In planning a hike for my first day here, I got out my handy guide to hiking in the Upper Peninsula and researched the popular hikes. Some were heavily traveled. Nope, I’m not looking for that. Some were not well-marked, and the guide said to bring a compass. Hmmm… I’m not that confident in my navigational skills that I’d go off alone in a strange land. And one or two of them just sounded like a little woods hike. I wanted to see something special.
I finally broadened my geographical search and found a section on Craig Lake State Park. The guide promised that this trail is so remote that you wouldn’t hear another mechanical sound after you parked your car at the trailhead. It was also in moose country which meant I might have the opportunity to see a moose although it would be highly unlikely. I loved the remote nature of it, and it said the trail was well-marked, was part of the North Country Trail AND went around a lake. If worse came to worst, I could just follow the lake around. This sounded easy enough to navigate but rugged enough to feel like I was deep in the woods.
I was a little worried about the drive to the park. The guide said the dirt road to Craig Lake State Park was 7 miles long and was very rough – rough enough that you had to have a vehicle with pretty high clearance. I wasn’t sure about that, but I sort of figured if it looked like I couldn’t make it, I could always turn around. I googled the State Park, and the same warnings were there with no additional information that made me feel better about my Rav4. But there was a Facebook page, and I got on it and read some of the posts. It sounded like people went back there on a regular basis, so I got a little less worried about the road.
That is until I saw this sign….
I looked at Ashok and asked her what she thought….
“What? You gonna let a little dirt road scare you?” she said. “We’re going. Drive.”
So, we started down the road, and all looked pretty good most of the way. I read later that the park service had come in and removed some of the larger boulders, so I guess the road was worse at one time than it is now. About 6.5 miles in I came upon a huge puddle of water all the way across the road. I wasn’t sure I could get through it without getting stuck, and there was no way I could get help if I did. I walked up and looked at it, and the mud did seem pretty soft. Just behind me was a little place I could park, so I decided to park there and hike the rest of the way in.
Which one doesn’t belong?
Right at edge of the lake were four guys getting out of their tents and having breakfast. Their canoes sat at the edge of the water and the campsite, and I waved as we walked by. The first part of the trail was an old logging road. The forest was lovely, dripping with last night’s rainwater and painted with every shade of deep green. A carpet of ferns covered the forest floor with a feathery touch. Sunshine dappled through the leaves, and I could hear nothing but birds.
A mile or so in, we came upon the cabins. A woman was walking to the outhouse when we passed by, and a man was standing in the kitchen with his cup of coffee. You can’t drive back there, so I guess you have to haul your stuff by foot or wagon. In fact, it became obvious that you would have to portage your canoes at least a mile and as many as four miles depending on where you wanted to camp and launch. This must be a great place to come for peace and quiet. And I hear the fishing is phenomenal, too.
The logging road ended, and the trail became single-track at the cabins. After that, the woods looked more and more like the woods in Appalachia. Except we saw no one until we got almost at the end of the trail. So, we had the trail to ourselves for the full 4 hours it took to hike it. It seemed longer than the 7.9 miles mentioned in the guide book. And the last part was really hilly. We got a workout for sure.
We stopped for lunch at little river that had been dammed up by beaver. A beautiful suspension bridge provided an easy cross, but I opted to go sit on a boulder and look at the lake for awhile while I had a lunch of fresh cherries, smoked whitefish and Wisconsin cheddar. I kept hoping to see a beaver, but I only saw dragonflies – lots and lots of dragonflies.
Toward the end of the trail, the markers got a little murky, and I got a little nervous that we weren’t on the trail anymore. However, I’d see a marker every now and then of a different color, so I felt sure we were on some trail. And I could see the lake on my right. The map confirmed that was right, so we kept walking. And, sure enough, we finally ended up right where we started. More men were arriving with their backpacks and loaded up canoes. I suppose it was going to be a great fishing weekend and guy’s getaway.
I’m not sure what impressed me the most about Craig Lake. The forest was really beautiful. There were a couple of lovely points where we sat to take in the view. Those were nice enough to make me want to come back and throw a tent for a few days on the campsites. But what struck me most was how remote it was. Man had not changed it much over the years. It was pristine. I had the distinct feeling that I was just a tolerated visitor in a world where I didn’t belong. They say the UP has more animals than people. I sensed that here. I felt like an intruder. And I felt immense gratitude to witness what most people never will.