In either case it was about a year ago that my friend Hal told me about a trail system that was only a few miles from where we live. He said that he and his wife used this trail on occasion, but it appeared to be an underutilized and neglected trail. I was finally able to get time to go hike this trail with Hal a couple of days ago, on what turned out to be a great day for hiking. The conditions were exactly what we want for a day of hiking… cool, a bit cloudy, with few bugs.
We started our hike at the Big Mud Lake State Forest campground several miles west of M-66 and north of US Highway 10. I know the name Big Mud Lake sounds rather unappealing, but I hope you can trust me when I say the area is very appealing if you are a person who enjoys big woods, quiet lakes, and the universal solitude that nature provides. This area has all of the above and more!
The trail head at the campground is not well-marked, but easily found straight east of the parking area. The trail starts out looking as though it is going to be well-groomed with a nice wide bed of crushed limestone leading you to the first of the trail map signs mounted on double posts. The signs are not fancy by any stretch of the word at first glance, but after you look them over closely you will begin to appreciate the craftsmanship once you take note of the small tag at the bottom of each sign that informs you that the sign and the trail system was an Eagle Scout project of a Boy Scout named Steve Reed of troop 695 in Farwell Michigan, in the year 2000.
These hand-made signs are located at both trail-heads, as well as at each intersection of the trail system. There are some scale issues with the map on these signs, but one gets a general understanding of the overall system at a glance.
One can see on the map below that the trail system consists of a small loop trail near the Big Mud Lake campground, with a long connector trail that runs to the east to connect with two larger loops. The southern loop is the larger of the two loops at about 5 miles. The loops both connect in the area of Green Pine Lake. The northern loop is a 2.5 mile loop that can be accessed from a parking area off of M-115 at Pike Lake.
On the far eastern part of the trail near the Mud Lake Campground there is a small loop that would constitute about a ¾ mile hike if you were to hike it by itself. The north leg of this loop goes up through some DNR food plots that have been seeded to rye for this year. This would be a great little hike for campers staying at the campground with ample opportunity to see wildlife.
Our hike this day took the southern leg of this small loop on the trip out to the western section of the trail, and we would pick up the northern leg of this small loop on the way back in. The first mile or so of the trail is in a cedar swamp area that was loaded with wildflowers. We even ran across a few beautiful examples of Lady Slippers, we also passed by a number of species of fern, finding a couple that are rather uncommon for this area.
The connector trail from the campground at Mud Lake out to the first of the larger loops is actually about 3 and 1/4 miles in total length, and goes from the wet swampy area near the campground into a range of varying habitats.
I’m sure that 12 years ago the trail was well-marked throughout its entirety. Today the trail may be very discernible in one section, but can be very overgrown and confusing in other areas. There were several areas where we had to stop and really search for a trail, or trail marker, but only on one occasion did we actually overshoot the trail and have to back track several hundred yards to pick the markers up again. The trail appears to have been blazed with the official blue triangular foot trail plastic placards years ago, but many are missing or broken now, so don’t count on having them at regular intervals along the trail. As the middle section of this trail system exists today, it is very advisable to take your time through this section and make sure that you are looking for trail markings as you move along the system as it is very easy to overshot a turn in the trail.
In many cases the blue paint blazing has faded to the point of being barely visible, and the triangular trail placards are long gone. Some kindhearted individual has over the last couple years carried a blue spray-paint can along the trail remarking some of the areas that are fading away and without this good Samaritan, I’m afraid that some parts of the trail would be completely lost and overgrown by now.
Arriving at the western intersection of the largest of the loops in the system, in what appears to be the least utilized part of the trail system, we found the 3rd trail map sign that was also in need of some maintenance.
This is a very beautiful area that is very secluded along an old beaver pond where the understory becomes very thick with tag alder, and the trail becomes very hard to keep track of so you must pay close attention to the few markings that remain here.
A couple of items of note here are that the map board is oriented so that north is at the bottom of the map, also this board depicts a cut-off trail that would drop to the south of the “You are here” point, but we could find no sign of such a trail
Hiking north up the western edge of the larger loop we found the most overgrown area of the trail system. Wet boots and tangled briers were the name of the game for a short section that lead us along the top of an old beaver dam. It was a bit of a struggle to push through this area but the views across the old beaver pond were well worth the effort.
In the midst of this Tag Alder, briers and thick brush was a stream crossing foot bridge that had suffered some frost heaving damage over the years, but it is still very navigable. On this bridge we found another plaque noting that the bridge was the Eagle Scout project of John Ball of Troop 622 in June of 2001. What a project this bridge must have been. I have no clue the distance to the nearest area that a truck could have delivered lumber to, but I’m sure some young Scouts must have hand carried a lot of lumber for a long distance to get it to the site of this bridge.
Both ends of the bridge are nearly over grown with brush and this area around this bridge could easily cause a hiker who is faint of heart to turn-round and head back from whence he came. But should they choose that lesser option they would missed some very spectacular views of a very unique area.
Continuing up the western side of the larger loop we again passed through a range of habitats finding many points of interest along the way. We also found short sections of trail that were on old two-track roads that make walking a breeze.
After connecting with the smaller of the two loops we continued north up the western side of that loop towards the parking area at M-115 which is the northern most point of the trail system. This area consists of sandy soil and a mix of mature and scrub oak underbrush where the trail can be easily lost if one is not paying attention to markings.
The parking area at M-115 is nothing more than a small gravel area that would serve 10 or 12 cars but hidden back in the brush are the remains of an old State forest campground that are interesting to explore. Also just to the east of the parking area is the beautiful Pike Lake that has a drive in park area located on its east side
We back-tracked the same trail south until we found the northern most trail map sign that we had passed on the way in to the parking area. This location is the junction that will connect you to the eastern leg of the smaller northern loop. This leg heads around the south end of Pike Lake through the remnants of an old clear-cut that is now very thick. We found evidence of an active beaver along the swampy area on the south end of Pike Lake.
This leg of the trail was one of the few places that we found evidence of some recent trail maintenance. There were areas where the brush had been clearly cut back from the trail and in one area the trail even appeared to have been widen by cutting brush back 3 or 4 feet on both sides. Much of this trail was along a high sandy ridge through a 10 or 12-year-old clear-cut, and we found some interesting flowers along this section as well.
Once we arrived at the next trail connector sign we decide that it was getting late in the day and we would take the short connector between the large and small loops to reconnect with the trail that we came in on and head back to Mud Lake. This short connector trail is one that I’m glad that we didn’t pass up. It brings you around the north side of Green Pine Lake. Green Pine is a wonderfully isolated little lake that looks like it would be loaded with fish that have never seen a lure.
The area around Green Pine Lake is so inviting and we did happen to find evidence of campfires in the area. After pulling ourselves away from Green Pine we headed towards the next trail intersection and back into the very overgrown beaver pond area were we would again have to keep our eyes open for the old trail markers.
We made it back to the main connector trail that we had come in from Mud Lake on and started our return trip back on that trail.
We fumbled the trail one time on the return to the parking area, but we quickly got back on track.
At the end of the day we had logged just over 11 miles, and had we taken in the last leg of the larger loop we would have logged in the neighborhood of 15 or 16 miles. So all in all a great trail with many options for day hikes.
This is a spectacular trail system that I plan to use more in the near future, and I would certainly encourage others to explore this challenging trail system as well. I’m told that there is a group in the Farwell area that maintains this trail. It would be my hope that Hiking Michigan could sometime in the future work with this group to help keep this trail alive. It’s a shame to have such a gorgeous natural resource remain unseen and unused. I can’t seem to find that this trail system is publicized anyplace, so plan on seeing more from me about this trail in the future.
Feel free to contact me with any question regarding this trail