Route: Lower Michigan Triple Crown (MI)

Submitted by jasonwish on Wed, 08/30/2023 - 11:08am
Michigan, US
60 mi
Vertical Gain
3,000 ft

The Lower Michigan Triple Crown was established in 2021 as a backpacking challenge for those wanting to test their hiking skills while showcasing the best of what lower Michigan has to offer. The challenge has a Facebook group: It is comprised of three approximately 20-mile loops and It includes the iconic Manistee River Trail, as well as the Jordan River Pathway and Fife Lake Loops. The three loops are approximately a 45-minute drive away from each other which makes it perfect for a self-supported or supported FKT. Each of the three trails has a segment of the North Country Trail as part of the loop. There are no permits needed to hike these trails, and they can be completed in any order.

Jordan River Pathway
The Jordan River Pathway is a hiking trail in the Jordan River Valley. The Pathway winds through the Mackinaw State Forest and along the Jordan River. The loop has something for everyone, including meandering streams, old-growth forests, wildlife, and scenic overlooks. The hiking trails are moderate to rugged and marked with blue circles (not to be confused with the North Country Trail's blue rectangular blazes).  A popular backpacking destination, the trail system is one big loop made up of a few smaller loops. Hikers can conveniently start and end at the same place if completing a smaller loop or the whole trail. Backpackers can stay at the Pinney Bridge State Campground, located near the trail's halfway point (dispersed camping is not allowed in the Jordan Valley).

Fife Lake Loop
Along this 21.4-mile loop trail, hikers can enjoy the scenic views, serenity of the forest, streams and the Manistee River. They can take advantage of the two state forest campgrounds in the loop and the Trail Town of Fife Lake Village. It is a perfect sized loop for a weekend get-a-way for backpackers or there are numerous options for different length day hikes. Much of the NCT portion of the loop follows Fife Lake Creek and then the Big Manistee River.

Manistee River Trail
The Manistee River Trail and North Country Trail form a 20-mile loop with a number of access points. On the east side of the river lies the Manistee River Trail, on the west side a portion of the North Country Trail. Together those trails can be combined into a loop that has become the most popular backpacking trek in the Lower Peninsula. The trail traverses past several wetlands and there are bridges crossing two creeks. A waterfall near the northern end of the trail is very popular with many hikers. The Manistee River Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail connector is also the site of the largest wooden suspension bridge in Lower Michigan. Several observation sites along the trail provide hikers with vista views of the Manistee River and surrounding area.

Logistical details
If starting at JRP, you can camp at one of two campsites the night prior if needed, Pinney Bridge State Forest Campground or Graves Crossing State Forest Campground. Pinney Bridge is accessed by a short quarter mile walk from the TH parking area. Graves Crossing is a drive of several miles. Deadmans Hill Overlook is another popular TH parking area but with no overnight camping. 

After completing the JRP, there is an approximately 45 mile drive to the Fife Lake Loop. There are two State Forest camping options, Spring Lake State Forest campground on the Northern side of the loop and Old US 131 State Forest campground on the Southern side of the loop. Another good parking option would be Manistee Roadside Park, which is right on US Rt. 131 that has a private canoe livery nearby called Chippewa Landing that also offers camping.  

Finally, there is an approximately 30-mile drive to the MRT from the Fife Lake area. There are numerous parking locations near the MRT with the closest being the NCT/MRT Suspension Bridge TH. Other options include Red Bridge on N. Coates Hwy. and Seaton Creek Campground, which has a charge for parking and also adds a little over a mile round trip to the MRT loop.