on the North Country Trail
North Country Trail
This is just one segment of a 4400 mile National Scenic Trail. There are several hundred continuous off-road miles which can be hiked within the Manistee National Forest and northward. The trail continues southward in Lake County and to the north in Manistee County. This section is open to bicycles.
Dispersed- dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the Manistee National Forest if you are 200 feet from the trail, a road, or a water source.
Bear Track- If you prefer more ameneties, Bear Track Campground is one mile off the trail. The turnoff side trail to reach it is several yards in the opposite direction on the trail from Tyndall Road (just barely into Lake County).
North Country Trail
Description is from Forest Road 5203 (Tyndall Rd.) walking northwest. Leaving the trailhead gently climb a ridge with a valley on the right. Turn toward the west and cross Forest Road 5331 (Koenig Rd.) in 10 minutes. Cross the road obliquely. There is no place here to park. Enter younger woods of small oak and pine. In 3 minutes you veer left into more mature forest. Enter an area which has been recently logged selectively After 3 more minutes cross a sand 2-track road (Masten) 0.2 miles north of FR 5331. After crossing this, enter a bottomland hardwood swamp (Dead Horse Marsh). This area is completely under water in some years and is characterized by large dead trees. The Spirit of the Woods Chapter of the North Country Trail Association built a 650-foot boardwalk through this unique area in the summer of 1999, and later added a deck for wheelchair turnaround and resting at the west end. The boardwalk is dedicated to "Chips, the hiker pup and all our four-footed companions."
Re-enter the woods and jog left to skirt a wooded swampy area to the north. In 20 minutes you reach the crossing of another sand 2-track, FR 8318 (This road has now been closed and is private and gated to the south). In another 10 minutes begin to cross a north-south ridge which creates the need for switchbacks and some moderately steep climbs and descents. This is geolocically the most interesting section of this hike. The trail generally follows the highest ridges within the greater N-S rise through open mature oak forest. Loop back east, then north around a wetland which will be to the west of the trail, and then northwest again before the topography levels out again. In 15 minutes you will cross two 2-tracks in a row. This is Taylor Rd (FR 8381), the old and newer route. In another 5 minutes cross Hoague Rd., another sand 2-track. Selective logging has been done in this area. You are now in younger oak forest with some pine intermixed. You will now enter the area most damaged in the 2006 wind storm. Salvage harvesting has been done in a wide area leaving this section looking like it was clear-cut harvested. In the center of this area is FR 5309 which you will reach in 20 minutes. The resulting open area is beginning to bounce back, and although not completely grown up, the open space makes a nice change from the dense woods. There is now quite a bit more white and red pine. 15 minutes later pass a deer blind and small shed on the left with private property signs, and in 3 minutes reach Riverside Drive. There is no space here for parking. Turn left on Riverside and continue for 1/4 mile to the intersection of Campbell Rd. Turn right (north) and it becomes paved Skocelas Rd, dipping down to the Little Manistee River and the parking area which you will reach in about 1 more minute.
Access- parking at either end. Room for 2 cars at Tyndall Rd. Public Access at Nine-Mile Bridge, parking for 6 or 8 cars if carefully done.
Restrictions- No horses or motorized vehicles. No camping within 200 feet of the trail.
Seasonality- good for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing; Forest Roads 5331 (Koenig) and 5203 (Tyndall) not plowed in winter
Distance and time- 5.6 miles, about 2.5 hours. Mileage taken from official NCTA maps.
Trail Markers- blue rectangular painted blazes, carsonite posts at road crossings
Condition of Marking- adequate- treadway is slightly sunken so should be able to be seen even with fresh snow.
Treadway- packed sandy forest soil. Trail is well used and treadway is easily followed. 650-foot boardwalk north of Koenig Rd.
Grades- flat to moderate with only a few short sections which could be called moderately steep.
Ecosystem- mature oak forest with some stretches of pine, severely damaged by wind storm in October 2006.
Additional Facilities- none- There is no reliable water source along the NCT from 5-Mile Road in Lake County (assuming you would get water at the commmercial campground located there) to 9-Mile Bridge. This is a distance of over 13 miles- one of the dryest stretches of the NCT anywhere. Carry water!
Other points of interest- fishing or canoeing in the Little Manistee River. Wheelchairs access to the boardwalk is possible from a forest road off Koenig. There is a deck with adequate space to turn around at the west end of the boardwalk.
Most recent date this info personally checked on foot- April 2020
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Bicycling- The trail is open to bicycles in Mason County (from M-55 (Udell Trailhead) in Manistee County to 56th St (Bowman Lake Trailhead) in Lake County.)
Camping- dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the Manistee National Forest if you are 200 feet from the trail, a road, or a water source. If you prefer more ameneties, Bear Track Campground is one mile off the trail near the north end of this section (just barely into Manistee County).
Handicap Accessibility- Wheelchair access to the boardwalk is possible from a forest road (blocked by a down tree Oct 2010) off Koenig (FR 5331). There is a deck with adequate space to turn around at the west end of the boardwalk.
Rest Rooms- none
Potable Water- none
Access- No official Trailheads in Mason County, but you can park at Tyndall Road, and 9-Mile Bridge is just north of the Manistee County line.
This means you need a sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station).
Restrictions- All National Forest regulations apply. Many of the trailheads within the Manistee NF are now Recreation Fee Sites.