The North Country Trail is the longest of the National Scenic Trails at 4600 some miles. Starting in New York and going all the way to North Dakota, thru hiking it would be quite a trek. Living in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, I come across many sections of the trail when I am out day hiking. However I have not done any backpacking along it. Before this summer was over, I wanted to do an overnight trip along one of the many trail segments. I chose the section from Old Victoria going East to the Baltimore River. It was close to where I live, and had some cool looking areas. This is my trip report.
We started at the Old Victoria restoration area, parking our car in the small lot there. This is the site of an old mining town built around the turn of the 20th century to house miners for the Victoria Copper Mine. A friendly caretaker was there to greet us, and told us about the history of the area. From there we embarked on our journey. Heading out of Old Victoria the trail was well marked and well groomed with blue blazes every 20′ or so. Just out of the restoration site we passed a small hiker shelter with a trail register. Further West we passed the Victoria Spring, a pipe coming out of the side of the road, and filled up water there.
After crossing Victoria Dam Road, we headed down a gravel road leading past a power plant to the West Branch of the Ontonagon River. There has been quite a bit of rain up here this summer, so the river wasn’t as low as I was expecting from other reports. Fording in the deeper section would have meant wading across. The rocks were slippery, and it was hard to see the footings as the water was pretty murky. So I decided to cross at the shallower rapid section down stream of where the trail comes out. I took my socks off to keep them dry, and wore my Altra’s for traction. Trekking poles were necessary for keeping stability as the current was a too fast for a simple crossing. After a couple minutes of carefully finding footings on the uneven river bed, we made it across. Triumphant in our ford, we took a break to dry off and drink a trail beer.
Coming out of the river valley the trail got a little steep. But after this climb it was mostly flat, traveling through dense young forests. The trail from here on out was over grown in areas, but it was still well marked and easy to follow. We passed a bear scat on the trail, filled with pulpy berry remnants. Be bear aware when hiking in this area and take necessary precautions. I like using my BearVault BV500 when traveling in bear country. Although it weighs more, sealing your food in an impenetrable container is a lot easier to deal with than finding a place to hang a food bag.
It was getting late, and the forest in this area was dense and boggy. Not a good area for finding a campsite. So we changed course, moving over to the forest road that ran parallel to this section of the trail. You occasionally find campsites used by OHV’ers along these remote service roads. Worst case scenario, we could always pitch on the side of the road. Soon after going down this gravel road, we found a great campsite. There is a side road that leads to a large man made clearing, with a fire pit in the center. This area is not on the official USFS maps, so I am not sure why it exists, but I marked the approximate location on the map I made. It is located between F3 and F2 of USFS Road 733 F. This well cleared and flat area was a saving grace for us. All of the other camping areas were sketchy at best. We made a small fire and cooked some rice, enjoying the evening as day passed into night.
It was raining in the morning when I woke up. So I just chilled in the tent for an hour or so, waiting for it to let up. The rain finally settled down, so we opted to pack up while the rain was light, not knowing whether it would stop at all that day. Even though the ground we pitched our tent on appeared pretty flat, the drainage in the area was not great. We ended up with a little pool of water under the tent, leaking onto the inside.
We continued down the forest road for a little bit, eventually meeting back up with the NCT. It was pretty slow going through this section of the trail. The plants were overgrown onto the trail, and the rain from the previous night made for lots of mud. As we went further West, the young forest began to give way into older growth, freeing up the trail from thick underbrush. Soon we came upon a small river crossing at Sandstone Creek. While the trail leading into and out of the stream was steep and slippery, the crossing was trivial with the help of a few boulders to jump on.
After crossing highway 45, we arrived at the trailhead for O Kun de Kun falls. There is a little parking lot there for day hikers. This section of the trail was well traveled, and well groomed as far as keeping the flora back goes. However there were lots of mud pits, and I found myself significantly slowed down jumping to and from logs and solid ground. Some of the areas had gravel or planks put down to go over the boggy area.
As you get close to the Ontonagon River, you will see a steep side trail leading to the upper falls. While still quite impressive, this is not the main attraction. We stopped here to lay out gear on the rocks to dry out a bit. There was still a chance of more rain in the afternoon and we didn’t want to be sleeping with damp gear. Also ate a brunch, as I hadn’t eaten much in the morning, opting to hike on in the cold rain.
Eventually we packed up and headed back to the NCT to continue to the main falls area. At first you can only hear the sound of the waterfall. But soon after that the trees open up and you are greeted with a beautiful scene. The Baltimore river flows over a sheer drop. Forming one of the only remaining plunge falls in the area. In the distance you can see a brilliant wooden suspension bridge down river. The water level was decently low, so I was able to walk out onto some rocks in the middle, making for a great overlook.
Continuing further down the trail, I was excited to see a really nice campsite near the bridge. There were a few good spots to stake tents, a picnic table, and some stone fire rings. We placed our tent on a nice flat raised area. Yay, no pools of water under the tent tonight.
It was my intention to continue along the trail for a bit, going to the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River. However, my hiking partner twisted her ankle after catching a hidden root on the trail. To let the injury recover, we headed back and chilled at our camp for the rest of the day.
Upon waking up the next morning, I was greeted with a prefect photo opportunity. The early morning fog and the warm soft rays of the rising sun’s light made for excellent pictures of the bridge and the surrounding area.
After snapping some pictures, it was time to head back. Because of the rain the previous days, I decided that recrossing the Ontonagon River would be too risky, opting to take the highway back around to the car. Luckily we were able to get a hitch from a friendly pest control man not even 15 minutes after coming to the road. Yay no boring road walking!
Upon getting back to the car and changing into dry clothes, we headed up to Ontonagon (the village) for some great breakfast at Syl’s Cafe. I can definitely recommend this place, great food, great service, and giant cinnamon rolls. What’s not to love about that?
Overall I was quite happy with the trip. I successfully crossed my sketchiest river to date. I also got a lot of great photos of the area. If not for all the rain and the muddiness of the trail, it would have been a top tier trip.