cross country skiing
Siwon L. on North Country Trail - M20 to Echo D...
Well maintained and marked trail.
We had the forest to ourselves it seemed. Very beautiful and tranquil. Started at Horse Day Use Trail Head then turned onto the "A" mountain bike trail. The bike trails are excellent for hiking. Saw deer, wild turkeys, chipmunks and frogs during our 5-mile loop that took about 2 hours. Stopped several times to notice natures little wonders.
This segment is definitely a challenging trek in snowshoes and deep powder, but it is enjoyable. For the most part, the views are not as rewarding as the Manistee River trail, and upper river road is frequented by snowmobiles in the winter. However, the sound of snowmobile engines was hardly noticeable, and I never heard any at night. I hiked the segment with a friend and my dog, however, if you don't have experience hiking with your dog, or it is not one of the northern breeds, I would leave him at home in the winter. Eddington creek is the only water source but if you bring extra fuel, you can melt snow. A few warnings, call ahead to the ranger station to get conditions. Snowshoes and/or crampons (or microspikes) would be a good idea in the winter months, especially after fresh snow. The trail has camping sites that are reasonable well protected, but we had 40-50 mph gusts and ~20 mph sustained winds. Nothing too extreme, but make sure you use a 4-season tent and know how to set stakes and snow anchors if you stay the night.
This trail is fairly decent. Well maintained, very easy to follow, and somewhat scenic (4 stars because it's a bit repetitive). I wouldn't really consider it a loop, but you can make part of it into a loop if you do what I did. I started at the Michigan 20 Trailhead (1299 W 1 Mile Road, or at GPS Coords 43.568188,-85.827278) and went over to Diamond Lake Campgrounds, which was about 1.5 mi off the trail (7 mi hiking). I spent Friday night there, and then on Saturday morning took the Birch Grove Trail up to Loda Lake, where it rejoins the North Country Trail. I went up to Nichols Lake, had lunch, and then hiked back to Bear Creek to set up camp near the trail (very nice spot for dispersed camping). Saturday was about 20 miles. Then on Sunday I hiked back about 12 miles to the Michigan 20 trailhead. In total, the route I took was about 38-40 miles, completed in 44 hours (including sleeping).
In general, water availability was pretty good, and the weather was perfect (60 deg at night, 80 deg daytime). Most of the trail is dense forest, so shade is abundant. There were some mosquitos, but applying DEET every 4 hours kept them at bay, no problem at all. I literally saw one other backpacker group the entire weekend, so the trail doesn't see much use despite being very nice.
The best maps I found were the US Forest Service's 2013 map and the ArcGIS map.