For many of us in the North Country Trail community, a week out on the Trail sounds like a fabulous way to spend a vacation. However, the reality for those of us still raising a family is that our limited vacation time needs to include adventures that all family members will enjoy.
On a recent family vacation our Membership Coordinator, Jill DeCator, and her family spent a week enjoying the Trail Town of Petoskey, MI. Their trip included hiking a bit of the Trail and enjoying a number of other activities around this great Trail Town. Trail Towns provide easy access to the North Country Trail, and often a host of other activities for the whole family to enjoy. Jill shares how they found something for everyone in Petoskey!
Day One – Set up Camp
We loaded up the camper, kayaks, and bikes and headed up to the Petoskey area for a family camping trip. We chose the Petoskey area because of the variety of activities offered in the area, and it’s an North Country Trail Trail Town. While a week-long backpacking trip may sound like a great way to spend a vacation, the reality is that for a family vacation to be enjoyable, it has to include a whole family of interests.
My initial thought was to stay at Petoskey State Park. But I reached out to Dove Day, an NCTA member from that area whom I’d gotten to know when she and her husband John participated in the filming of the ‘Trail in Low Places’ music video, and she recommended Camp Petosega, a county run park on the eastern shore of Pickerel Lake in Emmet County. It was a great choice — peaceful and beautiful, with great facilities. We left home in early afternoon and after checking in, got camp setup and dinner prepared at the campsite. After dinner we biked around exploring the campground.
Day Two – Kayaking Pickerel Lake
We headed out after a campsite breakfast and launched our kayaks to explore Pickerel Lake. Pickerel Lake is a mostly shallow lake, and there was little boat traffic during our paddle. Several lakes in this area are linked by rivers and channels and it is possible to kayak from the campground all the way out to Lake Huron. We would not be taking on that challenge today, but I did want to paddle to the far end of the lake and see the outlet to Crooked Lake. Unfortunately, the distance and wind was a little too much for my youngest, so we did a little shoreline paddling and exploring before heading back to the campground. The beach at the campground was nice with a playground, volleyball, basketball, picnic tables and clean bathroom facilities.
Day Three – Petoskey State Park
We headed out to Petoskey State park for a day at the beach. It was a hot, sunny day – perfect beach weather – and it was crowded. Petoskey State Park has plenty of day use parking and it’s a short walk to the water’s edge. They have clean facilities and a snack stand (with ice cream!), so that was a big winner with the kids. I couldn’t see the campground from the day use area, but since it’s right off US 31, I was doubly glad we’d chosen Petosega due to the traffic noise.
Day Four – Oden Fish Hatchery and Geocaching
Wednesday’s forecast was for rain, so we chose this day to go tour the Oden Fish Hatchery. My son is 12 and his future career interests include Fish and Wildlife Management or as a DNR Conservation Officer, so he was excited to check it out. My girls were much less enthused, but freely admitted afterward that it was really cool and fun. The Oden Fish Hatchery is run by the State of Michigan and produces both Rainbow and Brook Trout.
The hatchery was opened in 1921. A new building housing the hatchery was built in the 40’s, with the original building renovated into the hatchery manager’s residence. In 2002, the 1940’s facility was torn down and replaced with the current facility. The original 1921 hatchery building is now used as the visitor center. Adjacent to the visitor center sits the re-created 1914-1935 Wolverine train car. This historic exhibit depicts how employees of the old Michigan Department of Conservation lived on the train while transporting and stocking fish across the state.
There are walking trails along trout streams, including a viewing window built into the actual stream bed, and a few fishing ponds where you can view and feed the fish, which are very active. The most interesting part was the guided tour of the hatchery with fishery staff, walking through the various buildings that house the fish and learning about each stage of the rearing process, and the equipment and procedures necessary to ensure the health of these very sensitive fish. I could go on and on about how enjoyable and interesting our visit was. It’s definitely worth a visit.
After regrouping at the campsite we headed out to do some geocaching. Geocaching has been around for about 15 years, but we had yet to try it. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game using a GPS device or smart phone app. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates, which can be found on a geocaching website, and then attempt to find the geocache hidden at that location. Geocache containers typically hold a logbook you sign when you find the cache, and sometimes also include trinkets you can trade. We downloaded the free version of the geocaching.com app to my iPhone, and this tool worked well for us.
We discovered that Emmet County has a Geocache Passport Tour program which sounded like fun, but we had to upgrade to a premium geocaching.com account to be able to sort geocaches to find the ones for that program. What can I say, I’m cheap. So instead, we pulled up the map of the area around the campground and set off in search of the nearest caches. Some were more difficult to find, and we had a blast searching. As you can see from the photos, cache containers come in all shapes and sizes, and some are very creatively disguised. We started out working as a team, but it quickly became a competitive event to see who could locate the cache first. Darkness fell sooner than we were ready to end our geocaching adventure.
Day Five – Kayaking the Bear River and a Hike on the NCT
Our final day started with a kayak trip on the Bear River. We planned just a short, leisurely 2 hour trip from Bear River Road to Evergreen Road. Dove had kindly offered to pick me up at Evergreen and take me back to get my vehicle. When we were putting in at Bear River Rd, the Bear River Canoe Livery was there dropping off another group. They told us they offer a portage-only service, as well as rentals. When you use their portage service, you can park your vehicle and take-out at their livery at McDougall Road.
The Bear River is a lovely natural river, and you can put in as far upriver as Springvale Rd. and paddle as far into Petoskey as the River Road Sport Complex. If you travel further into Petoskey, there is a whitewater course that begins near Sheridan Rd., so be sure to take out at or before the River Road Sport Complex. After loading up the kayaks, we headed back to the campground, stopping in Alanson at the Northwood Family Restaurant for an early dinner. We arrived back at the campground and hit the Pickerel Lake beach to kill time until our evening hike.
A few hours before sunset, we drove out to John and Dove Day’s home located on a road walk section of the North Country Trail. They recently rescued, moved and restored a 120-year-old barn to their property, and they gave us a tour. Very cool. They took us on a hike on the NCT section know as the Skyline Trail, to see the newly installed hiker campsite on landowner-member Doug and Pam Boor’s property, and to the overlook to see the ‘million dollar sunset’ over Little Traverse Bay. It is a gorgeous, well-maintained section and it was a perfect evening for a hike. It was also a great way to end our Trail Town vacation.
Your family doesn’t have to be long-distance hikers to enjoy the North Country Trail. In fact, you can enjoy the Trail in a variety of ways, including a trip centered around family fun in a Trail Town. Whether you have one day or a few days, a Trail Town makes a great destination. You can learn more about family fun in Petoskey, MI on the Petoskey Trail Town page.
Looking for a Trail Town Trip near you? Be sure to check out our Trail Town page for a complete listing of Trail Towns across the North Country Trail. You’ll find fun for the whole family. Have you ever taken a Trail Town Trip? We’d love to hear your story. Share in the comments below or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.