The Solstice, what to do with so much daylight? Karisma and I were in Frankenmuth the previous day, celebrating my sister's engagement. We decided to continue the celebration with a nice high-mileage day hike, on the Manistee River Trail. This is probably Michigan's most popular backpacking loop when combined with the North Country Trail, and neither of us had tried it yet. During the two and a half hour drive to get there, I did the bare minimum amount of planning: just enough to figure out where we could camp on arrival, where the trailhead was, and which direction would be best to go in.
We arrived at the campground around midnight; a really early start didn't appeal so we were on the trail by nine. We made PB&J sandwiches in the parking lot to supplement the cheese and crackers and the bunches of snacks I packed. Karisma decided to have a cheese and garlic sauce sandwich for breakfast, so for her a PB&J would be an upgrade. The first mile and a half was just getting to the main trail, and included crossing over a beautiful suspension bridge; there were some people on it so we didn't get any good pictures.
The first people we passed warned us about an 'angry swarm of deerflies' they had passed, but we really didn't experience too many bugs, even at sunset. I got a single deerfly bite on my ankle, but for June the lack of mosquitos felt very lucky. I thought we might need headnets and long sleeves, so it was really nice to just be able to wear shorts and tank tops.
We did see plenty of other wildlife. A couple of toads, tons of chipmunks and squirrels, and various interesting insects. There were an astonishing number of caterpillars, with just a few color variations. Looking them up later, we saw that they are invasive gypsy moth caterpillars. They decimate different areas every few years and apparently right now they are feasting on that patch of forest. Sitting down for some cheese and crackers I found two on my backpack 😂 We also saw some inchworms (more future moths...), a few interesting beetles, and a marsh area with many black and white dragonflies.
Leaving the campground where we parked, we first went underneath several sets of powerlines, followed by forests with tall trees and different types of ferns for understory. Attempting to identify the ferns after the fact is tricky! That might be a fun project for next time. We chose the direction that had us doing the hilliest and least scenic section of trail first, the North Country Trail. This ten-mile stretch has some steep hills and plenty of trees and other plants to see, but no expansive views or water crossings. It was definitely enjoyable but not particularly remarkable.
At the intersection of the NCT and the Manistee River Trail there is also a road crossing, which goes over the river. We refilled water at a pump and stopped for a break. There were quite a few kayaks there; I'd like to take some boats next and maybe do some snorkeling when the water warms up a little. I also added some tape to my feet. I usually tape my heels and the tops of my toes to prevent blisters on long hikes, but for the first time I noticed some rubbing on the ball of my feet.
The second part of the trail did feel hilly, but probably because our legs weren't as fresh. The scenery was fantastic, with views of the Manistee River around every few turns. This section of trail seemed to have different soils and a bigger variety of trees. Around mile fifteen I definitely noticed my legs getting tired, and the only trail marker we saw, saying there was five miles to the trailhead,(plus one and a half to get to the car...) seemed implausible and somewhat funny. Around that point it started raining but the thick trees kept us fairly dry.