’m sure the views are also more scenic a few more weeks in to the fall season.