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Searching for a Place to Escape
Spring finally arrived and we’re busy planning our backpacking trips for the summer. Here’s a great one for the first trip of the year. An easy hike to backcountry campsites with great views. Don’t overload your pack too much, it is the first trek of the season, and don’t forget the Tiger Balm for when the shoulders are throbbing the second day.
For more backpacking ideas check out Jim DuFresne’s Backpacking in Michigan (University of Michigan Press) at our e-shop.
Finding Your Way to Negwegon State Park
By Jim DuFresne
They have erected signs along US-23 and Black River Road and the crew from the Alcona Country Road Commission has been grading Sand Hill Trail. Now finding and driving to Negwegon State Park is easy.
In the past just getting to the state park was half the adventure. Back then Sand Hill Trail, the only access to Negwegon, was a sandy, deeply rutted county road that in effect made the Lake Huron park the most remote in the Lower Peninsula.
After an agonizing 2.5-mile drive along Sand Hill Trail, when most first time visitors were sure they were going to lose their muffler if not some other part of their vehicle, they were stunned to arrive at a huge park sign and a wide, graveled entrance drive in the middle of nowhere.
From the parking area at the end, they headed into the woods and within 50 yards emerged at a crescent-moon bay framed in by a sandy shoreline and the turquoise waters of Lake Huron and unmarred by beach blankets and beer coolers. It was such an amazing scene at the end of such a scary drive that the bay was as far as most people would get in this 3,738-acre park.
Beyond the beautiful sandy beaches and 6.5 miles of undeveloped shoreline, Negwegon is a mixture of lowland areas and small ridges with pockets of wetlands and meadows mixed in with stands of mature pine forests, hardwoods and aspen. An abundance of wildlife, from bald eagles and wild turkeys to whitetail deer and black bears, thrive in the area.
Besides the gravel entrance drive and parking area, the only development Negwegon has ever experienced since the state picked up the tract in 1962 is the construction of a 10-mile trail system that was laid out and posted in the early 1990s by the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps. In 2009, it was enhanced with the addition of four backcountry campsites.
The hike to the sites range from a mile to 2.2 miles and the only amenities they feature are a picnic table, fire ring, wilderness toilet and a bear pole. But all are on the Lake Huron shoreline, rewarding campers who spend the energy to hike in with quiet evenings and spectacular sunrises.
“They have been popular every year since we’ve opened them,” said Eric Ostrander, manager for Harrisville State Park, which oversees Negwegon. “In the summer they’re booked full almost every weekend.”
Scenic campsites and close-to-home backpacking opportunities; that’s worth a drive on Sand Hill Trail no matter how rutted it is.
Click on the map to the right to view a larger version or print.
The trail system at Negwegon is divided into three loops with posted trailheads located in the parking area. Heading south is the Potawatomi Trail, a 3.3-mile loop that hugs Lake Huron before swinging inland for its return.
Departing to the north is the Chippewa Trail, a 7-mile walk past all four backcountry campsites and the spectacular views at the end of South Point, making it one of the finest treks on the sunrise side of the state. A crossover spur labeled Algonquin Trail shortens the loop to 3.7 miles but begins the return before South Point is reached.
And South Point should not to be missed.
Numbered posts are laid out in a counter-clockwise direction on the Chippewa Trail. The first half of the loop follows an old two-track that in the 1800s was Stage Coach Road, the main route between Alpena and Harrisville. The park can be a wet area in the spring or after heavy rains but a series of boardwalks keep you out of the deepest water.
At Mile 0.7 you catch a glimpse of Lake Huron for the first time through the trees and at Mile 1 you arrive at the posted spur to Blue Bell Campsite. Surrounded by pines, the campsite overlooks Lake Huron and is marked along the shoreline as well for kayakers needing a place to pull out and spend the night.
In another half mile you reach post No. 2, marking the Algonquin crossover spur to the west and the side trail to Twin Pines Campsite to the east. The hike remains level and easy and quickly you reach the spur to the Pewabic Campsite.
At Mile 2, on the edge of a large meadow, is post No. 3, marking the side trail to South Point. The open field is where stage coach passengers once took a well deserved break from their jarring journey. Today it's where hikers depart the main loop for the most spectacular views in the park.
The rocky tip of the small peninsula is reached in a half mile and provides an almost 360-degree view of Lake Huron. To the north are Bird Island and Scarecrow Island, a protected nesting area that is part of the Michigan Islands Wilderness Area, while across Thunder Bay you can spot the water towers of Alpena. To the south is Negwegon's jagged shoreline.
With just a turn of the head; miles of shoreline, acres of water.
On the way to the rocky tip you pass South Point Campsite, a 2.2-mile hike from the trailhead. This is the most scenic spot by far to pitch a tent as it’s located a low bluff overlooking the waters of Thunder Bay and the two islands just offshore. Tranquil when the weather is nice, gusty when it isn’t as there is little protection from winds out of the north or the south.
To complete the loop, though many hikers never make it further than South Point, return to post No. 3. The Chippewa Trail swings to the west and provides an occasional glimpse of Thunder Bay while crossing a series of high arching bridges over streams and wetlands.
Post No. 5 is reached at Mile 4.2 and here the trail swings south and winds through the interior of the park on its return to the trailhead. This stretch, particularly between posts No. 5 and No. 6 is only lightly posted at best and can be wet at times. It offers the best opportunities however to spot wildlife.
Eventually the trail swings east emerges at the trailhead parking area at Mile 7. Time for swim on beach you can call your own.
The four backcountry campsites at Negwegon feature a picnic table, fire ring, wilderness toilet and a bear pole. They are $14 a night and reserved through Harrisville State Park.
From Harrisville head northwest on US-23 for 13 miles and
then east on Black River Road (right). Head north (left) on Sand Hill Trail where the park is sign posted and the park entrance will be reached in 2.5 miles.
For more information stop at Harrisville State Park on US-23 or call the park (989-724-5126). Additional information about Negwegon is also available through the web site of the Friends of Negwegon (www.fonsp.org).