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Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

MODERATE 89 reviews

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 33.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Grass Lake, Michigan that features a lake and is rated as moderate. 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.

Distance: 33.9 miles Elevation Gain: 2,358 feet Route Type: Point to Point

dogs on leash

kid friendly


cross country skiing

horseback riding

nature trips








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.

1 month ago

I consider the Waterloo-Pinckney trail to be my "home" trail. I love it. I have hiked the entire trail (35 miles) in one day, and section hiked it more times than I can count. It's a wonderful trail and we're so lucky to have it here in Michigan.

2 months ago

I’ve hiked the trail twice. Here are some pointers: 1.) most mile markers after ~20 are unreliable. Ignore them. 2.) the horse trails (miles 8-13) SUCK! Anticipate this. Start from the Waterloo side if possible get this section out of the way. Always say “hi” to the horses so they don’t panic and buck their owners. 3.) the “toughest” terrain, not counting the DREADFUL horse section, spans miles 18 to 21.5. 4.) Water refill at the observatory (mile ~16), and the hand-pump well at green lake (mile 21.5). This trail is beautiful, challenging, and rewarding. As you march, you’ll see everything Southeast Michigan ecology has to offer.

4 months ago

Before talking about our trip, I need to mention mileage for this hike. AllTrails and other sites have this marked as a 33/34 mile hike, this is not correct. The hike from Portage to Silver lake is 36/37. The MDNR map does not obviously convey this information but the signs at each of the trailheads do. All of our trail mapping and step counting devices confirmed the true distance. We encountered many inaccurate mile markers between mile marker 34 & 18; several mile markers had 1.25 miles in between, there was even a set of mile markers with only .5 miles separating them. Mile markers between mile 1 & mile 18 measured much more accurately. For our hike, we ambitiously decided to attempt conquering this trail over a two day period. This is a challenge that I would only recommend for experienced hikers, as it requires a 20+ mile day + a near 20 mile day. We started at the Silver lake / Pinckney side and stayed the night at Sugarloaf campgrounds. Top considerations: 1.) Bugs - mosquitos and horseflies were there, but not nearly as bad as other reports. We wore pants, long sleeve shirts, and hiked a faster pace that didn’t allow them to easily land on or annoy us. 2.) Water - there are a few near / off trail water sources, but options on the trail are very limited. The trail passed by many lakes and several wet lands, but only 3 actively running streams. We had 80 degree weather, relatively low humidity & frequent wind, so resupplying water wasn’t really an issue. 3.) Elevation - the trail has a lot of ups & downs. If you are worried about summiting Sackrider hill, it’s only challenging if hiking West to East. We hiked it East to West and had the simple task of walking down the steep hill.

4 months ago

Started at mile 0.0- hiked to 7 mile marker- out and of 14 miles total- some nice elevation gain and decent- trail is decent but overgrown in some areas- hot but a nice breeze kept deer flies and mosquitoes at bay but really got swarmed near boggie areas so deet spray was a must!

5 months ago

Hiked from Portage Lake to the Pines campground 6/22/19 as an overnight trip. Overall a good hike with challenging terrain for southern Michigan. Trail is flooded just before you get to Baldwin Road. To avoid this on the way back we took Baldwin to Glenn Road. Water was about mid-shin deep and unavoidable. Bring bug spray. At the Pines Campground there is a pit toilet but no water. Take the two track by the pit toilet north to the stables about half mile and there will be a well on the right just before you get to the stables.

6 months ago

Good for overnights and those who want to get in a lot of miles. For everyone else, there are more scenic trails out there with less poison ivy and bugs.

6 months ago

Hiked the complete trail this weekend. Slept at Pines and Blind lake. Ticks are abundant this year but other bugs were not bad at all. great signage with the exception of two spots that were easily determined from the map. Stick to the indicated "dry way" before pines, the regular route is flooded.

6 months ago

Very cool! Sandy and hilly on the west side of 52. Can’t wait to do it again!

8 months ago

Trail was overall good goes from flat to hilly most of it. There was some crazy water on some parts of the trail at this time of year making it a bit difficult but over all a good experience . The pines campground was nice and remote but no water at the stables this time of year so that made things challenging for the next day. I’d say it’s more moderate than easy.

Sun Sep 30 2018

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.

Tue Sep 18 2018

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.

Sat Sep 08 2018

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.

Sat Aug 04 2018

Great hike. Bring bug spray.

Thu Jul 19 2018

Conditions throughout the length of this trail will vary. As others have said, there are areas with a lot of horse poop and sometimes I've dealt with tons of bugs and other times not so much. All areas are moderate to challenging - elevation gain, sandy parts, etc. All in all though it's an excellent trail if you plan it out right, do your research (some portions are not well marked) and pair it with backpacking and camping. The scenery along the way features some beautiful views of the lake, meadows, and forest paths.

Sat Jun 16 2018

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.

Fri May 18 2018

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.

Sun Mar 18 2018

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.

Thu Jan 11 2018

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.

Tue Oct 17 2017

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

Tue Sep 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.

Wed Aug 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.

Mon 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!!!

Wed Nov 02 2016

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

Mon Jun 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.

Mon May 02 2016

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

Fri Sep 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.

Mon Jun 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.

Fri May 23 2014

Great hiking trails!!!

Fri Feb 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.

Thu Jun 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.

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