Michigan Riding and Hiking Trail

We have been enjoying what for us has been one of the most back to nature experiences ever, riding the Michigan Riding and Hiking Trail. There are two main trails we are aware of. A North-South trail, includes two spurs off the main trail, runs from Cadillac, MI to Cheboygan, MI and main the East-West trail, which has been more popular. There are approximately 240 miles of trail which connect Lake Michigan at Empire, MI and Lake Huron at Oscoda, MI on the East-West trail. Most of the trail is on State and Federal Forest land, with some on private land as well. We are forever thankful for being allowed to access such beauty from the back of a horse. There are several clubs, whose membership provide group rides. These are often the best for novice trail riders. Most experienced riders are more than willing to help solve a problem or dispense needed advice. The majority of the trails are maintained by the members of these riding clubs. For this, we say, Thank-you!

What makes a trip across the State of Michigan possible is a series of primitive campgrounds, about every 25 miles, strung along a trail which passes along and through what we think are some of the most beautiful lakes, rivers, wildlife and forest scenery in the country. Some of the wildlife we have seen includes: porcupines, bear, beaver, deer, elk, bobcats and numerous feathered friends. A trail ride of this length isn't for the unprepared and so we offer some advice both for camping, what to bring and what to avoid, and on the trail. Please be considerate and follow the rules of the camps and trails. Especially, DON'T LITTER or ENTER FORBIDDEN AREAS!

click pictures to enlarge

There are 10 campgrounds strung along the east-west trail, which fortunately allow camping with horses. Several of the camps are near either a river or lake affording the possibility of soaking ones bottom to relieve whatever stress has built up. We have to warn you though, the water is cold! We prefer to catch a ride upstream and tube back to camp in some truck tubes we carry along with the rest of our camping essentials. The campgrounds are primitive, with hand pumps (and an electric pump if you have a 5000+ watt generator) for the wells and outhouses as the only available essentials you don't have to bring.

 

 

The terrain and riding are varied in difficulty. The final two rides at either shore are relatively short, approximately 10 -15 miles each, making it possible to skip two of the camps if one is hearty enough. It is essential that both rider and horse get in shape prior to tackling these 4 - 6 hour, 25 mile rides. Nothing bothers us more than to see a fellow rider or horse in trouble along the way because of a lack of prior planning and conditioning.

The eastern section crosses through many jack pine stands and runs along the AuSable River for a good distance. The views from the high banks along the river are incredible. There are many breathtaking spots to stop and enjoy the scenery while giving your horse a much needed rest. We have heard you can occasionally catch sight of a Bald Eagle fishing.

 

 

Michigan is fortunate to have abundant water. There are places to water your horse along all stretches of the trail. Besides the many streams there are lakes and because of the high water table small ponds and "mud holes". We urge caution though as sometimes the most inviting watering spot will draw you into it and because of the type of mud present on the bottom, will not let you get back out without assistance. You might think you can keep your horse on what looks like firm footing but remember, it only takes one step forward and you might need a few horses with ropes to tow your ride from the mud. Please use caution!

 

 

The best spots to water your horse are easy to spot since other horses have been there a path is usually evident. Many areas have some type of erosion control in place. These are the best places to water since not only are you assured a firm bottom but you won't be risking damage to the bank and water purity. Please do not try water at locations where it is evident horses are not welcome to tread. Remember, we are guests in the forest! As a backup carry either a collapsible bucket or a plastic bag big enough for your horse to drink from and if the footing is suspect, dip your horse a drink. Remember that if your horse is hot, drinking a bellyful of cold water and then stopping to rest is probably a bad idea. We advise you to keep moving after watering. You will be on your own for your personal consumption.

 

 

The trail across the state is well marked with a combination of blue spray painted dots on tree trunks, special blue tags with white printed shoes (horse and human) and posts at most corners with arrows. If only the roads between the camps were so well marked. The combination of highways, asphalt, gravel and dirt (washboard) roads can be somewhat treacherous to navigate. The topic does bring to mind that there is justice in this world. We remember a forest service truck passing through camp right before we saddled up to leave. All we could think of was why don't those guys stop and leave some toilet paper behind in the outhouses (we had been without TP during a layover day). Of course they didn't stop. About 30 minutes out of camp we came across the same truck stuck in the middle of the county road in a sand hole. The thought never entered our minds to stop and offer assistance. Ah, sweet justice!

 

 

The ride across Michigan does require planning and a certain amount of trail etiquette. The trip is best made with a group of people so that you can spot your rig at the next camp and catch a ride back to where you left your horses. You then can ride to the next camp, returning later to pick up the vehicle. The ride is unique in that it is an unguided adventure. Your horse doesn't have to eat the dust of a group of riders as happens on many organized rides. Thus, even if you leave camp in a group, you can all ride at your own pace and get spread out enough that you won't even know there are other humanoids around.

There are several swampy areas along the east-west trail. Just remember to stay on the trail! One particularly beautiful cedar swamp is near Luzerne where a wooden plank bridge that must be close to 0.5 mile in length provides a safe path. There are many smaller bridges along the way that provide safe passage across creeks and swampy areas. If your horse has a tendency to shy from these types of things it is advisable to work with him before you go or follow a friends horse across, if theirs is more amenable.

There is nothing more fulfilling that completing a journey of this nature. After two weeks of riding with no phones, mail, e-mail, supervisors, coworkers, idiots and other irritants to deal with, you are guaranteed to feel like a new person. Those last few feet into the water of one of the Great Lakes are likely to make your eyes misty. To finish off the photo gallery we leave you with two pictures of the authors and family at trails end. Kids take to a ride of this nature very well. The main complaints arose when we rode for a whole day in steady rain, even our boots filled to overflowing. The next day we rode made up for our discomfort as we rode through a patchy mist which added to the feeling of being alone with nature. It was worth the discomfort!

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