Huron National Forest
Oscoda also is known as the gateway to the Huron National Forest (Huron Shores Ranger Station, 5761 N. Skeel Rd., 989/739-0728), which covers most of the acreage between Oscoda to the east and Grayling to the west. Together, the Manistee National Forest in the western part of the state and the Huron National Forest cover more than 950,000 acres in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula.
The scenic Au Sable River flows through the Huron National Forest and was once used to float logs to the sawmills in East Tawas and Oscoda; now, of course, it’s more popular with paddlers.
The national forest is favored by a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts, including morel hunters who visit in the spring, backpackers, swimmers, and cross-country skiers. Trout fishing is a good bet in most lakes and streams, as well as in the legendary Au Sable River.
The forest’s famous River Road Scenic Byway runs 22 miles along the southern bank of the Au Sable. The byway passes some of the most spectacular scenery in the eastern Lower Peninsula and provides stunning vistas of tree-banked reservoirs and views of wildlife that include everything from bald eagles to spawning salmon. Along the way, you’ll also pass the Lumbermen’s Monument, a nine-foot bronze statue that depicts the area’s early loggers and overlooks the river valley 10 miles northwest of East Tawas.
A visitors center here houses interpretive displays that explore the logging legacy. Just a short walk away, a cliff plummets in a near-vertical 160-foot drop to the Au Sable River below. It offers jaw-dropping views of the valley and marks the beginning of the Stairway to Discovery, an unusual interpretive nature trail that descends 260 steps to the river and earns distinction as the nation’s only nature trail located entirely on a staircase.
Also in the national forest, the Tuttle Marsh Wildlife Management Area, about seven miles west of Au Sable, was created in the spring of 1990 as a cooperative effort by the U.S. Forest Service, the state’s Department of Natural Resources, and Ducks Unlimited. Once an area filled with sad-looking shrubs and scattered patches of grass, the wetlands now attract a significant number of migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, and sandhill cranes, as well as muskrats, mink, beaver, and bald eagles.
Backpackers looking for a wilderness camping experience should try the Hoist Lakes Trail System. Backcountry camping is allowed just about anywhere in this large rugged area of more than 10,000 acres. Nearly 20 miles of trails (hiking only) wander through second-growth forest over gently rolling wooded terrain, around marshes, past beaver floodings, and across streams. The forest teems with deer, bear, coyote, fox, owls, hawks, and songbirds, along with turkey, woodcock, grouse, and other game birds. Fishing includes good numbers of bass and panfish. The 6.1-mile Reid Lake Foot Travel Area marks another great hiking area surrounded by some of the forest’s most imposing hardwoods.
About 10 miles west of East Tawas, the Corsair Trail System bills itself as “Michigan’s Cross-Country Ski Capital,” but is equally popular with hikers and backpackers. Also part of the Huron National Forest, the well-marked trail system (groomed in winter) includes more than 15 loops totaling 44 miles. One writer described this sprawling complex as “a web spun by a spider high on LSD.” Choose-your-own adventures range from a short jaunt along Silver Creek to a two-day trek through the entire system.
Full of rolling hills, deep glacial potholes, and a beautiful hardwood forest, the Island Lake Recreation Area offers a quiet and beautiful alternative to the more heavily used recreation areas. You’ll find it seven miles north of Rose City via M-33 and County Road 486. Out of the way and relatively small, it hides a swimming beach, a 17-site campground, and a 65-acre lake that supports perch, bluegills, and large- and smallmouth bass. A self-guiding nature trail explains the area’s natural history and notes points of interest along the way.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel