My wife and I did the MRT/NCT loop along with another couple, J&J, Sept 25-27, 2020. We’re all in our late 40s, in good condition and had done several training hikes with packs to prepare for the trip, but this was our first back-country excursion together. MRT/NCT was a beautiful place to start! We followed the same path as Grandpa noted in his TR last year (clockwise from Red Bridge), but took the whole weekend to complete the 20 mile loop.
Friday 9/25 – arrived at Red Bridge access point around 12:30, topped off the water bottles and headed north along Coates Hwy to pick up the NCT. Well-marked and easy to follow trail. Steepest part of the trail is about a mile in heading this direction and we were breaking a sweat before we hit the first campsite. The trail runs along the top of a bluff with occasional views across the river valley, but most of your time is spent under a cool canopy of maples, oaks and poplars with little hint that you’re walking alongside the Mighty Manistee. As noted, the trail is mostly dirt, well-marked and easy to follow. We encountered maybe a half-dozen other groups on the trail and didn’t see any mountain bikers the whole weekend.
The weather was unseasonably warm – started out in the low 60s and climbed to around 70 degrees by late afternoon with beautiful Michigan autumn blue skies. The leaves have just started to turn – more on that later. Our original plan was to hike only 4-5 miles on the first day. There are dispersed campsites roughly every mile along the NCT, but none with water access until you reach Eddington Creek around 8.5 miles in. We quickly realized with the warm temps that our 2 liters each was not going to get us through the day with enough water for coffee in the morning (an absolute requirement!) so we pressed on to Eddington Creek.
When we reached the creek around 5:00, we found 2 campsite options. Just before the trail makes a sharp left to descend the creek bank, there’s a stand of pine trees off to the right. The wives split off here to explore our options since there was already one large encampment visible from the trail. The husbands continued down the trail to fill our empty water bottles and check out the other site nestled under several large cedars next to the creek. While filtering water, we decided the creek-side sites felt a bit too damp and buggy so we headed back up the trail toward the pines. There’s plenty of room for 4 or 5 groups to spread out in this area. The swaying pines above us and bed of needles below proved to be the right choice – one of the nicest nights I’ve spent in the wilderness! As a bonus, no rain in the forecast so we didn’t even put the rain fly on the tent. We also found a side trail down to the creek so we could dunk our flasks of wine and bourbon in the cool water until they reached an appropriately refreshing temperature.
Day 1 distance: 8.5 miles
Saturday 9/26 – Packed up and headed out around 8:30 after topping off our water bottles. There are a few trail offshoots and a short stretch along a dirt road before you reach the bridge across the Manistee to the MRT, so had to pay attention through here. The bridge is an impressive structure and it was here that we started to notice the rapidly changing foliage. Sumacs along the trail were vibrant red in the areas open to the sun. The bright yellow birch leaves along the lower riverbanks gradually blending with the golden orange maples further up the hills were just beautiful. It felt like the colors were changing before our eyes as we walked.
The MRT terrain is very different from the NCT section – mostly along the river bank, occasionally ascending to a bluff to avoid a swampy shoreline, a few steep creek ravines with switchbacks on both sides, but consistently close to the river with plenty of beautiful views up and down the valley and frequent access to water. This side of the loop is also much more popular with day-hikers – quite a few families making unladen trips out of the Seaton Creek campground or possibly from multiple trailheads accessible by car.
We had planned to hike around 8 miles on day 2 which would put us in the Slagle Creek/Dead Creek area for our 2nd night. There are several nice campsites near Slagle Creek on the way down the ravine, but we were still feeling strong and not yet ready to call it a night. When we reached the side trail to the sites near Dead Creek, we unfortunately found a line of Jeeps and pickups parked along the 2-tracks and could hear a large party of car-campers already occupying the sites. We pressed on another 1.5 miles, crossing the steep ravine created by Cedar Creek. Campground 7a is perched on a high, sandy bluff overlooking a bend in the river. Absolutely beautiful views! The main site was already claimed, but there was another firepit and room for 2 tents just a bit further back toward the main trail. J & I hiked back down to Cedar Creek to refill the water bottles (should’ve thought of that on the way through). Although there was a trail down to the river from our campsite, nobody volunteered to make the climb back up the bluff carrying 2 gallons of water.
Day 2 distance: 9.4 miles
Sunday 9/27 – Took our time eating breakfast and getting packed up since we had less than 4 miles to go. This last stretch from campground 7a to Red Bridge is probably the easiest of the trip – only a couple significant ascents/descents and a single creek crossing. We’ll keep this in mind the next time we do this loop. Might make sense to do this loop counter-clockwise and save the more rugged and water-less NCT stretch for the end. We reached our car before noon, rinsed off 2 days of accumulated grime at the fresh water spigot and headed home – tired and a little sore, but really energized by the experience. The fall colors near Red Bridge seemed to have greatly intensified in the 48 hours since we arrived!
Day 3 distance: 3.6 miles
Took but didn’t need: sweat pants & fleece jacket (unseasonably warm weather)
Wished we had: small hand saw for fire wood (ordered Corona RS 7245 7-inch folding saw after the trip and love it!)
Added weight but worth it: tripod camp stool (1lb) and North Face Base Camp Slide sandals (0.8lb), Platypus PlatyPreserve wine flasks (1.8lb each to start, but significantly lighter by day 2!)
Valuable trip planning resource:
Highly recommend the Michigan Trailmaps MRT & NCT map. Much more detailed than the NatGeo topo map. Accurately depicts most of the campsites and water access points. https://www.michigantrailmaps.com/membe ... ded=images
- Posts: 204
- Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2017 1:39 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 3
- Location: Grand Rapids, MI
I was amazed at how many people I saw when we drove through there in mid September. I've never seen the parking areas so overflowing!
How did you like the tripod? I've tried just about every "lightweight" camp chair in existence, and none of them feel even slightly stable to me. I'd imagine a tripod has at least stability going for it, though.
The tripod was way better than sitting on the ground or a log and really doesn't take up much space, but not the most comfortable for long periods without any back support. I also wouldn't call it stable by any stretch, but the wide feet at least didn't sink into the sandy soil. I switched it out for an REI FlexLite Air chair on my Jordan River hike in October. The FlexLite is even less stable than the tripod and tends to sink into soft ground, but the seating position and back support are much more comfortable over time. I'm still undecided which will make the cut for IR this summer - leaning toward the FlexLite.
Both parking areas at Red Bridge were completely full the weekend we went, but it really didn't feel overcrowded once we hit the trail. There were 3 other groups we leap-frogged several times on day 1, and we did feel a bit like we were racing them to secure a prime campsite that night. In the end, there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. My guess is that the majority of those that parked at Red Bridge were simply going in and back along the MRT side.
- May actually live on IR
- Posts: 423
- Joined: Wed Apr 20, 2016 4:06 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 4
- Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Yes - My buddy J, but the wives were not interested. I suspect they're plotting something far more expensive while we're away. The other 2 joining us are a college roommate of ours and one of his trail-running partners.
- LNT Expert
- Posts: 63
- Joined: Tue Aug 06, 2019 5:38 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 2
- Location: Fort Worth, TX
We also picked up a tripod chair last summer. I think it's great for cooking -- even with your stove on the ground in front of you.
We also pack a lightweight, mesh hammock.
My son and I are canoers, so weight is less of an issue for us.