The Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 38-mile-long hiking trail which runs through Waterloo State Recreation Area and Pinckney Recreation Area in southeastern Michigan, United States. Part of the trail also passes through Park Lyndon County Park. The trail travels through glacial features such as eskers and kettle lakes as well as swamps and open meadows remaining from abandoned farmlands. Forest types include oak and pine. The trail tops out at 1,128 feet (344 m) on Sackrider Hill, 208 feet (63 m) above surroundings, the largest elevation gain. Other hills and ridges give 50-to-150-foot (15 to 46 m) rises. The trail is blazed with blue triangles and at some points shares trails with the Potawatomi Trail and the nature trails around the Eddy Discovery Center. Part of the trail is open to mountain biking and horseriding and hunting is allowed in most areas along the trail. The trail has several nearby campgrounds allowing it to be hiked as a 2, 3 or 4 day trip. Side trails to the campgrounds make the entire trip 40.5 miles (65.2 km). The trail was first developed in the 1960s and the last link across the county park was completed in 1986.MyHikes is an indie web platform aimed to make exploring public trails easier for everyone. The site has no investors and is owned and operated by one person, Dave Miller / Admin. As the main contributor and doer-of-all-things for MyHikes, I share my experiences from hikes and backpacking trips on MyHikes for fun on a volunteer basis and I believe that public trail information should be available to everyone.
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I, Victoria Zakrzewski, will be attempting an unsupported FKT on this route starting at Portage Lake in Waterloo Recreation and ending at Silver Lake in Pinckney Recreation area on December 5th 2020.The Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 36-mile-long hiking trail which runs through Waterloo State Recreation Area and Pinckney Recreation Area in southeastern Michigan, United States. Part of the trail also passes through Park Lyndon County Park. The trail travels through glacial features such as eskers and kettle lakes as well as swamps and open meadows remaining from abandoned farmlands. Forest types include oak and pine. The trail tops out at 1,128 feet (344 m) on Sackrider Hill, 208 feet (63 m) above surroundings, the largest elevation gain. Other hills and ridges give 50-to-150-foot (15 to 46 m) rises. The trail is blazed with blue triangles and at some points shares trails with the Potawatomi Trail and the nature trails around the Eddy Discovery Center. Part of the trail is open to mountain biking and horseriding and hunting is allowed in most areas along the trail. Ok conditions. Rainy morning so the trail was muddy & icy in spots. A ton of downed trees from the ice storm a few weeks ago. Needed trekking poles, no spikes. October 21, 2022. Beautiful fall day on the trail! Katz Rd. west a little over 5 miles and back. Took a short cut north west of Sackrider hill on the way back. Nice little trail if you don’t want to do the climb. You can see it on my recording.
This is a beautiful section of the trail. However, I was saddened and angry when my husband and I hiked from Park Lyndon north for 3 miles to Hadley Road.. We found out that nearly the entire section of the W-P Trail from the tunnel under 52 to Blind Lake is now designated as the “Potawatomi to DTE rail Connector Route” and is thus open to mountain bikers. Only the one mile section from Park Lyndon North to Embury Road is still closed to bikes. If heading west, the Connector Route turns south on Embury Road and then crosses North Territorial and joins the Orange Trail in Park Lyndon South to rejoin the W-P Trail. The very steep trail at that section has been changed to a serious of tight switch backs. The trail is not only open to bikes, but it is a two way trail. How can bikes (from either direction) safely coexist on boardwalks and narrow single track trail through the lovely meadows? When a bike and hiker meet in the meadow, I wonder who jumps off the trail into the meadow? And who jumps from the boardwalk into the swamp? Fortunately, today (Wednesday) we only encountered one bicyclist. However, on Sunday, my husband hiked from Lyndon South to the tunnel and was passed by many fast riders on the downhills, and one ebike was even on the trail. The DTE trails are a recent addition to the local mountain biking locations. Why is it so important to add a connector to the 17 mile Potowatomi? I suspect the mountain bike associations speak louder than the hiking community.
Apparently Waterloo Hunt club got special permission from the DNR for a “fox hunt” allowing them to ride horses on this part of the Waterloo-Pinckney trail. Since two weeks ago the trail is torn up, horse poop all along the trail. We had to step off the narrow trail for them to get past us. Not happy.Today we started at Park Lyndon South, on the south side of North Territorial. We hadn’t hiked this portion for about three years, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that the trail has been rerouted to avoid crossing very busy M-52. The trail now joins the paved bike/hike trail just before the fairly new tunnel that goes under the highway and emerges with a view of Green Lake. The W-P Trail then follows the paved path for about 4/10 of a mile before rejoining the actual trail that goes into the Green Lake Recreation Area. We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the Green Lake campground and headed back to our car. About 6 miles total. The tunnel is a true work of art — they have even planted flowers along the path on both sides of the tunnel and there is a new sculpture on the Green Lake side.Head out on this 54.4-km point-to-point trail near Grass Lake, Michigan. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 12 h 2 min to complete. This is a popular trail for backpacking, cross-country skiing, and hiking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The best times to visit this trail are April through October. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.
Our first backpacking trip. Hiked out and back from headquarters trailhead to pines campground over the weekend. Good trail overall, lots of bugs so the pretreatment of our gear, clothing and having the head-nets helped. The elevation changes were somewhat challenging to us. There was a lot of horse poo and mudded sand along the trail. Views do get boring at times but the time on the trail was worth it.
Mile 31 to 25 (east terminus). Well-maintained. Some nice views. Pay attention to your All Trails app, as there are a couple of branches that are not well-marked.Directions from Pinckney, MI: Eastern Trailhead: Travel M-52 east on North Territorial Road about 5 miles turning left (north) onto Dexter Townhall Road. Travel half a mile to reach park. Trailhead is at the Silver Lake Beach Area.Great trail, well marked. Lots of horses and a few minor inclines. Camped at Pines campground (rustic) Green lake (rustic) check website for site pictures. (trees for hammocks)
Waterloo half of the trail is extremely difficult! With lots of steep hills and so much sand an horse poo. It also was extremely difficult given it was in July that we did this hike the heat and the effort it took to get up those hills. We were drenched in sweat! Not for beginner backpackers. Pinckney trail was a much needed rest from the sand an hills. Beautiful trails none the less.
Discover this 54.4-km point-to-point trail near Grass Lake, Michigan. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 12 h 2 min to complete. This is a popular trail for backpacking, cross-country skiing, and hiking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The best times to visit this trail are April through October. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.January 19, 2022. Started at Park Lyndon on North Territorial Rd. for a total of 9.8 miles out and back. Nice winter day on the trail. Only saw a few other hikers. Make sure you wear spikes!
The trail is quite narrow for about half of the way so I would recommend gaiters if you go on a damp day. Otherwise, your shoes will get very soggy and soaked from the tall grasses and make for a subpar experience. The scenery, was also nothing special except for a few points in the beginning. I wouldn’t even really rate this trail as moderate save for one hill.
October 5, 2020. Park Lyndon North to Blind Lake and back. Took a detour on the old BBT trail around Lily Pad Pond and up to the old Boy Scout camp. Be advised that part of the old Bill Baker Trail sees very little use and is no longer maintained heading up to Camp Munhacke. Would have been 9.8 miles but totaled 11.7 with the detour. This section of the W-P is in excellent shape having been cleared very recently. The five miles between Park Lyndon and Blind Lake is a very nice forest, meadow, and wetland trail. Blind Lake is always beautiful. Highly recommend.
I added on some of the Potawatomi to Portage River. Trail is exceptionally well-marked and well-maintained. A bit buggy today, but manageable with a net. Some decent ups and downs and pretty with the afternoon sun. Only views are a slight overview just east of Hadley Road and Blind Lake itself.
Loved this trail. Took advice from other reviews and started at Park Lyndon North and did the 10 mile out and back to Blind Lake. Trail was beautiful and quiet on a Tuesday. Watch out for ticks though, we found quite a few on the dogs.
Waterloo Pinckney trail, packed snow no ice. 2 deer, an owl at blind lake/Goodband road side and a “monster” between Joslin and Hadley up in a tree after climbing ridge outa swamp from Hadley side. Windy cold
October 20, 2020. Blind Lake to Park Lyndon North and back. I’ve reviewed this section earlier. The only caveat is we took the shortcut above the Blind Lake campground. It’s the one on the All Trails app with the question marks on it. It is not quite bushwhacking but close.. : – )
Great trail that I’d have never known if not for this app. Loved the variety in the 10k out and back with some open skies in between the woods… the ups and downs in this flat landscape of ours.. ending at water. Perfect spring day today but can imagine this would be enjoyable across seasons. One gripe… Lot of dog poop all the way bang on the trails… a little consideration dog friends?
Experience this 11.4-km out-and-back trail near Gregory, Michigan. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 2 h 28 min to complete. This is a popular trail for birding, hiking, and walking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The best times to visit this trail are May through October. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.A little slippery in some muddy spots but overall the trail was in great condition. I saw only a handful of people on this beautiful 50 degree sunny day in Feb. Loved it!January 6,2021. Fantastic! East from Joslin Lake Road, circled around Dead Lake, and back. Just short of ten miles. Trail is snow covered and icy. Highly recommend micro spikes or Yak Trax. I extended this trail be starting at Lyndon Park….This is one of the better winter trails I’ve done….Only ran into a few people. The scenery is great with all the snow, especially if you can catch the trail on a sunny day !!! Trail was in good condition well marked. Scenery was nice from open fields, the dense woods. Car traffic was heard at one section of the trail as you got closer to the road. The ultimate payoff was happening upon blind lake. Made the hike worth it.The Alternative Dry Route dumps you out on roughly a quarter mile south of the main trail on Baldwin Road. Once back on the trail, the sweeping wetland vistas of Baldwin Flooding help to ease any angst from the additional mile that may have just been added to Day 1 of your Waterloo-Pinckney Trail journey (less if you heed our advice an opt immediately from the Alt. Dry Route). A tangible nervous excitement grips me, heightened by the fact that there’s only one other car parked in the massive trailhead parking lot. All signs pointed towards a journey of solitude in my future, which as a natural introvert I’m not entirely against. I loosely planned this trip to enhance my physical and mental self-reliance, and the empty trailhead further supported that there would be no shortcuts around executing this agenda. This particular fireside research session started with a narrow, basic agenda: learn more about southeast Michigan’s best campsites from an expert’s opinion. Nothing too special about it. And yet, while reading about Pinckney Recreation Area’s Crooked Lake and Blind Lake Campgrounds, I underlined a sentence that struck me as noteworthy. Then I opted to highlight that same sentence, signaling an “Ah-Ha!” moment. The sentence read like this:Regardless of the culprit, I spent over a mile and a half in complete silence, entirely transfixed by the solitude of one of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail’s most isolated segments. While 1.4 miles of hiking typically passes by without a second thought, time stood still for this vignette on the trail. I said nothing, thought nothing; I only hiked, wholly-surrendered to the sights, sounds, and immediacy of the experience. I was entirely exhausted and at complete peace. Maybe this sensation explains why solo backpacking has garnered such a passionate faithful.
Do you maintain or regularly hike on a particular trail? Any suggestions for which “hidden gem” destination we should spotlight next? Let us know in the comments!
For the next 3.6 miles – from Seymour to Glenn Road – the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail gradually starts to unveil its defining geographic features. The dense forest blanketing the shoreline of Big Portage Lake gives way to the oak, maple, and intermittent pine forest that populates the lowlands of Waterloo Recreation Area. This section of the trail also introduces a series of smaller inland lakes, ponds, and creeks to the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail’s cast of natural characters, including the avian and amphibian wildlife whose songs provide the background soundtrack to your steps.
The finish line for Day 1 at Pines Rustic Campground is located roughly a half mile after the Baldwin Flooding dam bridge. The sites at Pines Campground are gratuitously large, especially if you’re the only inhabitant like I was last weekend. Try to ignore the litany of charred logs that cover the campground – open fires are prohibited at the campground, although backpacker stoves are permitted. There’s also a seasonal water pump located at the equestrian facilities just north of the campground.As any experienced backpacker will corroborate, however, the physical attributes of long-distance hiking are, at best, only half of the experience. The other half+ is entirely mental, especially when solo backpacking. Mirroring my actual experience on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, the initial paragraphs of this section of this article concentrated almost exclusively on the physical components of the trail: the terrain, the wildlife, the topographic nuances and challenges. The natural characteristics of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail that jumped out to me as I excitedly initiated this adventure.
Every journey has its beginning, and this 38-mile one started in a basement. Next to a gas-lit fireplace. My parents’ basement fireplace to be exact, during a brief period of solitude amidst the mayhem of the holidays. My respite would consist of cracking open the 3rd edition of Best Tent Camping: Michigan, my most recent impulse research buy from my local REI, a never-ending well for Expedition Detroit content inspiration.
“Hikers looking for more than an afternoon stroll, however, will want to take note of the 36-mile Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, which connects Pinckney Recreation Area with the Waterloo Recreation Area.”
The bugs were not bad at all during my stay in mid-April, although I could imagine the mosquitos getting fairly vicious in the warmer months due to the campground’s proximity to Baldwin Flooding and other wetlands. With the absence of insects, I leisurely set up my backpacker’s tent, fired up my JetBoil for dinner, and relaxed in my lightweight camp chair with a book as the sun slowly set around me.
As I stepped onto the trail, the first thought in my mind after “Alright, I’m actually doing this!” was “I’m going in the wrong direction.” No I had not deviated off-trail. The initial 0.2 miles of the trail lead hikers in one of the few northwest segments of what’s otherwise a predominately northeast-oriented trail. A little disheartening knowing that you’re starting the hike with what feels like an inefficient disbursement of calories, but you’re immediately rewarded with a stunning panoramic vista of Big Portage Lake a beautiful mature forest that resembles the Shire more than southeast Michigan. This gently rolling 1.4 mile segment provides the perfect introduction to the trail – an intoxicating, confidence-inducing spell only broken by a passing car on Seymour Rd., the first of 28 road crossings throughout the journey.I turned the page to the book’s next entry: Green Lake Campground at Waterloo Recreation Area. “Awesome,” I thought, “another Detroit region gem.” Lo and behold, a few paragraphs into this section, another sentence leapt out at me:
Now fully-awake and in “expedition mode,” I made a few attempts to traverse around the most inundated portions of the trail. Each of these constituted fool’s errands, especially with soaked boots now adding insult to injury. Great backpacking trails have an uncanny means of humbling all of us, and this water-logged portion of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail reminded me that acting like a stubborn jackass often only results in added mileage and drenched socks. I swallowed my pride, accepted the extra mile that was now on my docket, and backtracked to the DNR sign. Lesson learned.
In honor of Earth Week, we embraced the challenge of thru-hiking the Detroit’s region’s most rigorous backpacking route: the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. This first installment of our 3 part series on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail highlights the trail’s initial physical and psychological impressions – especially on solo hikers.In 2023, thru-hiking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail requires traversing roughly 38.5 miles (including campground diversions) through Waterloo Recreation Area, Pinckney Recreation Area, and brief stint within Park Lyndon County Park. The trail consists of a rolling landscape mixture of oak-hickory forests, marsh wetlands, and open prairies featuring quintessentially-midwest red barns. The trail traverses steep moraine ridge lines and boardwalks while providing hikers with vistas of 10 inland lakes, the full spectrum of southeast Michigan’s wildlife, and panoramic views of the Chelsea-Pinckney area countryside.
Only a flooded trail could have broken this spell. With just 1.4 miles to go on the hike, I came across a DNR-posted sign advising that the main trail experiences significant flooding during “certain times of the year.” As such, the sign stated that hiking the longer “Alternative Dry Route” may be advisable. Still largely captivated by my nature-induced trance – and obstinately dismissive of adding more miles to my hike – I ignored this sign. The steady beat of my boots drummed on.I dog-eared the page for future reference, meaning I planned on returning to research the trail at some unspecified time in the future. Another item on my – thankfully – never-ending list of “hidden gem” outdoor recreation opportunities to research and explore in the Detroit region. I finished reading about Crooked Lake and Blind Lake’s camping opportunities.In our corner of the natural world, we identified only six “backpacking trails” suitable for overnight thru-hiking. Yes, the completion of the Iron Belle Trail – including the construction of accessible rustic campgrounds – will fundamentally change the landscape of our backpacking opportunities. The completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge in 2024 will further fan this flame by connecting southeast Michigan’s trails to greater Ontario’s existing trail network. But for now, we have our six backpacking trails, the most prominent of which being the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail.
The Waterloo-Pinckney Trail started as a love child of the 1960s – a dream of recreational enthusiasts to connect 22 miles of trails in Waterloo Recreation Area to an equal-sized trail network in Pinckney Recreation Area, including the then-recently-minted 17.5 mile Potawatomi Trail. The 20 years that followed consisted of fundraising, planning, building, and, finally, the formal dedication of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail in 1986. The original Waterloo-Pinckney Trail was also named the Ninawkee Trail – which translates in the Potawatomi language to “The Land is Ours” – and stretched for 46 miles.Right on cue at the 4 mile marker, the true topographic character of Waterloo Rec decides to make its grand entrance. As you traverse the southernmost segment of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, the trail climbs and descends 3.2 miles of rugged moraines carved into Michigan roughly 25,000 years ago. One picturesque resting point features a tree with a heart-shaped hollow right on the ridge of a panoramic ravine. I recommend resting here if you’re feeling winded, especially since the most famous of these moraines – Sackrider Hill – is the next target on your summit list. Sackrider’s decked watchtower, constructed at an elevation of roughly 1,130 feet, waits for your arrival after the steepest ascent of the entire Waterloo-Pinckney Trail (prepare for stairs).
After summiting a third and final moraine at mile 6.9 – just before Katz Road – the trail gradually descends to a flat, wetland segment all the way towards Pines Campground. Don’t be alarmed when the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail appears to dead in right into Glenn Road. Turn right and follow the dirt road for a quarter mile until the trail picks up again on your left. Fellow solo hikers, note that this segment of the tail on Glenn Road represents the most “exposed” part of the trail to non-recreational users. If there is a singular moment to exercise extra awareness regarding your surroundings, this is the section to do so. The only time that I felt any unease from human activity occurred during this segment; a group of people in two vehicles seemed to be avoidant of my presence, possibly due to the GoPro on my chest strap and their apparent illegal dumping just off trail. Just remember to always trust your gut in uncertain situations and err on the safe side.
Starting at the 7.5 mile marker, however, my trail experience ventured from the physical into the metaphysical. Sure, maybe this mindset alteration resulted from the perfect storm of sub-standard sleep, low caloric intake, and high energy burn from carrying 40 pounds of backpacking gear over miles of oscillating terrain. Or perhaps an over-exposure to the subtle green hues of freshly-budding trees commingling with the monolithic brown of largely barren trees induced a gradual trance. Or was it the hypnotic beat resonating from my steady pace down the trail, a reliable metronome of recreational equipment only broken by a chickadee’s call or rustling leaf.Solo hiking the route – with only the unmistakably blue DNR trail markers as your companion – provides backpackers with a serene opportunity to embrace solitude within a fully-immersive experience. The Waterloo-Pinckney Trail has the power to heal and strengthen each facet of our being: our physical strength, mental fortitude, individual resilience, and spirituality. The conversations that you have with yourself over 40 miles alone on the trail, if you permit yourself to engage in them, provide invaluable and unfiltered insights into the depths of your values, memories, ambitions, and character. Best of all, an undeniable sense of accomplishment waits patiently for your arrival at Silver Lake.