Mio Weekend Trip Recap

Anyone that’s spent a good amount of time in Michigan, specifically the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, will know how sandy it is. We’ve been on the west side of the LP and worked through the sandy trails around Grayling and Kalkaska. And now we’ve had the chance to check out the east side in the Mio area. New Holland Overland organized a trip in the Huron National Forest, a place we hadn’t been able to get to yet but can confidently now say we have.

The plan for the weekend was to meet up just outside of Mio at the Mack Lake ORV Campground. The nice thing about Mack Lake Campground is that it’s just outside of the city of Mio, but isn’t too close to notice any of the normal road or city noises. Forgot some supplies? Or need fuel? It’s a short drive into town to grab what you need, fuel up, or grab a pizza at the Mio Pizza Shop, which we highly recommend!

With 175 acres of land, Mack Lake Campground is a good-sized campground tucked back in the woods and out of the way. The campsites were all nicely spaced and most of them were large enough to get at least two vehicles on. Friday wasn’t terribly busy with only a few of the spots filled by some RV campers and a few of us meeting up. The campground has two loops that give campers some options as to where to set up with both having easy access to the lake.

A few of us were there early so we decided to hit some trails about an hour before the sun went down. We ended up doing a short route just north of Mack Lake that brought us back to the campsite just after dark. Our leader for the weekend arrived not long after we left, but we met back up at the campground, made some dinner, and had a fire for a little while.

Weirdly, for June, the night was really cold. I’m fairly certain it got down into the mid to high 30s easily. My five-year-old daughter was supposed to come along with me and decided she wanted to stay home instead. Which I am very happy about. I tracked the weather all week and was ill-prepared for the two nights we were there. My new to me rooftop tent was only equipped with some regular bedding and no extra blankets for warmth. Needless to say, I was not comfortable either night, but that was my own fault.

Saturday morning started out cool and comfortable. Good trail weather for sure. We all assembled at the entrance to the campground and headed out for a fantastic day of trails. After a few stoppages because of closed trails we got into the swing and had no other issues the rest of the day. Most of what we were on were the standard sandy trails that are commonplace in Northern Michigan. We ended up on a really tight and twisty section that was the slowest and probably the most entertaining part of the loop we did.

Around lunch, we stopped at Bull Gap Hill to check it out. We got a few sideways glances from the guys on the ATVs and dirt bikes but then proceeded to attempt the hill climb. From the bottom, it doesn’t look that steep. However, it’s once you get going up when you realize the difficulty in getting a loaded rig up it. Out of the six of us, only two rigs made it up to the top. The trail back down to the bottom ended up being some of the more technical trails we were on that day.

After Bull Gap we headed back out to finish out the day and the loop that was planned. We ended up doing about 100 miles in the area on varying types of terrain, most of which was the fine sandy trails Northern Michigan is known for. We made the decision to head back to the same campsite instead of trying to find a dispersed site for the night. After some dinner, beers, and fire I was once again left with being cold for the night in my roof tent. The second night was just as chilly as the first. Again, this was my fault for not having some extra blankets. The tent itself was warm once morning hit but starting out it was very cold.

All-in-all this was a great, quick weekend getaway to break up the monotony. Mio offers a huge amount of trails that I wasn’t aware of having mostly explored the west side of the state. I definitely recommend spending some time on the northeast side of Michigan and see what you can find.

Link to route on Gaia GPS

The Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail

DISCLAIMER: This route potentially passes through an ATV only trail north of Calumet. Please ensure you are paying attention to posted signs when driving this route. Do not drive on any trails that are posted for ATV only.


The Seven Hour Plane Crash trail is easily one of the best overlanding trails in the midwest. If you haven’t heard of it before, here’s what it is and my personal experience driving the trail. It was initially posted on an overland bound forum by member GPG3. The Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail

The trail was meant to serve as an alternative to the TWAT for those who had 4×4/overlanding rigs. The trail starts in northern Wisconsin and travels through Copper Harbor, Michigan. 

It covers a variety of terrain, including dirt, sand, rock, and a ton of puddles to splash through. The trails are easy enough for a stock rig with high clearance, but technical enough to keep those fully built rigs feeling satisfied. I went with my trail buddy Dovydas Sungaila this fall, and we had a blast. We didn’t need any recovery gear except for a tire repair kit that we did use. 

One section of the trail was completely flooded out, so we ended up crossing some pretty deep water. The trail is split up into 4 phases; however, because of logging, the updated version is split up into 5 phases. Let’s jump into my experience driving the 7-hour plane crash trail.

On the first day on the trail, we covered phases one and three; this section was gorgeous in the fall. The roads and trees were all covered in burnt orange and yellow leaves. Everything was smooth sailing until we had a shocking turn. We rolled into a section that was pretty heavily flooded and came across our first and only river crossing. 

The first rig that went in was a 2016 Toyota 4Runner, and it sunk in deep. My copilot and I were in shock because we did not expect it to be that deep. The water nearly went up to his windows midway through the crossing. 

He didn’t go in with enough momentum and got stuck on a muddy ledge while still submerged. After a few seconds that felt like minutes, he managed to get out after coming to nearly a complete stop. Seeing him get out was a relief, but then it was my turn.  

Giving the skinny pedal a good tap, I plunged my FJ into the muddy river, and after getting both wheels over the ledge my trail buddy got stuck on, we both rolled out of there with our adrenaline pumping. After that, the rest of the day was super quiet. We hit some rocky sections on the trail but nothing major. While still heading to our campsite, the sunset beat us, and we finally rolled into our campsite at Perch Lake around 6:30. We set up camp at spot number 5 for $14.

On day two, we covered phases 3 – 5, but I do not recommend doing this ever again. It was an extremely long day, and it would’ve taken us 13 hours of straight driving to complete the trail. During phases 3 and 4, we passed a lot of lakes, which was very refreshing. 

My favorite campsite we found overlooked a beautiful meadow that had a fire ring and a little camping section. Although it was not far from the trail, it would’ve made an excellent campsite for the night. I have the waypoint locked in on Gaia maps.

About midway through the section of phase 4, there are markers on Gaia that say rocky road. We thought we were about to hit some mid-level bouldering sections, but no, this was the start of the bumpiest part of the trail. If you don’t have good suspension, hell, even if you do, the whole trail was quite rough. It made everyone’s neck a little stiff.

Driving into the town of Houghton was one of the highlights of the trip. There’s a very rocky decline that we were surprised to find as you enter the town, which is also marked on the map. We stopped briefly at a brewery and got some drinks and food and then went on our way. 

The next section of the trail was again very bumpy at the beginning. We would’ve taken a break, but we were trying to finish the trail in only two days. We passed more lakes and scenic sections of the trail. At times I forgot we were in Michigan because some of the areas were just out of this world.

Now, this is an essential part of the trail that will help you avoid an hour or more of backtracking and put you in logging territory. At 47.41330, -88.01794, we turned left and took the main road to Copper Harbor, which is a 10-minute drive. If you stay on the trail, there is no way to get through to the end. Everything is closed and locked. Learn from our mistake that took us two hours of backtracking.

After you hit Copper Harbor phase 5 will commence, I had already gone on this section before, and it has lots of smooth dirt roads and some fun puddles to splash in. It won’t take you long before you reach the end of the trail and come to one of my favorite spots to camp. This place is pretty popular, so don’t think you’ll be alone at the campground, but it was an excellent opportunity to talk to new people and share our stories about trails traveled and rigs built.

Overall, the 7-hour plane crash trail was a win! I plan on doing it again next year with a larger group. Doing it again, I would split it up into a 3-4 day trip.

Gaia Link to the 7 Hour Plane Crash Trail

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An Overnight Trip In Gaylord

I left Freeland around 11 am Sunday, and after turning around two times because I forgot some essentials, I finally made my way up to Gaylord for a quick overnight. It was rainy when I left and cloudy when I got into Gaylord, but Weather Underground was telling me I was in for a good 18 hours of beautiful weather.

I stopped by White Birch Outfitters(WBO) for some local info and scored a nice pair of Kuhl pants that were on clearance. I got a paper map with suggestions on where to go from the owner, Casey Buckleitner.

I picked a spot near Black River and did about a mile hike down to this outdoor stove Casey told me about. I got back and decided to set up camp. I should have waited and gone exploring because a car did come by me later, as I was enjoying a Guinness, and they had just seen four elk in the field a 1/4 mile away. Oh well.

I had also stopped at Jay’s in Gaylord and picked up a Mr. Buddy heater because I knew the temps were going to be below freezing overnight. I didn’t sleep with it running in the Roof Top Tent (RTT), but it did warm things up a bit before I went to bed and made getting out of the sleeping bag easier in the morning.

After my beer and almost vegetarian chili, I sat in my rocking camp chair and enjoyed a little Glenlivet. The smoke from the fire and chilly weather reminded me of my trip to Scotland. With no road noise or cell service, it was a great way to unplug. I also had attempted a Swedish fire log but didn’t have metal wire, so I just stopped short of entirely splitting the log. I don’t think I had enough airflow from it not being split enough, and I ended up putting it on the fire. It really kicked out heat versus a solid log.

Weather Underground was right on with the weather. Clouds went away, and with a new moon, the stars quickly came out. I didn’t bring my tripod but made do with a flat piece of wood and my bag to get some 30-second exposure shots.

I heard more coyotes than I did last weekend near Manistee. When I was sitting by the fire, I would bang my hatchet against my shovel, and that seemed to quiet them down. It also made me feel better because I forgot to grab my 1911 when I left. During the night, they continued to howl/bark/whine about every 1/2 hour or so. But once I fell asleep, I didn’t hear them anymore.

Also, on this trip, I tried out using a marine battery to power my CPAP. I have mild sleep apnea, and after just one night without it in Hiawatha National Forest in July, I was dog tired the next day and had to stay at a state park with electricity in Copper Harbor. I finally got to use a thing Brett Ratell made to secure the power cord. I left the battery down in the annex and ran the cable up to the CPAP. I had the best night’s sleep camping outside a campground ever. A dual battery setup is in my future now.

I woke up around 6 am, and it was too dark and too cold for me to start my day. I fired up the little heater for a few minutes to warm up. Then I went back to sleep for another hour. I woke up, and the soft glow of light was coming through the tent fabric. I had some condensation inside, but I aired it out with a fan when I got home. I used the heater again in the annex while I made breakfast.

The fire had burnt out overnight, and I decided against starting another in the morning. I used my little Coleman stove in the annex, and along with the heater, it was nice and toasty. I had some pre-made cold brew coffee in the morning in my freebie yellow cup that AEV gave away at the 2018 open house. I love this cup. Cold and hot drinks are both good in it. After sipping some almost boiling cold brew, I ate some blueberry muffins and some warm oatmeal.

Packing up the tent always seems to take ten times longer than setting up and 31-degree temperatures didn’t help. But finally, I was all packed up, DNR camping form in a plastic bag under a rock on a piece of wood that was there before me, and I was on my way. Instead of just hitting Go Home on the GPS, I put in the rough location of the witness tree and elk viewing area #2. I took some seasonal roads to try to extend the day a little more before heading south. Again goose eggs on the elk sighting. Eventually, I made my way to Vanderbilt and I-75 and headed home.

This is definitely a place I want to go back to and explore more.

Places to Go: Isle Royale

Located 56 miles from the Keweenaw Peninsula in the northwest corner of Lake Superior resides the 4th largest inland lake island in the world. It’s the second largest in the great lakes after Manitoulin Island on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in the Ontario Province. We are of course talking about the quarter pounder of islands, Isle Royale.

The Places to Go series explores adventure related points of interest in the state of Michigan. We are highlighting everything from the large to small, the known to the unknown. If it’s interesting, we might cover it, and you should visit it.

Isle Royale is classified as a national park that attracts people from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. With a total area of 206 square miles, the island is only accessible via boat or plane seasonally. The major part of the island is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide but is made up of about 450 smaller islands and waterways. These combined areas make up the whole national park.

Photo From National Park Service Website
Photo From National Park Service Website

Isle Royale, like Mackinac Island, does not permit motor vehicle usage. There aren’t even any roadways on the island itself. The park service has a few motorized vehicles, but most of the movement from the harbor area to cabins or the hotel is done with service carts.

Interestingly, the mainland area of Isle Royale contains several good-sized lakes as well. Siskiwit Lake, the largest of them, contains numerous smaller islands as well. One of these is Ryan Island, which contains Moose Flats. Moose Flats contains a seasonal bound with a boulder in it. When the water levels are high enough the boulder, named Moose Boulder, becomes the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world. We think we got that right.

Rock Harbor and Windigo are both starting points for exploring the island. These are the primary in routes for the island that offer some amenities and campgrounds for visitors. Various other campgrounds around the island that are only accessible by boat or a good hike through the island.

Photo From National Park Service Website
Photo From National Park Service Website

 

Despite its remoteness in Lake Superior, Isle Royale offers a number of different activities for anyone visiting. There are a number of hiking trails throughout the island offering varied difficulties for anyone wanting to do some backpacking. There are several day hikes that can be done, or if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can take the two-week trek around the island.

While hiking and camping are probably the primary activities, visitors are also able to fish the lakes which contain several different species of trout and perch. Canoeing and kayaking are also allowed but may be difficult due to the islands no wheeled vehicles rule. Visitors would have to hike in their canoe or kayak.

If you enjoy diving, there are several shipwrecks around the island that can be explored. Several of them are still accessible in the waters around the island for anyone willing to brave the depths and near-freezing temperatures.

Grayling, Kalkaska, and an Awesome Lake

What follows is a long-overdue rundown of our June trip. After the shakedown that went awry in May, this trip went off with next to no problems. My buddy Marc wanted to tag along, so I picked him up from his house. We left out of metro Detroit Friday afternoon with a 3.5 to 4-hour trek up to Indian River. If you haven’t been up to Indian River, it’s a small town split between I-75 and nestled between Burt Lake and Mullet Lake. With the Indian River the bi-way between both lakes.

We stopped off at a bar on the river to meet up with one of Marc’s friend Mike. After a quick beer for Marc (water for me, I was driving) we headed out to the DNR office nearby to grab some campsite permits. Mike was following us thinking we were heading to our meeting spot. However, he ended up tailing another grey Suburban. Once we got to the meeting spot, we realized we didn’t have him. He eventually showed up.

Once everyone was gathered up, we headed out to the area we were planning to camp. I had three different spots picked out based on satellite images of the area. Once we got off the main road, I realized our group had gotten split. I managed to get coordinates to the first spot to the other group, which ended up being a bust. It was a wide-open field that looked like it had just been plowed.

We kept moving along to the second spot and managed to meet up with the separated group at one of our turns. The second site was also a bust. It ended up being a low area off of the trail that no one would have been able to get down to quickly. Some of the rigs with us maybe would have made it up and down but not me for sure.

The last spot was a little further up the trail. Instead of having everyone follow down, we had Dan run down in his Chevy Colorado to scope it out. After a few minutes, he came bombing back up the trail and told us there was a good-sized clearing a little way in, which was good news. I didn’t have another spot picked out that was close. Not sure what we would have done.

We moved down the trail and into the spot. Right at the beginning of the trail, there was a sizable tree that had come down. There was some concern that a few of the rigs wouldn’t make it through because of tents on roofs or just having a higher stance. Luckily everyone made it through without issue.

Saturday morning had us breaking camp around 10 and moving out of the forest. I had planned to work south on trails to get to the Grayling/Kalkaska loop. We worked some trails in the morning, but I ended up deciding to hit the pavement to make the loop. After a quick stop for gas, we spent about 30-45 minutes heading south before we got to the trailhead parking lot.

We made lunch in the staging area and jumped onto the ORV trails. I’ve driven the loop before, and it took almost an entire day to complete the whole thing. That was with three vehicles. This time we had three times that. We started from the north end and worked east and then south. We didn’t complete the entire loop, only the eastern half before we made it to the southern staging area.

The downside to being on this trail system is it is mostly sand, so seeing back more than two vehicles was a problem. We could have done with a little rain overnight or in the morning to keep the dust down. We managed though and made a few stops along the way in some wooded areas to get out and stretch a bit.

The thing I like about this loop is the changes it offers. You get a good amount of different terrain to work with and put your vehicle through its paces. It’s a good test for beginners to try out their rigs and maybe some recovery gear.

Once we made it to the southern staging area, we did a quick regroup. It was early enough in the day to keep on the trails, so we crossed M-72 and were back into the woods. This next section took us directly through the Camp Grayling area on more sandy trails. Most of it was pretty open with a minimal amount of tree coverage.

Eventually, we came to a quick stop at the CCC Bridge State Forest Campground on the Manistee River. If you’re looking for an excellent rustic campground with water access to stay at I’d recommend staying here. This campground was going to be a fallback in case we had issues finding a dispersed spot.

We ushed on heading south still until we found an excellent spot on Grass Lake. It was a good find because the place I had picked out was just a middle of nowhere opening to the east. The site is hidden off the main path, and I wasn’t sure we would even be able to get back to it without walking in. Luckily, the short trail opened up into a wooded good-sized clearing that fit all of us comfortably with room for a few more rigs.

Everyone set up camp for the night and started in on making some food. We got a fire going and spent the rest of the evening having some beverages and chatting. Honestly, this ended up being one of my favorite spots I’ve camped. I had my hammock set up and sleeping on the water is always pleasant. We were all treated to an awesome sunset over the lake and clear skies at night.

Sunday had us break camp and head home. My original plan was to go into the northern end of Manistee for one more night with Marc and Mike. However, some family things came up, and we decided to head back home. Luckily we did because a rain shower moved through later that day which would have made set up that evening a pain.

All in all, this was a successful trip. I planned probably an additional two days worth of routes with the hope to get through everything. Unfortunately, we bypassed a good amount coming south from the first camp and didn’t even get to the western route into Manistee. Their both sections that I want to get back to eventually and try out.