Monday, October 12, 2015

Shingle Mill Pathway

Shingle Mill Pathway:
Trailhead Elevation: 11,794 ft.
Distance: 10.5 mi. (my GPS)
Elevation Gain: 847 ft. (my GPS)
Start Time: 2:57pm
End Time: 4:46pm

Trip Report:
A Pastor's conference at Boyne Mountain brought me up to Northern Michigan and an afternoon window of free time gave me the opportunity to hunt for a trail run. I had run the bike trails at Boyne a couple times before and found them very difficult to follow. This time I was looking for something more. In doing research on trails in the area I came across the Shingle Mill Pathway. I was pleased to see it was well marked and even found a good GPX route to load on my phone as backup.

Trailhead area
The trailhead was at an easy to find campground in the Pigeon River Country State Forest Area. It was roughly 8 miles east of Vanderbilt, Michigan on Sturgeon Valley Rd. I parked in a small trailhead parking lot on the south side of the road and then walked north into the campground to find the trailhead at the northeast end of the campground.

Here at the beginning there are 3/4 and 1 1/4 mile loops that can be walked/hiked/run. The trail intersections appear to all be very well marked. I ran from junction 1 to 2 to 3 and then on to 5 which was the eastern part of the loops. To the west I would occasionally see a large meadow which made for a nice view.

One of the more enjoyable parts of this trail is the many different types of forest and landscape that are encountered. While there are really few if any large expansive views from hillsides it is fortunate that the forest itself changes are you progress onward. The hills early on were quite modest with just some minor ups and downs. About 2 miles in on the trail I passed the Forest Area HQ. In this area you had to pay attention a bit for the blue blazes on the trees marking where the trail would continue. A little common sense had me just moving forward in front of the buildings and eventually the trail presented itself after a small clearing.

The weather today kept my attention a bit. There wasn't supposed to be any major rainfall but the threat of a light shower was there. As I began there were some sprinkles falling but they didn't last long. The clouds stayed thick on me the whole way which didn't help in bringing out any of the wonderful fall colors. The temps were right around 60 degrees which made for pretty good running.

After the Forest HQ it was a quick 3/4 of a mile and then I hit another campground. Here too the trail actually heads along the campground roads and you have to look for the blue blazes on trees to follow the trail and hit it when it leaves the camp. The trail followed a road heading east out of the campground to a road junction where you head left (northwest) and cross a bridge. Shortly after the bridge the trail leaves the road into some this brush on the right side. This part of the trail really slowed me down as the thickness of the vegetation hugged tight on the single-track trail.

This next area of trail, after heading northwest from junction #6 looked as though it may offer the best views of the day. You hug the edge of a ridge which overlooks the Pigeon River and offers the hope of a few expansive views, but the trees proved too thick to ever get a really good photo shot. Upon arriving at trail junction #7 I had my first big decision. The 11-mile loop or the 10-mile loop? Part of me wanted distance today so the 11-mile was enticing. The 10-mile also held some allure as it went directly to the east side of Grass Lake which could offer views. I opted for the 11-mile loop.

It appeared this was the path slightly less traveled. After passing junction #8 and before the trail began its westward turn I found an area of thick tree cover. The ground cover was short but thick and the trail began to become faint. I had to pay close attention through here to stay on track.

Junctions 10 and 11 were very well marked as these are major trail intersections. At junction 10 the 10-mile loop meets up again and one could head south from here to get to Grass Lake. At junction #11 the High Country Trail runs into the Shingle Mill and these two run together back to the area where I had parked. From this intersection was a great downhill which felt as wide as a highway and I enjoyed the easy cruising.
Junction #11 with the High Country Trail

One thing I had been hoping for on this trail run was some good animal sightings. This is supposed to be a popular area for elk but I was not so fortunate to see any. I did see some small critters and for a split-second the back end of a white-tail deer, but that was it.

Passing Grass Lake the trail only came near enough once for a shot through the trees at the lake where I did snap a photo.

My best look at Grass Lake
About half mile passed the Grass Lake area the trail entered this most interesting meadow-like area. The trees were suddenly evergreens and the ground brush had this reddish-brownish color to it. The trail itself became very sandy and it was intriguing how quickly the vegetation had changed up. I kept fighting the urge to stop and take continuous pictures and worked to keep the run going.

As I passed Ford Lake I snapped one of the more beautiful shots I had all day. The lake was back-dropped with numerous colored trees and it was unfortunate I didn't have sunshine to really bring out the color.

Ford Lake
One of the last features of the trail-run was the 3/10 of a mile long boardwalk through yet another beautiful forest area. By my GPS the boardwalk hit about 9.6 miles in which was roughly 8 tenths of a mile from the highway. The boardwalk was two planks wide and a foot or two off the ground most of the way. This sometimes swampy area was relatively dry today and to get off the boardwalk wouldn't present much of a problem. As the boardwalk ended so too I knew I was almost back to the road.

As the trail neared the highway a bridge over the Pigeon River lay ahead. The trail worked its way around to the west end of the bridge and then that was it. There wasn't much indication as to where the trail went so I assumed this meant a quick walk down the road back to the trailhead parking. It took me 1:49:07 to run the 10.68 miles (according to my GPS). This averaged out to a 10:13 pace. I wasn't ever pushing it too hard today and couple that with numerous photo spots and this felt about right.

Approaching the highway at the end of the trail
If I get up to northern Michigan with time to spare I would definitely enjoy running this loop again. I think I would opt for the 10-mile loop next time to hopefully get more of Grass Lake and get a different look at the trail. I was pleased to see that the route-finding for almost the entire way was relatively straightforward. Hoping for even better weather next time.

Pigeon River

Back on the highway.  The parking I used was on the right side about 200 feet ahead.
Campground and Shingle Mill trailhead was across the road on the left


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk). 

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