Waterloo-Pinckney Recreation Hiking Trail is a 18.5 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Waterloo Twp, Michigan that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
dogs on leash
A friend and I hiked this trail a few times this summer and we LOVE it!! It's challenging and beautiful.
There is not a lot of selection when it comes to overnight backpacking trails in the southern part of MI, so +1 star for that. Many parts of this trail are beautiful, but there are some parts that I wished I could bypass. There are many miles of the trail that are shared with horse traffic so you will spend hours tromping through horse shit. The horse traffic also destroys the hard pack and turns it to sand. Hiking in sand sucks.
Trail marking is good in spots and bad in others. There are lots of other trails in the area that intertwine with the WP trail. The intersections are poorly marked or not marked at all. This is probably a contributing factor in the horse traffic on the hiker trails.
This park is also open to hunting so many of the signs are riddled with bullet holes. I guess the logic is that if you can't hit a moving target it's okay to destroy a stationary target. Big ego boost, I'm sure.
Finally, there's the poison ivy. It is everywhere, literally. You cannot walk down the trail without touching it.
Have done this a year ago very confusing as it looks like three paths intertwine.
Me and my cousin walked the length of this trail in 2 days and we came up with a rating for each section.
5 stars for length. This is one of the longest trails in North East Michigan.
3 stars for trail up keep. There were quite a few sections where there was almost no trail visible but other parts were wide and there were some nice wooden bridges through the marshes.
3 stars for trail markings. At some points, there were no markers and multiple choices for forks in the trail. We usually just said, "Follow our Hearts." One time our heart choose a trail that led us back to where we had come from.
1 star for hiker friendliness. There were NO water pumps along all 35 miles of this trail. We had to beg at farm houses to fill our water bottles. There were a few vault toilets. Also, it didn't look like there was any water at the hiker campground. My cousin and I hiked to Sugarloaf campground for facilities but there was nothing but a vault toilet at the hiker campground.
5 stars for poison ivy habitat. It was impossible not to step on poison ivy. It intertwined the whole trail.
4 stars for excitement. The trail was diverse. Some of it was hilly and rocky. Some was through the forest. Some was through fields. Some was through streams.
I hiked the first part of this trail (western end) last weekend (5/31/14) with my almost-12 year-old son, for his first backpacking experience. We live in NW Ohio, so this was only a little over an hour away from us, and by far the most convenient place to try. After the experience I felt compelled to join a site an offer an online review. First let me say WARNING: the mosquitos are horrific at this time of year. Do not plan to hike this trail in early summer. Normally I am not very bothered by mosquitos (though my son is more so). But for the first time ever I had to break out my head net, and was glad I had it. Even then, we were forced to only stop in direct sun and got bit up right through the spray. Though I have seen localized mosquitos, generally at dusk, worse than this in some (generally swampy) places I don't know that I have ever seen this many, this persistent, in the heat of the day, and that includes notorious places like Alaska and the UP. (I understand that black flies and deer flies can be a problem too, later in the summer.) My 3 stars represent what I would expect it to be prior to mosquito season.
I would also offer a second, lowercase warning that the maps of the trail, at least for this section (and I have reviewed several, from the MDNR-provided map, to Jim DuFresne's books, to Google Maps) are poor. There are many unmarked intersections, and in quite a few of these none of the choices correspond to what was on the map. Nevertheless, through either some kind of luck or sixth-sense, we managed to successfully navigate these without a hitch. On the other hand, there are some points that are incorrectly marked, with signs that say "Waterloo-Pinckney Trail" and have an arrow pointing off in some incorrect direction. (Both of these problem occurred where the trail lets out on a road and one has to walk some distance to pick up the trail.)Twice these signs sent us off on side trails that turned out to be loops (fortunately, as this brought us back around to places we recognized from before we went off in the wrong direction in the first place) that are not part of the main trail. At least one of these loops was actually marked with signs along the route which said it was the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. I suspect that whoever marked the trail this way did not actually hike it. It is pretty frustrating to be misdirected on a mile-or-so-long detour that ends up back where you started. Of course the problem is I can't say "follow the map, not the signs" because in neither of these two places was the correct route marked on the map. (Though in one, the bike trail we were misdirected onto did appear on the map. I kick myself for being fooled by that one.) I guess being lost can be part of the adventure, but please be forewarned. A final caution: there is not much opportunity for water resupply between the campgrounds. Make sure you pack enough. We were OK, but considered filtering some from a creek when we began to run low.
Despite traffic noise in spots, particularly Mt. Hope Road area, and a few road crossings (generally very lightly traveled dirt roads) this hike does deliver a wilderness experience. Sugar Loaf is a nice campground (though perhaps a bit soft for backpacking, it was nice to have a shower after a long day's hike.) The Waterloo recreation area is large, fairly rugged, and not heavily used. We saw plenty of wildflowers and wildlife along the trail.
The trail is rated as moderate difficulty, and that's probably right, as the elevation changes are pretty modest, and the trail is pretty well-maintained. There are stretches where the trail is loose sand which is a little hard to walk in, or chewed up and muddy from horse traffic, but these are only minor obstacles. Nevertheless, it was harder going that I expected, and it made for a pretty long hike the first day. Don't assume that because it is close to civilization and the elevation changes aren't extreme that it is an easy hike.
As others have said, there are not many backpacking options in Southern Lower Michigan or Northwest Ohio, and this really isn't a bad one, but you have to go at the right time of year. I'm guessing that this might be September through April.
Great hiking trails!!!
Snowshoed it today. Great trail easy access. Lots of great loops to be done if you head to exit 157 and go to the headquarters.
I give this trail 4 Stars since it is one of the longest trails in the Southern part of the Lowere Penninsula of Michigan where you can camp along the trail. Albeit in "designated" campsites. There are section you can day hike or hike into camgrounds for a weekend trip.
I'm giving this trail 4 stars because there are little options for backpacking in SE MI and NW OH. The trail is well maintained but due to the fall hunting season my hike was interrupted by hunters. Fortunately the trail meanders through park roads and it is easy to bypass portions of the trail if an encounter with a hunter occurs. This is a great fall hike, but I'd imagine the trail gets pretty choked by vegetation in the summer limiting some of the great views. I'll be back soon for a winter hike hopefully through a skiff of snow.
This thing is good