Did the NCT-MRT loop in a weekend in February. Done MRT once before, also one kayak-packing trip down the Big Manistee River. I would also say this loop is far less than 29 miles, more like 20-23 depending where you start. Conditions this time were snowy on NCT side, and insanely icy on MRT side (seriously consider cramp ons in winter for MRT) snow seems to linger here more than a lot of the state. However, don't let that stop you from enjoying this place with a lot less traffic. One of the best places to backpack in the LP in my opinion. See a video of our icy trip this past February: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CmG9xzRAGB0
Easily one of the best backpacking trails in Lower Michigan. I've hiked this trail 5-6 times now and I always enjoy it. It is almost always busy on the Manistee River Trail side, campsites are often doubled or even tripled up. The waterfall site 2 miles south of the suspension bridge is my personal favorite. I always start on Saturday mornings at the Red River Bridge, I usually take the NCT (north side) as I enjoy getting more done in the first day and the campsites on the MRT are better. Be sure to pack water as it is quite the hike up, down, and around the ravines. Once in a while you'll see a mountain biker. In the first couple of miles there are some decent sights in the higher hills especially near reds hill. The nice part of the NCT is you can camp anywhere really, although camping in a ravine isn't too rewarding. You'll cross a couple of roads and reach Eldridge? Creek which offers water for the first time along with a decent campsite in some pines on the west side of the creek. After passing the Marilla trail junction you start heading to the MRT and finally get to see the Manistee River after about 9 miles of hiking in ravines. You cross over the Suspension Bridge and reach the MRT, I don't waste my time hiking to the campground (north trail) although if you're in a pinch for water you might want to as they offer a well. The MRT hugs the river for the duration of the southward trip back to red bridge. I try to set up camp after the suspension bridge and usually settle anywhere after the waterfalls (almost always taken unless you get there before 12-1p). I set up camp and usually fish for an hour or so and bathe in the river even if it's cold, very relaxing after a long hike. You'll more than likely set up camp with a couple neighbors unless you're a horrible trail person and want to be a loner. The sound of the river and the proximity of the campsites to water make for an easy night of sleeping. The next morning I usually wake up before first light and make my way south. The river is beautiful when there is a morning mist after a cold night. You can usually bust out Sunday morning in 3-4 hours and be back to your car before 10a-noon.
A great trail that is well worth a drive anywhere that you live in Michigan. I'd even go as far to say one of the best weekend trails in the Great Lakes Region (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana). The only problem I have is how busy the trail is and the garbage that has been accumulating over the last couple of years. It's not too crazy to see a group of young people hike down from the waterfalls parking lot with coolers and I even saw a guy with a Weber grill! Keep the great outdoors great guys.
It was great. Get going early to find a good spot to stay the night. Lots of people and dogs but everyone was friendly. I didn't see any bears but was prepared just the same. I want to go back. I also want to kayak the river. The water was so inviting. Make sure and have a lot of water on the dry side.
Words cannot describe my love for Manistee. What a gorgeous trail, and the river makes it one of my most favorite places to be. Lot's of people everytime I go, so it isn't the most secluded place and there is a lot of litter left from the ungrateful few. But, don't let that defer you, this place is worth every minute you spend here.
READ ME: Could not believe the amount of trash on the trail. It was Labor Day weekend, but that's absolutely no excuse. I stopped briefly at camp site #8 - toilet paper behind almost every tree. Someone left a full sized tarp shelter on the Red Hill Lookout (NCT). I found a Coleman heater with a propane bottle still attached near camp site #3 on the Manistee River Trail side of the river. I started to pickup what I could but my trash bag literally got in the way of my hiking poles. Luckily I bumped into a DNR agent who gladly took it off my hands. LEAVE NO TRACE !
Started at the south end bridge on Coates HWY. Headed North on the NCT. Hiked 18 miles day 1 and landed somewhere around camp site #7 on the Manistee River Trail side of the river. It was Labor Day weekend which means all of the "1-timers" come out and fill up all the campsites. Fine with me, I prefer to camp off trail anyway. Picked a nice little spot about 400 feet off trail by between campsite #6 and #7. Hiked the remaining hours back to the parking lot the next day. Perfect weather. Very chilly nights. Saw my breath for the first time this year. Still not seeing color on the trees. Planning to go back in the fall with the kids. This loop has equally challenging verticals on both sides. The thing that separates them are the views. NCT is heavily wooded and more secluded. MRT has eye-candy all day long and the hills are slightly less challenging. NCT is dry (~15 miles) and the MRT (~15 miles) is super wet. you are literally along-side the river the entire way. Very good sites: 4b/c & 7a. It was very hard to pick my favorites because 99% of them are great.
A great spot to venture out and feel like you're away did even for just a short while. I went during the week when there weren't many people on the trail. Moderate to challenging overall (some of the climbs were loose and a tad eroded which made the root systems trip hazards when pushing pace). Definitely some photographic areas for those more inclined to take things in aesthetically and not just physically.
Only did the MRT. Very scenic but quite a few people out on the trail. Planning on repeating this fall but including the NCT this time. Another reviewer mentioned trash, and I agree. Just scraps around the campsites, but it shouldn't be too hard to carry your trash out!
Overall a nice trail. The 20+miles Manistee River Trail (MRT) – North Country Trail (NCT) loop can be easily covered in two days. MRT is more scenic with abundant views of the river, but NCT part gives you a good workout and, on the north link portion, close to the wooden foot bridge, there is a flat bank area where you can take a swim in the river.