Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

EASY 57 reviews

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 33.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Waterloo Twp, Michigan that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

33.9 miles
2,358 feet
Point to Point

dogs on leash

kid friendly


cross country skiing

horseback riding

nature trips


trail running






Directions from Pinckney, MI: Eastern Trailhead: Travel M-52 east on North Territorial Road about 5 miles turning left (north) onto Dexter Townhall Road. Travel half a mile to reach park. Trailhead is at the Silver Lake Beach Area.

19 days ago

Great overnight solo trip. Trails were well marked. Hiked from Portage lake to Pine backcountry campground, about 12 miles on my phone, took 4 hours. unfortunately even though I paid for and reserved a site, they were all full when I arrived. Apparently some people just show up without paying. There was plenty of room to pitch a tent, but it also would have been nice to have my own flat site....
Overall, a great hike. Easily accessible to roads if needed. But you still feel like you’re in the wilderness.

1 month ago

Great trail in SE Michigan. We did part of this trail this past weekend as a two day, one night hike. The bugs were not noticeable during the day. We did need to cover up while hanging out at camp though. Barely anyone on the trail although it was a beautiful weekend. Pines campground doesn't allow fires so we chose to spend our one night at Green Lake. We were pleased with our choice. Definitely want to check out this trail again soon.

1 month ago

Great trail. Considering what we have in southeast Michigan, this trail is a gem. On the Waterloo side, you have rugged trails that are hiking only, filled with good vegetation. That turns into horse trails, so look out for dung. Camped at the pines, which was just fantastic, and then booked it from the pines to blind lake the second day. This was my eighth night I’ve spent at blind lake. It’s a great campsite, with the exception of glampers getting dropped off with acoustic guitars this time. After blind lake, you have a pretty busy mountain biking trail and a short hike out.

Over all, I highly recommend this hike for late spring and all of fall. The insects would be pretty bad in the late summer, and the heat and mugginess make it a little unbearable.

2 months ago

Great hike. Bring bug spray.

4 months ago

Be prepared for Defcon 5-level mosquitoes. Much of the Waterloo side is covered in horse excrement, and the horses also do a pretty good job of tearing up the trail, so parts of it will feel like walking through sand. The Pinckney side has much higher quality trails, both in terms of scenery and trail maintenance. Ran into one person on the trail while hiking during weekdays.

Itinerary: Portage Lake trailhead > Pines campground > Green Lake Campground > Silver Lake. Around 10-11 miles each day for a 3 day/2 night sprint.

Be aware that Green Lake campground is a drive in campsite and there may be plenty of people on the weekends, so try to arrive early as you cannot reserve in advance and must self-register (bring cash, $17).

Pines DOES have water about 1/4 mile north - there is a water spigot near the gate to the stable area.

Green Lake also has a water pump.

Just remember to permethrin your gear, wear deet, and wear long sleeve shirts/pants.

5 months ago

Great trail for being so close to home. Much more elevation than you would expect so it's good for a long weekend backpacking hike and training. I did about 15 miles a day for the first two days. I ended up doing about 38 miles when I included hikes to water and camp sites. A good number of water spots on the first half to filter from. However it seems to become more rare after that. Passed two small groups of horseback riders. If you are in a closed in space simply step off the trail and say hello or anything to announce your presence so as to not spook the animals. I think they are mostly used to it but it's just good practice.

7 months ago

Great trails! More importantly though were the clean, roomy and stocked pit toilets and the discovery center has water. I enjoyed following the blue arrow trail markers and will definitely return.

9 months ago

Hiked from Discovery Center to N. Territorial. Lots of elevation and demands endurance. Hiked it with a buddy in wet snow. Definitely pounded my legs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Awesome trails from flat to hilly up and down anytime or season.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Hiked the Waterloo Pinckney as an out and back from Green Lake to the Pines. 13 miles each way..

the hike was enjoyable, temperature was pleasant, and mosquitos were not an issue (contrary to most reviews I read).

The biggest challenge we encountered were the sandy trails. I read other reports which mentioned the sandy trails but did not realize how deep it would be in some areas making progress difficult.

Overall we found the trail moderately challenging and look forward to returning.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Great straightforward hike for getting your gear ready for the year. Nice way to start the backpacking season and get in hiking shape. Plenty of outs for those who need it along the way.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Over Memorial Day weekend we decided to hike the Waterloo - Pinckney Trail. This trail is a point-to-point trail that cover 36 miles of rugged terrain. There is a ton of rolling hills that test your skills, mental and physical conditioning, and your pain tolerance.

Our original plan was to do all 36 miles. Unfortunately, we were under trained and with a server thunderstorm rolling in we decided to call off the last 12 miles.

If you are planning on doing this trial and completing the hike through, I highly recommend training for this. This trail in my opinion is at an advance level. The terrain is rugged with a lot of uneven ground that takes a toll on your ankles and knee's. The high rolling hills will test your endurance and take a toll on your feet. Make sure you have a good pair of broken in boots.

If you start at Big Portage Lake, you can make your first campsite at Pines Campground. There is not a well on site, but if you travel North for a 1/2 mile there is a horse stable that has water. For your second day, I would recommend that you make a pit stop at the horse campground at mile marker 14 or the DNR headquarters to replenish water before continuing on to complete the 13 mile hike. For your second night, I would tentatively plan on staying at Greenlake campground. When we arrived at the campsite it was loaded with car campers that were looking to party. There was open weed smoking and a ton of drinking. This is were our trip ended. However, there is a well for water. If you continue your third campsite will be Blind lake. This campsite is a great spot that is off the trail for backpackers only. This site also has a well. From there you are home free. Enjoy and be safe.

This trail got the best of us but we will be back!!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

A friend and I hiked this trail a few times this summer and we LOVE it!! It's challenging and beautiful.

Monday, June 13, 2016

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.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Have done this a year ago very confusing as it looks like three paths intertwine.

Friday, September 05, 2014

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.


Monday, June 02, 2014

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.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Great hiking trails!!!

Friday, February 07, 2014

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.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

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.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

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.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

This thing is good

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We hiked part of this trail in early spring and absolutely adored it. This is great for kids - lots of different, engaging scenery, some slight elevation, and "ridges" to hike which were impressive to the kids until we started hiking in some mountainous national parks! Really a great hike for kids who are athletic or a little older. Bring water, bug spray, etc... you will pass marsh lands and bogs and if the skeetos are out you will be eaten alive. We hike this trail in spring and fall after the air is largely cleared of bugs. We generally spend the whole day. Keep your tracker on - download the alltrails ap for a VERY easy one or use alpine quest - that way you can loop back if you need to. Trail has mediocre markings at times.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Great trail for starters or families, with older kids (12ish and up) nice campground art crooked Lake, short walk to silver lake one of 2 swimming lakes, inthe over20,000 acres Of park. The other primitive camp its green lake. Its called that for a reason! Gross lake!!! And the sites there are not very nice. But all the trails are beautiful!

trail running
Saturday, January 07, 2012

No amount of bug spray and repellent can keep the deerflies off of you! Beware, and stay away during the warm months. We did a 5 mile stretch of the trail from the ranger's headquarters the nature station. It was pretty; as much as I could tell while running that is.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My husband and I only did part of the trail but we really liked what we saw. It seems like a decently moderate hiking area, plenty of forest and wild life. Don't forget your bug spray though! There were others, hiking as well, and all seemed to enjoy it. It is definitely an area that we would like to revisit sometime.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nice trail with lot's of options. Mostly hiked the west end. Lot's of good hills with nice views. Saw a lot of Mountain Bikers though. Some good Geo caches along the way and in the area. Hills are very slick in the fall with leaves on the hilly trail parts. Campsites aren't much to speak of but will do. Best for day hiking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

So far I have only hiked the trail between the Portage Lake trail head and Mt. Hope Road. The summit of Sackrider is just north of Mt Hope road. It is the second highest elevation in Jackson County at 1128 feet above sea level. The view, once good is now almost obliterated by trees. The trail to this point is heavily wooded so in the summer take mosquito spray. There are lake views and some small streams in this section.

20 days ago

27 days ago

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