Revised August 9, 2008
Hiked 1986, 1987, 2008
hours studying the park map after he and
Aimee first visited the Porkies in 1984. At that time, they had
feasibility of completing a day hike in the ten to fifteen mile range.
Mike decided there were two possible circle or loop hikes in that
range, with two others as "long shots." After completing the first
in 1985, a loop of the North Mirror Lake, Correction Line, and Big Carp
River Trails, a loop encompassing the Cross and Little Carp River
with short connecting segments along other trails followed in
1986. Mike so heartily enjoyed this trip that he and Aimee repeated
it with his brother Mark on Memorial Day weekend, 1987. Aimee, for her
part, regretted not paying attention to Mike's plans for the Memorial
Day weekend repeat hike, which she would have declined. She did
decline the next repeat over 20 years later which Mike and his daughter
Maria completed on August 4, 2008.
With the new more precise trail distances in recent park maps and trail signs, it is still estimated that the hike covers a distance of about 13 miles; however, the exact distance is is not certain because three of the "official" sources contradict one another regarding the distance along the Little Carp River Trail from the Cross Trail to the rivermouth at Lake Superior. The official trail guide says 6.0 miles, while the sign at the Lake Superior end says 6 1/2 miles to the Greenstone Falls cabin, and the sign at the Cross Trail end says 4.9 miles. Mike was wearing a pedometer on the 2008 hike and assuming the other segment distances are correct (see bottom) and his average step length did not vary throughout the hike, his step count of 12,200 on this segment translates to 5.6 miles. Adding that distance to the last 0.8 miles to the road, the 2:22 time from the lake back to the road translates to 2.51 miles per hour which seems consistent.
In 1986, it was the first hike we took in the Porkies that did not begin in the M-107 / Lake of the Clouds area. Instead, we followed South Boundary Road about 15 or 20 miles to unpaved Little Carp River Road. The road ends after 1/2 mile or so at a parking area. Access trails extended in both directions; we took the trail to the left (west) heading towards the Greenstone Falls cabin. In about 1/2 mile, we merged with the main Little Carp River Trail near the vicinity of Greenstone Falls. Roughly 1/2 mile later, the Cross Trail turned right and moderately climbed a hill for a short distance.
By 2001 when Mike and Maria hiked a segment in the eastbound direction, the access trails had been reconfigured. Hikers traveling in either direction on the trail first cross the river on a road bridge at the very end of the parking area. At this point, hikers traveling eastbound toward Lily Pond continue walking straight past a motor vehicle gate onto a woods road while hikers traveling westbound toward Lake Superior, as we were doing in 2008, turn left immediately after crossing the bridge onto a foot trail along the stream. The old westbound access trail may continue to exist as a signed "Trail to Overlooked Falls" on the opposite side of the stream, but we did not hike this so we cannot verify it for certain. Consider this "Reroute #1" encountered in 2008.
Having taken three trips over the entire five mile length of the Cross Trail, Mike finds it difficult to remember anything memorable about it. In dry weather it is very passable, but after wet weather be advised that a mile or so into the trail, there is an somewhat muddy section -- one of us actually had a hiking shoe pulled off and stuck in the mud, right at one of the few points in the entire park where poison ivy grew. We thought the troubles with mud were ending when we saw a clearing ahead -- it turned out to be a swamp! The current park map actually shows a graphic of a swampy area there. As for the poison ivy, in 2008 it was almost difficult to avoid over a stretch of about 1/4 mile in that muddy section just before the swamp clearing. Mike does not remember seeing poison ivy growing anywhere else in the park -- only along this short stretch of the Cross Trail. It is one of the most lush stands of poison ivy that he's ever seen!
The swamp was quite dry in 2008 with the narrow footpath nearly completely obscured by waist high vegetation (thankfully no poison ivy there). The remainder of the trail seems to be dry in most years and quite passable, with the only other detail of note being the Toledo Creek stream crossing about halfway along the trail. The creek barely flowed during dry times.
You can tell you're coming to the end of the Cross Trail when you approach the Big Carp River in a valley below it. In the 1980s, it ended at the Big Carp River Trail which had just crossed the river, about 1/2 mile upstream from Lake Superior, but it appeared to have a different routing on the 2008 hike as it continued all the way past a cabin to the Lake Superior Trail. (Consider this "Reroute #2.") The Big Carp River Trail also ends there as this is the point where the river flows into Lake Superior. A wooden footbridge takes the Lake Superior Trail east toward M-107; we turned left (west) toward Presque Isle.
The segment of the Lake Superior Trail between the Big and Little Carp Rivers was listed as one mile in the older park trail guides, but Mike never believed this, as it was more like 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 miles. (You notice such things after hiking 6 1/2 miles with as many to go.) The more precise distance given in current guides is 1.3 miles. There are beaches (usually not for swimming - but on one occasion we saw quite a few swimmers on what was the hottest summer day of 2005!) at both rivermouths which are good places to stop for lunch. On the earlier hikes mainly prior to 2000, we occasionally saw other hikers or campers in this area, but not often. On the more recent hikes especially those taken at the height of the summer vacation season in early August of 2005 and 2008, nearly every cabin in this vicinity was occupied and nearly every campsite was in use. (In addition to the three trips along this route, we have visited this general area via other trails on at least six other occasions.)
Mike's favorite hike in the Porkies was the 5 1/2 mile segment of the Little Carp River Trail completing the loop back to the Cross Trail intersection as it used to be routed during the 1980s hikes. It didn't have the one breathtaking vista that Escarpment Trail has with Lake of the Clouds, rather, it had a continual series of waterfalls and stream crossings. You had to hike it -- you couldn't just drive to it like Lake of the Clouds overlook -- and that also made it special. In its older routing, the trail followed the river over this entire segment, usually along its banks and rarely more than a few dozen feet inland. Because it followed the river valley, it was not a difficult hike in the sense of climbing hills. Although it gained 500 to 600 ft of elevation, the slope was extremely gradual and constant over 5 1/2 miles so you didn't notice it. The park map shows three named waterfalls -- Traders, near the rivermouth, followed by Explorers and Trappers, about two miles upstream -- but there are numerous small falls and rapids.
This brings us to the "Final Reroute" of the 2008 hike. Admittedly one challenge of the older routing was the fact that the trail kept crossing the river back and forth. The park map showed two stream crossings along the 5 1/2 mile segment. Not true -- there were nearly a dozen if Mike's memory serves him correctly! With the exception of a large log bridge on the original routing of the access trail from the road, all required a bit of nimbleness to cross stepping stones or balance on narrow logs. Aimee especially disliked one narrow log which spanned a mini-gorge, perhaps five to ten feet above the rocky stream. At the time, Mike suggested wading the shallow stream for such crossings.
Nowadays, it's no longer an issue as the multiple stream crossings appear to be a thing of the past. Hiking from the lake back to the road. the trail follows the northeast bank (opposite the Pinkerton Creek Trail) for about a mile, switches across to the southwest bank in the vicinity of Memengwa Creek, then switches back to the northeast bank about a mile later. That's all. Yes, it's easier not having to figure out how to step your way across without getting your feet wet every ten minutes or so, but the tradeoff is having to climb up and down more small hills (not really that hard) and also having more of a feeling of separation from the stream itself. To Mike, that was a big part of what made this hike seem so special along the old routing. It still is a pleasant hike and an interesting hike, just less so than before in his opinion. If you enjoy hiking, you will not be disappointed by this trail or any other major trail in the Porkies.
Once the Cross Trail intersection is reached, apparently at the top of a small rise instead of the bottom where it used to be when the Little Carp River Trail followed the stream more closely, you can return to the parking area on Little Carp River Road by doubling back on the initial 0.8 mile segment on Little Carp River Trail and on the road access side trail.
One thing to remember: The entire park is a great place to be during the various berry seasons, especially raspberry and thimbleberry seasons. On the segment of the Cross Trail beneath the first vista overlooking the Big Carp River but before the Big Carp cabins, Mike and Maria spent five or ten minutes stopped in a big stand of thimbleberries which were just starting to ripen on August 4, 2008. Finally they had to agree that there would be no more stopping to eat thimbleberries until after lunch. For the first time in memory, they didn't even bother to eat the chocolate bars they had packed for a late in the hike snack - because they were so full from eating thimbleberries along both the Cross and Little Carp River Trails!
She and Dad completed the same hike of the Cross and Little Carp River Trails on this afternoon.
It was interesting to see how much had changed since Mike had last hiked these segments in 1987. This stream crossing was not one of the changes.
This was one of the cabins
located near the mouth of
the Big Carp River at Lake Superior. We were day hiking and didn't
actually stay at the cabin, but Aimee posed in front of it for a photo
At this point, we were close to halfway done with the 13-mile hike, and
we stopped for lunch along the lakeshore at the rivermouth.
On the August, 2008 hike, Mike and Maria stopped to talk with a family that was spending the night in this cabin. In fact, just about all the cabins along these trails were in use that day, as well as most of the tent campsites.
The Big Carp River flows into
Lake Superior on a
beautiful September, 1986 day. Unlike Lake of the Clouds overlook,
accessible by car, the only way to see this in person is to hike at
least 4 1/2 miles -- we had done six.
This is the view looking
upstream on the Big Carp
River from the Lake Superior shore during our 1986 hike. The wooden
bridge visible in the
photo carries the Lake Superior Trail across the river. The large rock
at the right (west) end of the bridge has a USGS benchmark embedded in
it, which Mike found thrilling.
Thimbleberries in various stages of ripeness characterized many
stretches of the Cross and Little Carp River Trails in early August,
2008. At one point, Mike and Maria had to make an agreement that
they would not stop to pick any more thimbleberries before lunch -- or
they might never have gotten out of the woods! Later they
declined the candy bar snacks they had packed because they were too
full of berries!
Once again, like mother, like daughter!
But there were some major differences on our 2008 hike. The trail map still shows two stream crossings -- and this time there really were exactly two stream crossings and no more. Perhaps that is why Maria found them more likable than her mother had 22 years before. Here she is making the first crossing about one mile upstream from Lake Superior. "The more things change, the more they stay the same..."
Here's the second and final stepping stone stream
as we headed upstream on the Little Carp River Trail in August,
This is about two miles upstream from the mouth of the river at Lake Superior.
Mike and Maria did not find the stream crossings to be too taxing, at least under the relatively dry conditions of this hike. The situation might be quite different after a heavy rain during a time of high water.
This is the view in August, 2008 overlooking the
Greenstone Falls vicinity from the new routing of the Little Carp River
Trail just prior to its junction with the Cross Trail. The
revised routing provides more vistas and overlooks but also more up and
down hiking over small hills.
22 years later, the access trail has been rerouted so Maria and Mike did not have an opportunity to see if there were any remains of this log bridge. Perhaps it can still be found along the side trail to Overlooked Falls but we did not walk that way.
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