In Manistee County, we walk. And I don’t mean we just walk to get from Point A to Point B, though our towns are small, our neighborhoods are welcoming and we do enjoy shoe leather as a means of transportation. Walking isn’t just for exercise either, though that is clearly a benefit of enjoying the great outdoors. No, I’m talking about the sheer joy of walking in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Taking it at an energetic pace or an easy stroll, the paths wind along waterways, through tree-lined streets and deep into the Manistee National Forest. Here are some favorites:
The Manistee River Walk
Winding along the Manistee River Channel, the riverwalk is a combination of cement walkways and boardwalks that stretch 1.7 miles from Jones Street all the way to the big lake. The first stretch takes you under the two major drawbridges and behind the downtown business district which offers many access points to restaurants and shopping. When you are on the “water side” of the buildings, you get a glimpse of river-living where flower baskets adorn balconies of the apartments above River Street Shops.
After shopping or perhaps enjoying a sandwich on the deck of the Blue Fish, River Street Station or the Boat House Grill, the next stop would be the City Marina and Park. Here are several shady spots where you could have a picnic or just take a break and watch the boating traffic on the river. If you’re lucky, you can watch one of the huge freighters come through on its way to or from Manistee Lake. Even locals, who have watched them come through countless times before, are struck by how impressive these big lower lakers are in the channel. Nearby is another nicely designed feature of the river walk – the handicap access.
Past the marina, the boardwalk stretches along private marinas and charter fishing docks. Here, the walkway meanders along the river bank. The sunny spots are nicely interrupted by shady overhangs. Many people share the walk with you: mothers with strollers, joggers, and others just enjoying the views. However, the walk is always relaxing and never feels crowded. Plus, the river is a natural mood enhancer so you are always greeted with a smile.
All along the way, there are markers provided by Manistee Historical Museum with historic photos and stories from more than a century ago when the river was the main artery for commerce and transportation. Ships were Manistee’s major connection with Chicago and Wisconsin and amazingly all traffic came up this channel.
Soon, the path opens up to beautiful vistas of the harbor and Lake Michigan. Ahead, with its bright red roof, is the Manistee Coast Guard Station and beyond that is the lighthouse. From here we can see the sailboats unfurling their sails as they head out on a day sail or hauling them in on their return. Fishing boats sometimes cast lines right in the harbor. Other times, they head out on the big lake for better luck. There is a treelined park ahead. Beyond that is the Lions Club’s beach pavilion and, of course, the beach. And finally you have reached the western end – the deep blue water of Lake Michigan and endless blue sky.
The River Walk is a journey through an historic and lovely small town, along a winding river bank and ending at the open expanse of the big lake.
The River Walk is a route where you often cross paths with others. However, if you prefer a more solitary adventure, the forests beckon. Just south of Manistee along Red Apple Road are two lovely parks under the management of Filer Township.
Magoon Creek was developed in 1983 by the Filer Township Natural Resources Fund. It consists of 97 acres of wooded land, 1.5 miles of trails, and 2300 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline frontage. The trails are well marked and are appropriate for all levels of hikers. Winding over rolling hills and open green spaces, the paths head into more dense forests that only allow splatters of sunlight to brighten your way. Picnic areas await you after your trek and in the warm weather there is even a water pump to cool you down and supply a welcome drink. From almost every vantage, the lake is visible as a seemingly endless blue expanse. Follow the path down to the beach where sunbathing, swimming and the unending search for beachglass awaits.
A short hop down the road from Magoon Creek is Sundling Park. This micro-park is only 66 feet wide, but boasts a quiet path and often fairly private beach. The park is pet and family friendly, though no life guard is present. The green lawn that starts the path becomes more sandy as you near the beach. Soon you find yourself surrounded by waving beach grasses on a slopping path down the face of a low dune to the end of the trail – the water’s edge.
The Beech Hemlock Nature Trail
North of town, across from Orchard Beach State Park, on the east side of M110, there are several hiking trails. The Beech Hemlock Nature Trail sign says it takes a half an hour to complete the loop. However, you may want to take it at a slower pace to enjoy the views. The path takes you through the shady hemlock grove and to a stand of impressively tall beech trees – which you would expect from the name of the trail. However, the trail also features pines, maples, wild flowers, and abundant wildlife.
This seems like a no-brainer. It is without a doubt one of the favorite places to walk in the county. The beaches are clear sand right up to the water’s edge only interrupted occasionally by tufts of dune grass. And, with incredible stretches of Lake Michigan water frontage, there are many to claim as favorites. Some are populated with families and giggling children digging in the sand. Teens love the volleyball courts of First Street Beach and, of course, sunbathing. Some prefer solitary quiet stretches with only the sound of waves and perhaps the distant calls of sea gulls to keep them company. It doesn’t matter. All variations are here in Manistee County. Quiet beaches are available at Magoon Creek or Sundling Park. First Street Beach is popular with young people and visitors to town as is the Bar Lake Inlet north of town. Fifth Avenue Beach has always been the place to go with youngsters because of the gently sloping shallow water. The beach house there is also the home of early morning Tai Chi or Yoga depending on the day. In the afternoon, the snack bar opens and serves beachgoers ready to get out of the sun for a bit.
For many beachgoers in Northern Michigan, the search for elusive Petoskey stones or beach glass is an entertaining obsession. There are closely guarded secret spots where these beach treasures are numerous. Of course, that is more legend than truth and sharp-eyed visitors can find them up and down the shoreline. The biggest trick is to look where the stones are in shallow water or freshly washed by the waves. When wet, the little patterns of the fossilized coral appear, and you know you have discovered a bit of ancient Michigan history. Beach glass is another collectable. These lovely beach finds are really just little pieces of colored glass that have been buffeted in the sand and surf till they develop smooth edges and a frosted surface. Today, on a hike to Sundling Park, I found examples of each. All around lovely and lucky day.
Whether your journey to the shore is to seek serenity, society, or even ancient stones, your time there is guaranteed to quiet your mind and soothe your soul. Beaches are magical that way. Something about the edge of land blurring with the beginning of water is beautiful, peaceful and absolutely lovely.