Backpacking with your dog isn’t a simple matter of slapping a leash on and setting out into the woods. There should be a lot more preparation that goes into it than that.
Going backpacking with my dog has hands down been the most rewarding bonding experience an owner and her faithful companion could possibly ask for. I can’t think of any other activity that would have quite the same effect. I’ve spent many an hour strolling alongside my pup, slipping her treats and telling her what a good girl she is.
But that’s not to say it’s for everyone. It’s my firm belief that not every dog is cut out for covering the ground required to make it in the backcountry. These are some of the considerations to ponder before taking your furry friend into the wilderness with you…
Just like us, a dog can’t simply be plopped onto the trail and immediately become a star long distance hiker. They need conditioning that gradually works them up to the distance you hope to hike. Otherwise, your dog my get injured or become sore. I’d recommend working up to no more than five miles per day for your first hike, but of course try this in areas near your home first to make sure your four-legged friend can go the distance.
It’s also important to toughen up their paws by hiking on surfaces similar to where you plan to backpack. Regardless of how tough you believe your dogs paws are, there are certain terrains that wouldn’t be good for your dogs feet even if they have been somewhat conditioned. Because we use sturdy hiking boots to overcome rocky trails with roots, pine needles, and more, we often forget that Fido is barefoot and is vulnerable to more than we are.
There are dog booties you can buy or make yourself (post on this to come!) to protect your dogs paws. Not only will your dog be better off in the long run for it, but you’ll get many laughs watching your dog dance around imaginary egg shells the first few times he tries them. In time he’ll get used to them and may even come to love his dog booties!
It’s also important to keep your dogs nails trimmed short prior to departing for the trip, as excessively long ones can rub the sides of the paw raw and cause extreme discomfort.
Depending on how big your dog is, you may want to consider giving Fido his fair share of gear. Some dog breeds actually love carrying a backpack because they’re bred to pull things–some dogs can’t stand it. There are many high quality dog packs designed to evenly distribute weight. You don’t want to pack any more than about 25% of your dogs body weight. We fill our dog Maggie Mae’s pack with her water, lightweight dog bowls, food, and blanket–but she’s a big girl!
Just as with the booties, make sure you give your dog ample practice walking with the pack, as it can take time to get used to moving with the added weight and gracefully passing trees and other objects. Watch your dogs underarms and belly for signs of chafing or redness to make sure the backpack is adjusted and fitted properly.
Another factor to consider is the wildlife in the area you’re planning to explore. In areas with large predators such as grizzly bears or wolves, remember that wildlife can be intrigued by the smell of another animal in their territory. Depending on the animal, your dog could either be an attractant or a deterrent for an intruder you probably don’t want sniffing around your camp. With a dog, you must take extra diligence to be sure there are no kibbles left on the ground in or near camp after meals.
Not only that, but there are smaller threats to take into account as well, such as ticks or poisonous plants. Dogs don’t have long pants and sleeves to protect their limbs and are often walking through the thickest of areas that we humans don’t need to worry about.
Having dog first-aid on hand is imperative. Some items to include would be liquid bandage spray, gauze rolls, alcohol wipes, and tick remover forceps.
Dogs, like humans, can be affected by bacteria in the water. Never let your dog drink right from a lake or stream in large quantities. Whenever cleaning water for yourself, be sure to treat some to keep your canine buddy safe and healthy as well!
Although dogs don’t normally sleep with blankets at home, consider the location you’ll be visiting and how chilly it may get throughout the night. If you don’t want Fido snuggling into your sleeping bag with you, definitely bring a warm blanket and maybe even a piece of foam to keep the floor of the tent comfy for bedtime. With a medium to large sized dog, account for another person in the tent and make sure it’s big enough for a much needed stretch after a long day of hiking.
After a few weeks of working toward a successful backpacking experience for the both of you, seriously consider whether backpacking is right for your pup. Dogs should be fully grown before embarking on their first backcountry adventure and be in generally good health. Excessive distances are not safe for small breeds or dogs with impending hip or joint problems. If your dog still refuses to go further than a mile or two after a few weeks of attempted conditioning, hiking simply may not be his cup of tea. Not all humans like backpacking, so that means not all dogs will either–it takes a certain personalty type to revel in the remoteness, exhaustion, and lack of cleanliness that comes with backpacking.
However, if your dog is like you and I–a glutton for punishment with a love for the outdoors and the physical ability required for overnight backpacking, a trip into the wilderness may be just what you need to take your relationship to the next level. My dog, for one, would much rather be enjoying the great outdoors with me than sitting in a kennel somewhere. Our next backcountry adventure will be to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and we can’t wait to share it with you!
Do you have any specific questions or tips about backpacking with your dog? I’d love to read them in the comments. When it comes to my Maggie Mae, I could go on forever!
If you missed my previous post, Part 1 of Everything You Need to Know to Backpack Haleakala National Park, I strongly recommend you go back and read that prior to starting this one. It’ll help you organize your trip and lay a general plan for how the hike will go. Once that first (and possibly most important) step has been taken, you can move on to the fun part–and that is thinking about what to pack and what to actually expect during the hike!
This post should serve as a guide for filling your pack with everything needed to have a smooth hike. Packing is one of the most challenging parts of backpacking because weather, situations, and trail conditions are so very unpredictable!
In this post, I’ll provide recommendations based on firsthand experience in Haleakala National Park. I’m only going to touch on items specific to Haleakala and not all of the things you should pack. For general packing tips for hiking, check out my comprehensive video How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip.
With the elevation, it tends to get quite cold at night and early mornings in the crater. If you decide to stay in the cabins (more about these later) they have wood-burning stoves (wood provided there) that can be used for heat on especially cold nights. We decided that was too much hassle and instead brought along long johns and sweatshirts for layering clothing. Even without the stove, we actually ended up being pretty warm in the cabin with the door closed and the heat from cooking dinner enclosed.
Inside Paliku Cabin
It’s also chilly when leaving camp in the morning to hike for the day and before the sun has a chance to warm up the landscape. We didn’t end up using the gloves or hats we brought because it didn’t get that cold, but I’d recommend bringing them just in case.
Definitely also bring a rain fly for your pack because it tends to mist a lot there (we never experienced any full-on rain), especially when hiking through the clouds, and you’ll want your pack to stay dry.
Sporting some of my rain gear on Sliding Sands Trail!
For us, regular running shoes worked great for this trip. I do think using hiking boots with ankle support would be beneficial because a good portion of the trail consists of rocky lava fields that would be easier trekked over with sturdier footwear.
It is rare to catch a silversword plant in bloom so this was a treat! Haleakala is one of the only places in the world you can find these plants.
I’d strongly recommend against wearing Keen sandals or any other type of open-toed shoes for this hike, even if only going out for a day hike. Sections of the trail are sandy and pebbly and having sediment constantly getting in your shoe and under your feet would be an extreme hindrance and annoyance on the hike.
On our way to Holua Cabin, hiking through an otherworldly lava field!
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS:
Maybe I’m a wimp (scratch that, I really am), but I was really grateful to have a “nightlight” of sorts in the cabins there. Being so secluded, there is absolutely no light and at night it would be pitch black without the moon. Luckily, someone had left a bag of tea light candles and a pie tin in the cabin and I used those to ease my nerves at night. Be sure to put them on something to avoid a fire hazard, but for the amount of times I woke up throughout the night, I was happy to have a small source of light to see by. I don’t think the candles are always available, so if you’re like me, bring a few of those and a pie tin to keep the boogey man away!
Eagerly awaiting the sunrise.
In front of Paliku Cabin at sunrise.
Also, we arrived at the cabin by midday both days and had the remainder of the evening to entertain ourselves. Be sure to bring a game or reading material because other than that, you’ll be hard pressed to find something to occupy your mind once you’ve finished snapping photos of the area. There was a deck of cards in one of the cabins we stayed at and we ended up using peanuts as poker chips, but even that got boring after a while.
Playing peanut poker after a long day of hiking!
As far as hydration goes, based on our experience and all of the reviews I’ve read of other hikers who have done this trip, there is really only ONE way to go and that is to get a Platypus 3 liter water bladder to put in your pack. This will last you the entire day and will be an absolute lifesaver. Unlike many backpacking destinations, there are no rivers, lakes or shade here, so staying hydrated is extremely important. Inside and right outside the cabins, there is running water (and it seemed plentiful while we were there) but I know that if there has recently been a drought the water can be scarce and you may have an issue getting what you need. I’d strongly recommend not relying fully on that water and making sure you pack in as much as possible. Check with the rangers at the visitor center prior to departing to see if they know if there is water available at that time.
Nevertheless, the Platypus Big Zip 3L Reservoir has literally been a lifesaver not only on this hiking trip, but on many trips I’ve taken in the past. The hose makes it so you don’t need to stop and unpack your bag and get a drink and I’d honestly say this purchase has been one of the best investments I’ve made for all of my travels in general. Check it out here (click the photo to see price and more details!):
The other thing to consider is how you’re going to cook. We had originally planned to bring our little camp stove but then found out that the fuel for them is not allowed on airplanes either in carry-on or checked luggage. So unless you have time (and don’t mind taking a few hours out of your sightseeing time) to try and find a backpacking store in Hawaii before your hike to get some fuel, I’d recommend against bringing your own stove. Simply bring some jerky and protein-rich snacks if you’re tent camping.
If you’re staying in the cabins, that problem is eliminated because there are actually gas stoves and utensils you can use for cooking! If you’re tent camping and definitely want to cook a meal or two, maybe you’ll get lucky and whoever’s staying in the nearby cabin will let you use their stove for a few minutes–you can make some trail friends while you’re at it (other than just the curious nēnēs!).
Nēnē (pronounced “nay-nay”): Hawaiian geese, found exclusively in the wild on the Hawaiian islands!
Honestly, the stove is one of the main upsides to staying in the cabins over tent camping–that, and if you plan to travel around Hawaii for some time after your backpacking trip, you may not want to be lugging a tent around with you for the rest of your vacation. If you have a group of 12 or less people, I’d definitely split the cost of a cabin because the price would be very reasonable the more people you have. The cabins are $75 per night regardless of how many people stay in them. So if you have two people going (like we did), you pay $75 and get the cabin to yourselves.
Definitely rustic but practically “glamping” compared to what we’re used to!
If you only have one or two people and don’t mind eating snacks and non-hot meals for a few days, I’d say tent camping would be perfectly fine. If you do decide that a cabin is best for you, keep in mind that they get booked almost immediately after they become available, so reserve as soon as you possibly can. They’re available to book five months in advance of your travel dates.
If you’re staying in the cabins, after paying the $25 vehicle entrance fee, you’ll need to get a free cabin permit at the visitor’s center before starting your hike. Leave time for that as well as for watching the leave no trace video on the decrepit laptop in the Park Headquarters Visitor Center. Seriously, leave time for this–the computer kept freezing and shutting down in the middle of the video and the ranger wouldn’t simply tell us what was on the rest of the video, he’d only reboot the ancient computer again and try to make us start back from the beginning.
And the last tip I want to share (and possibly one of the most important ones) is to do your research! Read up on Haleakala itself, how it formed, what it’s made of, and the history of it. It will enrich your experience because you’ll actually know what you’re looking at and understand your experience. Don’t be like me–standing in the middle of a moonscape wondering, with no access to internet. We ended up going Google-crazy when we got done with our hike trying to understand what exactly it was that..
Especially for those who have never been to Hawaii and are flying from somewhere in the mainland, backpacking through Haleakala National Park can seem like an exciting yet daunting task. What is the temperature going to be like? Will I be affected by the altitude? Will there be water readily available?
Hawaii (and more specifically, Haleakala) has some of the most unique and varied landscape of anywhere in the world, so it is understandable that would-be travelers and hikers would feel a bit nervous setting out into an environment that is often compared to a moonscape.
For my personal trip to Haleakala, we flew straight from Michigan to Seattle to Maui, stayed one night in Ka’anapali, and took off early the next morning for our hike. No sooner did we realize it was six hours earlier in Hawaii than it was at home than we were off on our 20 mile trek through the wilderness. My first tip to you might be to give yourself a bit more time to acclimate to the time difference before embarking on the hike! It didn’t negatively affect us because we made sure to get a ton of sleep the night before, but we would have liked to have a little more time to adjust and explore other parts of the island before leaving “civilization”, if you know what I mean.
Once you’ve taken the leap and set your sights on a hiking trip into the park, the first and maybe most important step is to decide which itinerary or route is best for you. There are a million different ways it can be done and routes that can be taken depending on how much time you have and how strenuous you want it to be, but here are some of my recommendations from personal experience:
(Click HERE to open a detailed map and for a better visual of all of the areas I will be referring to.)
For a day hike – There are two options for a day hike that I believe would be the most beautiful, unique, and give you the best overall idea of the area.
Park at Haleakala Visitor Center and hike the beginning of the Sliding Sands Trail. If you search Google Images for “Haleakala National Park”, these are the quintessential images that pop up first and this area is why so many people compare Haleakala to another planet.
Walking across Mars in Haleakala National Park!
The beginning of this will be downhill and then keep in mind that on the way back you will definitely be going uphill. After leaving the Visitor Center, you will hike 3.9 miles and before arriving at a split in the trail and a sign pointing one way to go to Paliku Cabin and the other way to go to Holua. This would be a good place to turn around if you would like to hike about 8 miles total there and back (or before that if you’re looking for something shorter–you will still have fantastic views before this point–the views present themselves right off the bat).
Where the trails split–a good place to turn around for a day hike.
If you get started quite early in the morning and are feeling like a badass, you can even continue past the sign and hike to Kapalaoa Cabin, which is another 1.7 miles each way. The trail between the sign and the cabin is extremely flat and can be hiked very quickly and easily compared to the rest of the trail, especially seeing as it is sandy and not rocky at all. This would make for a whopping 11.2 mile day, so if this is the route you decide on, be sure to bring snacks and plenty of water! Regardless of how far you go, there is absolutely no shade on this section of trail, so be sure to camel up and go thick on the sunscreen.
These flowers look somewhat out of place along the trails in the crater!
Park at Halemau’u Trailhead and hike to Holua Cabin and back (total of 7.4 miles). Now, this is not just any day hike–this would literally be a hike down and then back up a mountain. It was one of the most scenic and breathtaking stretches of our three day hike and would serve as a very interesting (and strenuous) day hike.
On the way to Halemau'u Trailhead. - YouTube
I would not recommend this for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights! Most of the distance is a zigzag trail down and then returning up a mountain and there is no guard rail. This would not be good for small children. But for anyone else looking for an adventure and views that will drop your jaw, this will do the trick.
This is the view not even halfway up the mountain on the hike to Halemau’u Trailhead. Holua Cabin is behind that mountain in the distance!
If you can, I would most recommend actually hiking past Holua cabin to the Silversword Loop. It’s only a short distance and will give you a taste of the moonscape landscape previously mentioned as well. Silverswords are very unique and rare plants that only grow in this area and are definitely worth the extra mile or two!
Baby silversword plants–these are very unique to the area!
For the most comprehensive backpacking experience in Haleakala, I would recommend at least two nights. This is the route we took and the one I believe is the best to take for a two night itinerary–there is (unusually) nothing I would do differently if we could do the trip over again in terms of route:
Wake up early and drive to Park Headquarters to pick up permit(s) and watch “Leave No Trace” video (more about these tasks in my next post).
If you have two cars (don’t go out of your way to rent two, only do this if you know someone who lives in Hawaii or already needed two cars to begin with) then park one at the Halemau’u Trailhead and ride together to the Haleakala Visitors Center from there. If you only have one car, go straight to the Haleakala Visitors Center.
Leave one person at the Visitor’s Center with the gear while the other (this is if you only have one car) drives down to Halemau’u Trailhead and parks the car. There is a backpacker hitchhiking station right next to the parking lot where tourists or locals heading up to the Haleakala Visitors Center can stop and pick you up to bring you back up the mountain to start your hike. Being from Michigan and hitchhiking not being a common thing here, we were a bit nervous about this, but it is very common and not unheard of in Hawaii, and the first person that drove by actually offered a ride! A ranger at the Park Headquarters Visitor Center actually recommended we do it this way instead of both hitchhiking after the hike due to the fact that it would be easier to get a ride earlier in the day and we were so glad we did it that way. After hiking 20 miles it was amazing getting straight into our air-conditioned car and kicking off our shoes and not having to stand around waiting for a ride.
I understand the visitor center situation may be confusing for those who have never visited. There are actually two visitors centers in the park–one when you first arrive and pay the park entrance fee of $25 and another at the top near the summit where people go to watch the sunrise.
Make sure you have spent an hour or two hanging around the visitor’s center–walk around, look at the exhibits, but most importantly, acclimate to the altitude which is about 10,000 feet in elevation before heading out on your hike.
Hike to Paliku Cabin (9.2 miles).
Hike to Holua Cabin (6.3 miles).
Hike to Halemau’u Trailhead (3.7 gruelling miles!) where your car will be gloriously awaiting your return.
This itinerary can also be done in reverse but the biggest downside to that is doing the 9.2 mile hike on your last day, which could prove difficult after hiking for two days already. You could also park at one trailhead and do a round-trip hike for one night–for instance to Paliku Cabin for a night or even just Kapalaoa Cabin. But then you would be seeing the same sights on the way back as on the way there, which I don’t think is as fun as seeing something very different every step of the way.
This past 4th of July weekend, Kevin, Maggie Mae, and I decided to make a last minute trip to hike the Jordan River Pathway. Slowly but surely we are attempting to hike all of the beautiful trails of Michigan. The Jordan River Pathway was gorgeous, just as all of the trails we have done so far in Michigan, but also challenging.
To us, it wasn’t challenging because of the trail terrain itself, but rather the distance per day. We’ve done a few backpacking trips in the past and I would consider us more on the intermediate side between beginner and intermediate level hikers. However, we don’t hike often enough to comfortably put that kind of distance behind us in just two days, what with work and life happening on a regular basis.
The Jordan River Pathway loop is 18 miles in total (although I believe now with the re-route around a swampy area it is more like 19 or 20 miles) and includes a portion of the North Country Trail for most of it. Many hikers start at Deadman’s Hill Trailhead and hike about 9.5 miles the first day going counterclockwise. On the second day they hike from Pinney Bridge walk-in campground back to Deadman’s Hill which is around 10 miles.
There is the option of doing this trail in the other direction—clockwise instead. I would actually rather do it that way if we ever did it again. That way you are doing the most scenic parts when you are still fresh and the longer leg of the journey is out of the way on the first day. Most people don’t do it that way and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is against trail etiquette to be going the opposite direction as everyone else?
Unless you’re able to hike more often and have a body that is conditioned for it, I don’t think 10 miles a day is a really enjoyable hike. There’s not enough time to enjoy the scenery, take breaks, and get the most out of nature. I run long distances during the week, so I’m in shape, but hiking a trail is a different type of movement. The trail is relatively easy and flat, especially compared to Pictured Rocks if you’ve ever tackled that area in the past, so don’t worry too much about that; but ideally I would like to see this trail split into three days instead of two—then you’d also have the time and energy for the diversion to the Fish Hatchery on the last day.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to take a picture of our campsite, but you can get a great idea of what the sites and campground area look like in this YouTube video from fall 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRx8OzrD4Xs
Camping is not allowed except for in Pinney Bridge Campground, so splitting it into three days is not a possibility at this time. That would be my only gripe about this trail. Despite this, the experience was totally worth it. Even though both of our feet were in pain (and Maggie’s paws too), day two was really something special. Not only did we get to cross the 45 degrees North latitude line, but there were picture-perfect creeks and rivers all along the way, and the view at the end of the trail just before we got to the car was breathtaking.
There was a cute notebook in the box where you could write your name and the date and a message to fellow hikers! There were also some information brochures about the trail and area.
TIP: Do not look at Deadman’s Hill Overlook prior to starting your hike. It was a wonderful surprise and gift for us to lay eyes on it after all the work we put in. It’s located right next to the parking area near Deadman’s Hill Trailhead, but when we arrived to start our hike, we weren’t even aware it was there, so we missed the overlook completely. When we finished our hike and emerged on Deadman’s Hill, we were somewhat confused and thought maybe we had hiked to the wrong place because nothing looked familiar. I’m glad for out ignorance though because taking off my backpack and laying on that hill completely exhausted with that breathtaking view beside me is one of the most memorable moments of the trip.
LOGISTICS: Because we were hiking the trail on 4th of July weekend, we thought it would be very busy. Pinney Bridge Campground is first come first serve, so we were worried that we would risk hiking all that way and there not being a campsite available for us. A friend of mine had recently done this same hike so I asked her what we would do if that were the case. She informed me that there is actually a small parking lot probably about a half mile from the campground that we could drive to, set our tent up on a site in the morning, then drive to Deadman’s Hill to start the hike. This worked out great because we didn’t have to worry about not having a place to sleep and we also didn’t have to carry our tent or sleeping bags!
We were worrying for nothing though, because when we got there, there were plenty of campsites. I wouldn’t worry about setting your tent up before your hike unless your goal is to lighten your load. Other than that, I think it’s safe to say that if the campground wasn’t full on 4th of July, you won’t have any problem getting one of the 15 sites during any other time of year.
There is also plenty of water on this trail, so you don’t need to worry too much. There are countless rivers and creeks and there is a pump at Pinney Bridge with drinking water that doesn’t need to be purified. The bathrooms even had hand sanitizer! This was one of the more luxurious hiking latrine experiences I’ve had…
TIP: If you normally bring a lightweight chair for sitting by the fire with you when you hike, no need here! There are picnic tables and huge fire rings at each campsite. Because of all of the amenities here, it really is possible to do this two day hike with very little weight on your back. I would recommend a little camp saw for getting firewood. It was very difficult to keep the fire burning with all of the damp and rotten wood around.
What I refer to as the “Manistee River Trail” 3-4 day loop is actually half the Manistee River Trail and half the North Country Trail. I look back on that trip as somewhat of a whirlwind, like I do most backpacking trips. You’d think I’d learn to slow the pace a bit but every time I end up wondering why in the hell I put myself through this… then feeling extreme fulfillment after completing it nonetheless.
The trail is gorgeous and scenic and not too difficult in terms of terrain, which is why I think it’s great for the first time hiker. There isn’t any vicious wildlife that’s going to thwart you at night or cause you to have to use bear poles or boxes so you can rest easy. Yet you’re not missing out on nature’s beauty and for many from the metro-Detroit area, it’s not too far away.
As you can see from the image above, the trails are laid out with the NCT on one side of the river and the MRT on the other and a suspension bridge was built connecting the two, making it and easy weekend or long weekend trip.
I do have a few tips I’m actually extremely adamant to share with the first time hiker to this area (and I wish I’d had this article when I went!):
Hike the North Country Trail Side First
Why? Because it’s more difficult, and I have a tendency to prefer to get the difficult stuff out of the way early when I’m still feeling spry and optimistic as opposed to saving it until the end. The terrain is a bit more difficult and strenuous and pretty much the entire North Country Trail side is extremely elevated. What that means is that it is not within reach of the beautiful flowing river for easy water access. From the top of the bluff the river seems so close, yet so far away.
There aren’t any rivers on this side except one or two which are extremely close to the suspension bridge side, so you could go quite a long way without seeing water. In fact, because we hiked the Manistee River Trail side first, after crossing the river and going onto the NCT side (we had cameled up and carried as much as we could with us), we walked nearly 11 miles without seeing a water source – 17 all together that day! Which leads me to my next tip…
Pay Attention to Your Map and Fact Check it to Make Sure it’s Current
And this one if more of a general backpacking tip than a MRT-specific one, but extremely important nonetheless. I know it may seem like a given, but somehow from the comfort of my home when I ordered my map and received an e-mail stating that “since this map was printed the Sheep Ranch Rd Creek has dried up” didn’t seem as important as it did after walking for 15 miles and dying of thirst…
Regardless of if your map provider is as thoughtful as Jim DuFresne is and decides to notify you of these changes, with the ever-changing geography of hiking trails, it’s always best to try to talk to someone who has been there recently and get their take on things before embarking into the unknown.
You Can Bring Your Pup!
Because the landscape isn’t as difficult as some of the other trails we’ve conquered (although I wouldn’t say it was a walk in the park either), we thought this would be a great opportunity to see if our bloodhound Maggie Mae was a good hiking buddy. She did great and was a celebrity on the trail. There were a few other dogs and it’s nice knowing you can bring your furry friend with you for the weekend if you want to. She also got to cuddle up with us in the tent and was a great sport about all the walking. The wonderful bonding time you get with your dog during a backpacking trip will be saved for another post entirely…
Extremely Easy Access to the River… For Half of the Time
Made an impromptu dip in the river feel adventurous and freeing. We also got to test out Maggie Mae’s swimming skills for the first time. She loved it and we got to cool off. The water was clean and all throughout the first days hike we had access to the river for drinking water and for cooling off. It makes for an extremely relaxing trip. I may even dare to suggest skipping the NCT side and hiking there AND back on the MRT side… Shame on me because part of me feels an extreme aversion to seeing the same trail twice but if we were to go back that’s probably what we’d do since we can already say we’ve seen the NCT side.
You Can Camp Anywhere
Not needing permits or campsite reservations is always a liberating experience. It makes you feel like you’re really out in the wilderness, especially if you go when it’s not a really busy weekend. Don’t go to far off the beaten path though… You may see something you really didn’t want to see like we did when we stumbled upon the tent pitched in a secluded area without its rainfly attached…
Really though, camping alongside the river and fall asleep to the sound of it, then waking up and washing your face in the misty morning air is a surreal experience and one of the most vivid ones I remember from the trip. No boundaries means some of the most rewarding interactions with nature can be had.
Manistee River, MI - YouTube
Parking is Cash Only
And somewhat confusing… We parked at Seaton Creek Campground (like most hikers do) and there is no one there telling you where you can park or what to do. There is just a little bulletin board with some envelopes and a mailbox. You put your money in the envelope and put it in the mailbox to pay for your parking, and you get no change–so make sure you bring smaller bills like $5s and $10s!
It is an advantage that there is parking and the hike is a loop. So no worrying about taking a shuttle or hitchhiking!
Overall this hike is totally worthwhile and great for anyone who lives in the Midwest or who is in the area. We definitely want to take Maggie on some more hikes and love hiking in Michigan (we could be a bit partial…). I hope these tips will serve you well on your Lower Peninsula adventure. We gotta prove to those Yoopers that our trails are great too!
The standard Inca Trail trek is a four day, three night ordeal. It was the experience of a lifetime with breathtaking views, amazing people, and in my opinion, the most authentic way to visit Machu Picchu and the Incan ruins. All niceties aside, I’ll be honest in saying that it was also probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life.
Looking back on it now as I sit in my comfortable chair overlooking a suburban neighborhood and burning an incense stick while typing on my laptop, it seems somewhat silly to suggest that a “walk” could be one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. However, this was no afternoon stroll in the neighborhood. Hiking the Inca Trail can be a four day long challenge and a serious inner struggle, willing oneself to put one foot in front of the other for the entire length of it. With over 3,000 steps, some very steep drops, and drastic daily changes in altitude, the Inca Trail is not a hike for the first timer.
I go on regular backpacking trips at home. I’ve done three weekend backpacking trips in the past, each of at least 25 miles long. I wouldn’t call my overnight hiking experience that of an expert outdoorswoman or die-hard enthusiast, but I’ve always seen myself as pretty fit and have always stood out among my peers as more on the athletic side.
On the Inca Trail, I frequently brought up the rear of my 16 person group and could easily have been placed as one of the slowest in the bunch. I was not expecting this when I embarked on my first ever “solo” trek, but I finished nonetheless and no one in my group really struggled to the point of pushing nightfall on any of the four days.
Although I’m extremely grateful for the challenge I overcame that was the Inca Trail, I am gracious enough to share with you the things that, had I known, could have made my experience just a tad more comfortable to say the least…
No matter how bad ass you think you are, hire a porter.
I actually learned that the more desired word for porter is “chasqui” (pronounced CHOSS-KEE), which gives the strong (and truly amazing) helpers along the trail a higher sense of pride and is a more honorable term for them. Read my linked Wikipedia page—these people are seriously superhuman.
I set out on the first day of the trek with my normal full-sized hiking backpack, probably about 20 lbs including my clothes and essentials. Most trekking companies will rent sleeping bags and pads to you on arrival, which I decided to take advantage of seeing as I’d be spending other time in Peru not trekking and didn’t want to lug a sleeping bag around for the rest of it.
Not only were my rented bag and pad heavier and much larger than what I’m used to, but let me repeat something again for emphasis—3,000+ steps. Imagine heat, in conjunction with an eight hour upward climb, low oxygen levels in the air (which makes a set of five stairs seem like Everest), and a 25-30 lb pack on your back?! NO THANK YOU!
Needless to say, I paid a little more than I would have had I had more forethought, for an “unofficial” chasqui. He was well worth the cost. To be frank, I would have paid much more than I did. After the first day (easy day, my ass), I didn’t care if they kept my stuff, I just didn’t want it on my back anymore. Unofficial chasquis can’t really be relied upon, so I’d recommend hiring one upfront, but had an unofficial one not been available to me, my things would have become a sacrifice to the mountain nonetheless.
Regulations on the Inca Trail have become stricter as of late, so you usually need to hire the porter at the same time you apply for the trek permit/reserve your spot in a group. My trek was in September and I had reserved my spot in December. In April, it was too late for me to change my mind about hiring a chasqui. I could devote a whole different post entirely to all that the chasquis do so I’ll end here for now.
You really only want one pair of clothes and a set of layers.
Let’s be honest—regardless of whether or not you change your clothes, you’re going to stink. We’re talking a straight ten hours of uphill trekking in 75 or so degree weather. There will be sweat and that’s inevitable. The extent of your “showers” on the Inca Trail will consist of baby wipe “sponge baths” and icy cold basin splashes in the makeshift bathrooms at select campsites. You might as well save yourself some weight by simply leaving your other three days’ worth of outfits at home. Trust me when I say you will be grateful you did.
You’ll want one pair of leggings or long johns for sleeping at night, one pair of zip-off convertible hiking pants, one tee shirt or short sleeved shirt, one zip-up sweatshirt, and a rain jacket as far as clothes go. Anything else is simply frivolous when every gram of weight counts. As long as you have daily changes of underwear, you’re golden. No one will care or notice if you wear the same clothes the whole time—trust me, everyone’s too tired to care or doing the same thing themselves.
Don’t bring flip flops for camp.
On a lot of other backpacking trips, it’s nice to change out of your hiking boots after a long day and let your feet breath. On the Inca Trail, though, it’s too cold in the evenings to do so. The flip flops will be a waste of space and weight. By the time you arrive at camp each night, at that high of altitude, you’ll want to keep your socks and boots on because of the frigid mountain air.
Everyone “stays up” (I’m talking 6pm or so—it’s a struggle to stay awake) for dinner and then, because of pure exhaustion, most in the group will pretty much immediately retreat to the warmth of their tents and go to sleep around 7:30 or 8pm. There is no social hour around the fire or drinks and laughs in the evenings in which you would be lounging around in flip flops. No one wants to risk a hangover with 12 miles of strenuous hiking looming the next day. Feel free to leave your flip flops at home.
Bring small change in local currency on the trail.
My trekking company (Peru Treks) actually prepared me pretty well for this, but it might be useful information to share nonetheless.
All along the trail there are stands or locals selling various sizes of water bottles. I did use my SteriPen for water from one stream along the trip, but the majority of the time it’s just easier to buy water. In the first couple of places groups stop to rest, you may even have to pay one Peruvian Sol to use the bathroom. In addition to that, on the last day of the trek, gratuities are divvied up for guides, cooks, and chasquis, so you’ll want change for that as well (and in my case for paying for a chasqui, whereas others simply paid it with their trek balance prior to departing).
In a way, not knowing all four of these “things I wish I would have known before hiking the Inca Trail” made my experience that much richer and more unique. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but it’s usually the challenge of an..
This post is going to be a bit different than most of the others I’ve done, but no less informative! Part of the main premise of this blog is to help the everyday person to travel cheaper and this is going to be invaluable information for someone interested in getting out and experiencing nature or even someone who travels for work often.
I’ve found since starting my backpacking hobby that a dehydrator is one of the best investments a traveler could make. It provides a really easy method for preparing healthy snacks that will keep at room temperature for an extended period of time. Otherwise, you’ll simply be eating Twinkies and bags of unhealthy processed potato chips or other things that are quick at a convenience store or easily accessible.
The thing with dehydrator recipes is that they’re not only healthier but cheaper too. You may be investing $100 or so on the machine initially but after that, you’ll save hundreds of dollars on food—especially if you backpack somewhat often. Walk into any REI or Dunham’s and look at the prices for those ready-to-eat Mountain House meals—they’re upwards of $9 each!
There are countless ideas on Pinterest that feature recipes for meals that you can simply add boiling water to and have a home cooked meal in minutes. Backpacking, when you first start, is expensive enough to begin with—buying all the gear and such—who needs those sort of prices just to eat a crappy meal out of a plastic bag?
With a dehydrator, you can dehydrate vegetables, meats, herbs, and even flowers if you want! Drop into any grocery store and get a few ingredients, and the preparation for most of the meals is extremely minimal. At that point, you just set it and forget it. To dehydrate most fruits, vegetables, and meats, the dehydrating process takes between 6 and 20 hours during which you can feel free to go about your workday, checking on it every few hours for progress—then you’re done!
The dehydrator I bought is called the Nesco Snackmaster Pro and it has worked famously so far. There are a bunch of trays, so you can dehydrate a lot of food at once, and it comes with a lot of useful items such as fruit roll sheets, mesh trays, jerky cure and seasoning, and a recipe book that got me through my first three ventures with the dehydrator. You won’t even need to go searching online for instructions for anything because they’re all included with the initial purchase and the jerky seasoning that it comes with is actually GREAT!
So below are six dehydrator snacks I’ve tried so far and a few tips and tricks for making sure they come out great the first time.
SO unbelievably easy. You’ll need one of the rubber-like fruit roll sheets that come with many dehydrators for this (my oh so sweet bloodhound “puppy” has since chewed mine up, but you get the picture). You simply put the fruit you’d like to use in a food processor, throw in some sugar if it’s a sour or bitter fruit, and pour it on the tray.
I used strawberries, but can’t wait to try some rolls with raspberries or apples, which I’ve heard are great for fruit rolls. Citrus fruits are difficult to make fruit rolls from because of how much liquid/juice is in them, so be sure to make a combination roll if you’re using pineapple or orange or something similar—mix it with apple or pear, which is thicker and makes for a more substantial roll.
For fruit rolls, you’ll want to set the dehydrator to 130-140 degrees. I’ve found that many online articles or recipes will give you a suggested length of time to leave the fruit but the best thing to do is to simply check it every so often and finish dehydrating when it’s to your desired solidity—you’re not married to the amount of hours in the recipe.
Also, be aware that it takes quite a bit of fruit to make a substantial amount of fruit leather. My two containers of strawberries didn’t go very far—they only made one fruit roll.
After much research, I decided to use ground beef for my first beef jerky trial. I know, right? Who would have thought? You can use almost any kind of meat for jerky (even fish!), but ground beef is very malleable and also less expensive than buying steaks and tastes just as good if you cure it and prepare it correctly.
You just want to be sure to buy meat that is at least 90% lean. You definitely don’t want meat that has a lot of fat in it, as fat is what gets rancid if you leave it at room temperature.
Another really useful tip is that once you get the beef, freeze it for a few days and then partially thaw it before preparing it for the dehydrator. Three pounds of fresh meat makes approximately one pound of jerky perfect for getting quick and easy protein on an overnight hike.
Once the meat is partially thawed, get a sharp knife and cut it into strips about a quarter of an inch thick and all close to the same length. You want to try to get all of the pieces as close to the same size as possible so that it takes them all the same amount of time to dehydrate fully.
After I had all of my strips, I mixed up the pre-made cure, seasoning, and water (or you can make your own with fresh ingredients) and put the mixture as well as the strips in a large Ziploc bag to marinate for about 6 hours in the refrigerator. Making homemade seasoning seems easy enough. You can find recipes online or in the recipe book that comes with dehydrator and I actually already had most of the ingredients that it entails, so if you’d rather go that route, it’s probably only take a few more minutes than using the pre-made stuff.
After the meat had been marinating, I took it very carefully out of the bag, trying to keep it somewhat in the original form, and put it on a cutting board to press it into strips firmly (as at this point it will be fully thawed), then into the dehydrator. You’ll want to dehydrate the meat at about 160 degrees, patting the fat that rises to the top periodically, for 4 to 15 hours, depending on the thickness of your strips. You’ll be able to tell when it’s done.
How to pack for a backpacking trip can vary greatly depending on the environment you’ll be going backpacking. For instance, if you’re doing a backpacking trip through Europe and staying in hostels or backpacking through an extremely cold and mountainous environment, this video may leave a few things out that you would want to consider. But in general, if you’re going on an overnight hike in a spring-summer-or fall climate and would like some general packing tips, this video is for you!
How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip - YouTube
Please let me know how you liked the video format of this post and if you’d like me to do more like this in the comments!
Where did I leave off? OH! Bragging about how great our very own Upper Peninsula and Pictured Rocks are…
I, for one, can’t understand why this area of Michigan is not a global phenomenon. Why aren’t people flocking here from all over the world like they do to the Eiffel Tower, Machu Picchu, or the Grand Canyon? It’s just about as breathtaking as those places or even more so. I kept finding myself wandering around the trails and the lookouts while on my hike, being nearly the only one for miles, and thinking, “Where are the tourists?!” Sure, there was the occasional Lower Peninsula Michigander and one or two die hard backpackers from Wisconsin or Minnesota along the way, but I don’t think I saw or spoke to one person who had come further or had taken an airplane to get there. It was baffling! Yet maybe it simply added to its appeal…
For my first trip to the Pictured Rocks, my boyfriend and I drove to Munising after work on a Friday and stayed in a little motel called Superior Motel & Suites. Now, usually I’m not one to be down for staying in a place with doors that open up to my car literally steps away, but this place had a cabin-like feel to it, was clean, and the staff was friendly. We were looking for a cheap place to ramp up for the hike ahead and this place did the trick. It was the perfect place to rest for an early morning and long next couple of days.
In the morning, we did a 3 hour morning kayak trip to the cliffs and caves. This isn’t just any kayaking. This is kayaking in Lake Superior, which is all but an ocean. I couldn’t help but imagine myself being swallowed up and swirling around one of the shipwrecks in the area or slamming up against the rocks due to a horrible storm. My recommendation for anyone doing this kayaking trip—go on a warm day and DON’T go first thing in the morning. It was cold and rainy, which impeded my ability to really enjoy myself–I just kept hoping we could go back so I could get warm again. I can’t deny that the scenery was breathtaking, though and although it was a bit uncomfortable, I don’t regret going; it was a way for me to see the rocks from all angles.
Immediately following the kayak trip, we had lunch at Johnny Dogs. Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most wholesome, healthy choice right before embarking on a journey where the only thing we would be eating is granola and powdered soup, but DAMN, was it good! I encourage anyone who visits Munising to try this place. There are tons of unique burgers and dogs on the menu with loads of ingredients to choose from and everything is hot off the grill. TIP: Try the mac ‘n’ cheese bites–they’re in an egg roll type shell with some dipping sauce that is to die for!
Our shuttle met us at the Munising Visitor Center and we strapped on our packs and got on the empty shuttle thinking “What have we gotten ourselves into?” We were dropped off at just about the halfway point between Munising and Grand Marais—Little Beaver Lake Trailhead. With only three days to spend, I wanted to see how I felt about this whole backpacking thing, so I figured 20-ish miles would be a good start.
Our plan for the first day was only to hike about 4 miles, but we didn’t factor in the distance from the trailhead drop-off to the actual trail, so I think it ended up being about double that. We camped at a place called Chapel Beach for the first night–an airy campsite perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. The view was gorgeous, but I remember the mosquitos being pretty bad because of the no fires rule.
It was also 4th of July, and while lying in our tent to go to sleep (embarrassingly early by the way), exhausted, I could see through the tent ceiling the fireworks from nearby Munising. I’m ashamed to say we didn’t even get out to watch them, we were so tired.
The second day we hiked about 12 miles and saw some of the most scenic and beautiful sections of the trail. We ate lunch barefoot on a Cliffside near Mosquito Beach overlooking the lake, saw waterfalls, mossy groves, bridges, rivers, and wildlife. This day was amazing, but toward the end of it I started to wonder if we’d ever reach our next campsite. It felt like we had been walking for 20 miles–not seven!
Doesn’t it look like a scene from Game of Thrones?
The second night we camped at Cliffs campsite, where we met two other hikers and chatted about where we came from and our experience on the trail so far. They hadn’t made reservations at all and it was just a stroke of luck that someone else had cancelled at the last minute and they were able to get campsites.
On our last day hiking back to the visitor center, we only had about 5-6 miles to go, but again it felt like much longer. A small portion of the trail was under construction at the end and we ended up being re-routed onto a seemingly deserted road. Slowly walking back into civilization felt strange. Even though we were only out there for about three days, it felt so remote, so withdrawn from the rest of the world, and so pure. Seeing cars and road signs was a bit disheartening—I wasn’t looking forward to turning my phone back on and going back to real life.
Despite all that, seeing our car was like a beacon of light. We were SO extremely tired and neither of us had ever walked that far. This is corny, but I felt so unbelievably accomplished—like I had just climbed Mt. Everest or..
I’m going to give you all a disclaimer here that I started writing this post and it grew into a whole different animal than expected. I’ve since decided to split it into two posts, so here is part one.
On the second day of my 25 mile hike on the North Country Trail, I experienced what I would honestly have to say was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I woke up with the sun that morning in the middle of the quiet wilderness. I rolled up my tent, ate some oatmeal from a Ziploc bag, strapped my pack on my back, and headed out for another day of moving along through the trees with nothing but the smell of fresh air moving through my nostrils.
After only about 15 minutes of hiking along the dirt trail, I started to notice the path was weaving more and more out of the trees and toward the blue sky, and before I knew it, around the next bend was the most stunning view I’ve seen in my life thus far. A huge natural rock arch jutting into the vast Lake Superior peeked into view. With it still being the early hours of the day, the mist hadn’t yet lifted from the water and I couldn’t quite make out the contours of the rocks, but I could hear the echoing of the gulls seemingly in a frenzy within the walls of the formations and I could imagine how close—yet so far away—those rocks were to me.
About the Trail
The North Country Trail stretches from North Dakota to New York and at this time is not yet finished, but will be about 4,500 miles long in total once completed. The portion of the trail that runs through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for backcountry hikers and campers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is approximately 40 miles and runs from Munising to Grand Marais. There are backcountry campsites scattered along the trail, most without toilets, trash cans, electricity, etc. (which in my opinion is much of the appeal!). Something that is a bit unique about these camps in comparison to many other backpacking destinations is that many of the campsites do not allow fires, although a few of them have communal fire rings.
Why Did I Decide on THIS Trail?
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was my first ever backpacking trip. I know this may seem silly, but a big draw of this trail to be my first was the website it offered with great planning resources. There is a really helpful Backcountry Trip Planner with trail descriptions, tips, and a detailed map that can be used to plan out your exact route and mileage before even leaving home. It helps to know what to expect and to be able to research it all beforehand when you’re new to the sport, whereas with some other trails it seems to be mostly based on heresay and a “you get what you get” attitude that can be scary for newbies.
Another plus to this for the first time backpacker is that the trail is challenging, yet not overly so. It’s perfect for someone who is fit but who isn’t yet so sure of themselves on their feet with a 20 lb pack strapped to their back.
And last but not least, it’s proximity to home, for me, was a big draw. It’s about 6 hours driving from metro-Detroit to Munising, one of the hubs for backpackers planning on taking on the trail. It’s far enough to be remote, yet close enough to make a long weekend out of it and not have to take too much time off of work.
Planning and Preparation for This Hike
If you’ve never backpacked before, the first step is getting the gear (but the specifics of that can be saved for another post entirely). Make sure you have everything you’ll need and then some, especially when you’re new to backpacking—the more you go, the less you’ll have to take because you’ll get a feel for what you really need and don’t need.
Take a look at that pack!
If you’re planning to go on a holiday weekend such as 4th of July or Memorial Day, make your backcountry campsite reservations WELL in advance—there are only about 3 sites on average per camping area and they fill up fast. The reservations open up in January of each year, and the process for this is a bit antiquated to say the least. You’ll have to print a form from the website, fill it out (including your credit card number on the bottom, which always makes me a bit nervous writing this out and sending it off), and fax or mail it to the office. Then they will mail the response back to you; you won’t know for about a month whether or not all of your campsite requests were confirmed. Hello 21st century! Haven’t you ever heard of online forms?
Make a reservation for the shuttle. There is a shuttle in the area called Altran. You can make a reservation in advance (in fact, you have to—they don’t take last minute hop-ons), park your car in either Munising or Grand Marais, then shuttle to your desired trailhead and you hike back to your car.
Tips to Know Before You Go
You’ll need a permit. Not all backpacking areas require this but they’re very strict about it here. Permits are $15 per person and purchased at the visitor center on the day you depart for your hike. They must be attached to your backpack or tent when you’re in camp and visable at all times.
Be very comfortable with the person you’re going with. You’ll be stinky. You’ll be in the wilderness with nothing else to distract you. And if you’re sharing a tent, you’ll be in very close proximity to that person, and backpacking tents are not spacious by any means.
Water is plentiful on this trail. I haven’t hiked many other trails, but I’ve talked to a lot of experienced hikers during my two brief stints as a backpacker and been told that this is pretty unique to the Pictured Rocks. Everywhere you look there is a river, a waterfall, and of course the mighty Lake Superior. There are only a few short sections of the trail where you go a bit without a water source, but the trail guides and descriptions prepare you well for them.
What I Would Have Done Differently
I would have brought a mosquito face net. Not a doubt about it. There were areas of the trail closer to Munising where the mosquitoes were simply assaulting. Literally swarms–brown clouds of them I could see around Kevin walking in front of me. This was a low, muddy and moist area, but I never could have imagined the mosquitoes we experienced for about 2 miles there. Slapping them away from my ears and the constant buzzing sound in my ears very nearly put me into a mental hospital. We were sprinting to try to get through—and this is for multiple miles! And I thought food could motivate me to move faster…
I would have given myself more time. You will average about 3 miles per hour walking, depending on the terrain. This was not difficult—the distance we covered was not impossible for me (obviously) or even super strenuous. The problem was that I would have liked more time to saunter; more time to smell the plants and take in the views; to relax without my pack on my back and take in the experience and the scenery. I’d like to take a bit more than a full week sometime and do the whole 40 mile trail at a more leisurely pace.
The Benefits of Backpacking
For the budget traveler, backpacking is perfect. For your first hike, it’s undoubtedly an investment. I probably spent over $1500 on backpacking gear alone before and since my first trip (granted, I think I got a bit carried away from the excitement…).
But there are tons of companies who will rent out gear for much cheaper than buying it, especially if you just want to try backpacking out for the first time and aren’t sure if you’ll like it. You can get secondhand things on Craigslist and at REI Garage Sales too. Then, if it’s something you want to pursue, buy the gear a little at a time. Once you have it, your trips will be extremely cheap! That’s why I call it an investment. Because after you have everything you can go on vacation every year for next to nothing, as long as you get good quality supplies that will last.
This is a vantage point and an experience that would never be possible had I not hiked this portion of the North Country Trail—it is a way of seeing the Pictured Rocks of Michigan that in my opinion cannot be beat by any other method. The rocks from the water are one thing, but the rocks from above are another. Not only are the views spectacular, but when you’re away from civilization experiencing nature so intimately, you really start to feel like you’re a part of them—like they’re in your bones.
In my next post, I’m going to share my personal experience with the..