In April I had two whole weeks off work and it was wonderful. Three friends and I flew in Chicago on a Tuesday where we spent one jet-lagged night and a morning before picking up our hire car and driving out to South Bend, to meet James who had just finished teaching. We squished him into the car and were soon back on the road – to Grand Rapids.
We were on our way up to Manistee for a few days but had decided to break up the journey with a stop in Grand Rapids. We checked into the CityFlats hotel – which I would definitely recommend. Its very quick and easy to get to from the motorway and it’s very central. Large, clean rooms with powerful showers and free coffee. We went into HopCat for dinner and beer – it’s an awesome brew pub with a great food menu and so many beers.
The next morning we all went for breakfast at Wolfgangs, a family-run diner in downtown Grand Rapids. We couldn’t get over how big the breakfasts were – they just do not serve breakfasts like this in the UK. So much sugar. So many eggs. So delicious. We were all in a bit of a sugar high when we left.
Grand Rapids is definitely a great place to stay if you’re heading north. From there it was a two hour drive to Manistee National Forest, broken up with a visit to Walmart. Not always seen as a tourist attraction, if you’re not from the States I promise you’ll enjoy this more than you think! Everything is huge! And they sell guns! In a supermarket! And all kinds of wierd food – marshmallow “fluff” in a jar anyone?! We went slightly crazy buying all the food and then made our way to our cabin in the middle of nowhere…
It really was in the middle of nowhere, 7 miles to the nearest town, Mesick, down dirt roads. I’d picked the air Bnb for its proximity to the trailhead at Seaton Creek campground which I thought would give us a good route for hiking. It was gorgeous – right on the edge of a little creek with a small deck overlooking the river and a wood-burning stove. In April it was still quite cold so we made more use of the indoor fire than the deck but it was still pretty to look at!
The next day was hiking time.
Seaton Creek is the trailhead for a number of marked trails, the long distance North County Trail and the Manistee River Trail among others. They are well-marked with maps at the trailhead (that’s another word I don’t think I’ve ever heard use of in England although I can’t think what our alternative is!) and blue diamonds painted on the trees to show you which way to go.
Seaton Creek campground is closed over the winter and hadn’t opened by mid-April, when we were there, so we parked the car outside the campground and walked through to the start of the trail. We followed the Manistee River Trail which initially crossed through a forest, trees towering high above us, until we came to the river and the suspension bridge where the NCT meets the Manistee River Trail.
There was a recommended 20 mile route along the Manistee River Trail but we decided we didn’t want to walk that far so instead we figured we’d just walk out for a few hours and then turn back.
The path wound through the woods and alongside the river. At some moments we looked down on sweeping curves of the river from up high, at others we were right down by its banks. We passed a number of small campsites and designated fire rings, and came across a few other hiking groups but as we were off-season the trail was still really quiet.
There were a few little scrambles up and down but no real hills to speak of so it was a nice easy walk. We went out for a few hours before finding a spot on the bank of the river in the sun, where we spent half an hour or so drinking a beer and snacking before beginning the walk home – which seemed to take much less time!
It was beautiful but I think it would be even more beautiful were you to walk along the trail in autumn – in April the trees were still bare of leaves and I bet the colours are stunning later on in the year.
On our way back south we drove on the back roads instead of taking the motorway, and went through Manistee, which was a really pretty, small town on the shore of Lake Michigan. There was a beautiful, huge beach with some dunes that we explored for a while, stretching our legs from the hours in the car. Again, it was the wrong season for a beach holiday but it looked like a pretty good place to visit in the summer!
Michigan is a huge state, but if you want some wilderness not too far from Chicago, South Bend or Grand Rapids you could do much worse than a trip to Manistee!