Recommended NCT Hike

Norwich Road to Old Victoria

This hike is over 13 miles long, and involves many ascents and descents of ridges, but is certainly one of the most spectacular hikes and interesting hikes on the NCT in the western U.P.  It is for hikers in good physical condition, and should be considered a full (and LONG) day trip .  It also requires that a vehicle be placed at each end of the hike, or a commercial car shuttle.

The recommended online maps are for segments 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.  There are links on those documents to detailed trail segment information, as well as photos.  The NCTA waterproof map that covers the area, MI-14 - Cascade Falls to Ironwood, is available at the NCTA Trail Shop.

The hike could be done in either direction.  The following narrative, however, is for a west to east hike.  Old Victoria is a great final destination, and if you use a shuttle, you can leave your car there.  The shelter at Old Victoria is a great place to spend the night before and/or after your hike.
 
Mileages from Norwich Road are included (bold, in parentheses) at various points in the text.

Leaving the parking lot (0.00) turn right, cross the road, and access the NCT at the obvious sign.  For the next mile and a half, the trail ascends the west side of a ridge, sometimes gently and sometimes steeply, through a forest of sugar and red maple, yellow birch, eastern hemlock, basswood, white ash, balsam fir, and white spruce, with occasional northern white cedar, red pine, and white pine.  This is the typical forest you will encounter on your hike, though there are areas with more aspen and white ash, and on open ridges you'll find bare rock areas with lichens, serviceberry, northern red oak, cherry, and ferns and flowers characteristic of such sites.

Eventually the trail reaches a general high level above Norwich Road, with near-constant ups and downs, and comes out to at least four spectacular overlooks with great views to the west, southwest, and northwest (1.2 to 1.5).  Southwest is the valley of the West Branch of the Ontonagon River.  To the west are the highest summits of the Trap Hills, and on a clear day you can spot a 350-foot sheer rock bluff, the highest in Michigan.  Far in the distance to the southwest and south are hills south of M-28, most of the way to the Wisconsin line.  To the northwest is the stack of the abandoned White Pine Copper Smelter, and beyond that the hills of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan's largest.  On a clear day to the north-northwest you'll see the blue horizon of Lake Superior.  Occasional, mostly seasonal streams are crossed as you head southward in this area.

From here the trail drops into a narrow valley with high rock bluffs on the north side, and then swings west onto high east-west ridges with some open forest of red and white pine, and with nice short-range views to the south, especially with the leaves off.  To the south in this area is a complex of 19th-century copper mines, collectively known as Norwich Mine.  Norwich Mine was one of the earliest and most successful copper mines in the western U.P.  Mining began on Norwich Bluff in 1852, and continued sporadically until 1916, operated by a variety of mining companies and usually financed by wealthy investors from the east, and often from Boston.  The ridges you traverse for the next two miles are riddled with abandoned mine shafts and adits (horizontal mine entrances).  The Ottawa National Forest has sealed most of the vertical shafts, except those leading to bat hibernation chambers.  At the tops of those shafts, grates have been installed for easy access by the bats.  If you wish to wander these ridges, beware that there may still be dangerous pits to be found.  Do not enter pits floored by water, leaves, or soil; a cavity may lie below

Your first hint of Norwich Mine is a trail heading west and downhill (1.85).  It's the first access trail to the Ottawa National Forest's Norwich Mine Interpretive Trail.  (Note: As of April 2013 the previous link was not working)  Continue ahead on the NCT unless you wish to explore that portion of the trail.

Your next landmark is a sign on the left indicating a side trail to Forest Road 642 (2.03) (the road is now gated at the north end to prevent resource damage).  About 500 feet north on this trail is the former site of Norwich Fire Tower, and a fenced-off mine shaft.

The NCT descends into a deep valley, turns right, and encounters the remains of an old road (2.28).  Following the valley southward you will shortly encounter a trail to the right (another part of the Interpretive Trail), followed by a sharp left turn on the NCT.  A seasonal stream parallels the old road on the left.  Ahead is a trail that leads steeply down to the base of Norwich Bluff and then right to the former site of the community of Norwich.  A side trail to the left along the base of the Bluff, on the way to Norwich, leads to the still-active Norwich Cemetery.  The side trip to the mine and cemetery are well worth it if you have time; the round-trip is about 1.4 miles. 

Leaving the valley the NCT climbs onto a ridge to begin a series of ups and downs, past several great views to the south.  Camping is possible near these viewpoints in red pines (3.09), but water is limited to a seasonal stream about 500 feet to the north on the NCT.  If no water is present where the NCT crosses the stream, you are likely to find pools downstream to the east.

Where the trail turns north (3.09) you may wish to bushwhack east along the ridge.  The route crosses a hill, descends 100 feet or so, crosses a flatter area, and ascends to the summit of a very exposed rocky knob surrounded mostly by sheer cliffs.  To return to the NCT, follow your route back west to the trail, or, after descending the rocky knob to the flat, head northwest on the contour until you reach the NCT near the seasonal stream.

After the seasonal stream the NCT heads northwest, then north up a steep slope, and then east across a couple of low summits.  At the final summit (3.44) there is a great view to the south toward some high hills and southeast down the valley of the West Branch.

Now the NCT goes north over another hill and then east down toward Whisky Hollow Creek (known as Front Run in the 19th century).  On the way to Whisky Hollow Creek you will encounter a one-mile white-blazed trail (3.83) that provides access to a parking lot on Victoria Road.

Whisky Hollow Creek is a permanent stream, though a bit cloudy due to clay soils upstream; pre-filtering is recommended.  Listen for the sound of a rocky rapids ahead and to the right; it's a great place for a break, and for cooling your feet and perhaps even a shallow dip.  Camping is possible across the stream just upstream from the rapids. 

Continue upstream on the NCT, and ford the creek (4.18).  The NCT then ascends a gully, crosses a flat area and a low rock hill, and then a minor gravel road.  This road provides access to Victoria Road to the north. 

Continuing east, the NCT climbs a narrow rock ridge with almost constant spectacular views.  In view to the west is the sharp knob suggested as a possible side trip from mileage 3.09. 

This is a great place to learn something about the geology of these ridges, known as the Trap Hills.  The primary rock here is basalt, a dark volcanic rock also known as Trap Rock.  Rock layers here slope downward to the northwest, creating a characteristic shape to the hills.  Northwest slopes are gentle, and southeast slopes are steep.  Particularly hard basalt layers form vertical or nearly vertical bluffs.  In some areas Pleistocene (Ice Age) glaciers smoothed off ridges, and in other areas they gouged out north-south valleys between higher hills.  Whisky Hollow Creek valley is an example of the latter.

Extensive open areas on the ridge eventually end (4.9), and the trail begins following gentler ridges eastward, still with occasional southward views.  Dropping northward off the ridge in about a half mile, the trail then turns east toward Gleason Creek.

Gleason Creek (5.53) is the most spectacular of several streams that flow southward off the ridge during the next few miles, forming gorges and waterfalls.  It's a permanent stream, and camping is possible across the stream a short distance to the northeast, in an area of hemlocks.

The view south down the v-shaped gorge of Gleason Creek is indeed enticing.  To explore it, though, you need not bushwhack down the stream.  Instead, follow the narrow sidehill trail (Gleason Falls Trail) downstream on the east side, well above the stream.  In a hundred feet or so you'll pass an adit on the left.  Here, 19th century miners likely found a small vein of copper, drilled and cut their way into the hillside for about 20 feet before the vein likely petered out.  It's a cool spot on a hot summer day, and a good spot to hide out from a sudden thunderstorm.  Spending the night there would require removing a lot of loose rock from the adit floor to create a level enough spot.

Continuing on this trail, Gleason Falls is reached in another couple hundred feet.  It's a wild, magical spot, with the creek dropping 20 feet through a narrow notch to a pool, and then dropping 15 feet or so more under boulders.  It's a wonderful spot to cool your feet and take a dip.  The canyon here is about a hundred feet deep, with mostly sheer rock walls.  Not far downstream from the falls on the west side of the stream is a vertical wall of conglomerate.  Between periods of volcanic eruptions, about 1.1 billion years ago, large streams carrying cobbles and boulders sometimes flowed over the land.  The streams dropped their load of rounded rocks as their flow rate decreased, and minerals gradually cemented the rocks together, forming conglomerate.  The conglomerate exposure also shows clearly the slope of the bedrock layers.

Returning to the NCT (5.53) the trail heads east up a valley and southeast onto a high ridge.  For those tired up all the ups and downs of the trail so far, this ridge provides a pleasant break, as it's fairly level, and there are several more panoramic views to the south.  A short trail to the north (6.1 +/- ­leads to a marked parking spot on an old logging road.  This road may be used as a trailhead for dividing this hike into two convenient day hikes.  However, the logging road must be driven with care, and occasionally a tree is across it.  In that case, you may need to walk in partway from Victoria Road.

From the connector trail (6.1 +/-) east the trail is flat for a while, passing another great overlook (6.5), but breaks out of the woods (6.7) at the top of a descending rocky ridge with a long eastward view.  Apparent in this view is a rocky knob about a mile and a half to the northeast; the knob is offset to the right of the primary bluff edge.  More on this knob as the trail approaches it...

The trail descends the ridge to first one and then a second small stream crossing (7.0).  The second crossing is particularly lovely, as you step across the stream at the top of a narrow canyon.  Upstream perhaps 100 feet is a small waterfall dropping over a conglomerate ledge.  Campsites are easily found in this area, and water can always be found in the stream, at least downstream from the trail.

Now the trail begins a gradual descent to the northeast, dropping from one flat "bench" to the next, and crossing on seasonal stream above a rocky gully.  The next, and clearly permanent, stream (7.7) is reached after a long descent.  There are no good campsites near the stream, but one could obtain water there and camp farther ahead in an older hardwood/forest on the uppermost flat below steep rock slopes (7.9 +/-).

Continuing east on very flat trail, a small seasonal stream is crossed (8.1 +/-), followed by two rocky talus (boulder) slopes beneath the isolated rock knob mentioned earlier.  Soon the end of a smooth rock ridge appears on the left (8.31).  To ascend the knob, circle north and northwest around the end of the ridge and head uphill, keeping the ascending rock ridge on your left.  You'll see some notches in the ridge, but keep climbing to the last notch, which is considerably deeper than the others.  Enter the notch and scramble up a very steep slope to the right, grabbing trees at times to facilitate your climb.  The ridge gets less steep, and opens up.  Keep climbing to the very top, where you get an incredible 360-degree view.  This is a "don't miss" side trip if you have time and the weather is good.

Returning to the trail and continuing east across a flat, you'll parallel a rock bluff on your left.  As you leave the bluff, watch for evidence of past mining activity.  A short distance north of the trail (8.63) is an excavation from the 1840's United States Mine.  The mine was short-lived (like most), and little copper was produced.

Past the mine the trail runs for about a mile across flat country dominated by aspen.  As the flat ends, a minor road is crossed and the trail begins an excessively steep ascent of the next hill to the east.  The first 300 vertical feet is achieved in not much over 1000 feet of trail!  It's worth the climb, though, because soon yet another panoramic view appears on the right (9.95).  Camping would be possible here, but the nearest water source is at least a half mile away.

Once again the NCT descends a rocky ridge, and turns right to follow above a lovely stream valley on the left (a branch of Cushman Creek).  This is likely a permanent stream, and good campsites are easy to find here.  The trail then crosses the creek (probably a permanent stream) and ascends yet another ridge, with some off-trail views that are best with the leaves off.  Then it's down the ridge, steeply at the end, down a rocky road, left off the road across a flat area, and out to the bluff again at a fair viewpoint.  Don't spend too much time there, though, as the better view is at Lookout Mountain (12.04) a couple hundred feet ahead.

The lake nearly 400 feet below you at Lookout Mountain is Victoria Reservoir, created by the Copper Range Mining Company in 1931 for hydroelectric power for logging and mining operations.  Since 1947, Upper Peninsula Power Company has operated the facility.  Also in view are the hundred-foot-high Victoria Dam, the 114-inch diameter pipeline that runs 6050 feet from the reservoir to the powerhouse, 215 feet below the reservoir, and high clay banks on the West Branch below the powerhouse.  Not in view, though, are two former dams and a waterfall, all upstream from the current dam, and the site where the Ontonagon copper boulder was formerly located; all of these are currently under the lake.  If you have time after your hike, drive down to the dam and look around.  There are lots of scenic beauty, engineering feats, and history to be found.

Native Americans knew of the Ontonagon Boulder for millennia, but word reached European missionaries and explorers in the 17th century.  It was not until after the Treaty of LaPointe in 1842 that Americans of European descent could purchase the boulder from Native Americans, hauling it off to Detroit and ultimately to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, where it remains today.  Stories of the purity and size of this 3708-pound mass of pure (native) copper helped spark America's first true "mining rush," as thousands came to the "Copper Country" of Houghton, Keweenaw, and Ontonagon Counties to search for copper and to work in the mines.

Before leaving the overlook, note the elongate trench behind you.  You may have noticed similar unnatural-looking trenches along the trail.  They're likely the work of 19th-century copper prospectors.  Native Americans also made their mark on these ridges, but their work is less obvious.  As early as 7000 years ago, copper hammered from western U.P. ridges was traded throughout much of North America.

Back on the trail, the NCT descends to Victoria Dam Road (12.45), where parking is possible in summer.  Note that illegal ATV use has ruined parts of this trail.  The NCT angles left across the road, paralleling the road for a short distance before re-crossing the road to the northwest to drop down a steep bank to an old railroad grade.  This grade was used to haul two sets of ore cars.  Cars full of copper ore went downhill from the Victoria Mine to the crusher by the river, and empty cars came back up.  Because the full cars were heavier, they pulled the "uphill cars" up, so no fuel was needed!

The NCT follows this "tram road" for several hundred feet, before angling left through young woods to a power line / ATV / snowmobile trail.  Expect tall grass on the power line if the NCT has not been mowed recently.  The trail angles slightly left as it crosses the power line, toward a blaze on the edge of the woods.  After entering the woods, the trail winds and dips, eventually coming out in the town of Victoria, on Victoria Road (12.83) (note that Old Victoria is still ahead).  A sign you'll pass (12.73) before Victoria Road indicates an interpretive trail, which has yet to be built.

Turn left on the pavement.  The large house on your right is the Captain's House, where the mining captain lived.  Others at the mine had much more modest accommodations!  Also on the right, before the Captain's House, is the former site of a boarding house. 

Shortly the NCT turns right at a sign.  You are now in the heart of a huge former mining complex, but most of what remains are building foundations.  When you get to Old Victoria, you should go into those miners' cabins that are open, and perhaps take a guided tour of the site.  Check out the photos of the mining complex; you'll be amazed at what was once where the NCT goes now!

You'll find a foundation on the right, and then, on the left, is a hole with a junction of some iron pipes.  This pipe carried compressed air to Victoria Mine from an excavated cavern beneath the West Branch just downstream from the dam.  For more info on this engineering marvel, the Taylor Air Compressor, check at Old Victoria, or click hereCompressed air was used in the mine, to run the stamp mill that crushed mine rock, and elsewhere.

Now the NCT turns left past a concrete pyramidal structure; it was used to control cables that ran between the Hoist House and the Shaft House.  Straight ahead at the turn was the Company Store, and after the turn two more buildings are passed on the right.

When the trail intersects a gravel road (12.95) a few feet ahead, it turns right, but you will first want to go left a short distance.  The opening to the north leads to the "poor rock" pile, where waste rock from the mine was dumped.  Its summit provides great views north to Lake Superior and east to Rockland.  Just west of the entrance to the rock pile, on the same side of the road, is the hard-to-see sealed-off shaft that provided access for miners and a way for rock to be hoisted out of the mine.  It's not very impressive now, but when the mine was operating an imposing six-story building stood here.

Back on the NCT, follow the gravel road uphill, passing several foundations on the left, and enter a roofless stone building on the right.  This is the Hoist House, which provided power to haul ore and miners up from the mine at the Shaft House.  This the only place where the NCT actually goes through a building! 

Exiting the "back door," the NCT winds down a ridge, past an old adit, and left onto a level former road.  Stay on that road, jogging left about 75 feet on a gravel road, and then angle right down an old woods road.  This area is known as the Sawmill Location.  The sawmill was located about 300 feet to the left, and houses lined the road.  Foundations of many houses are still visible.

Passing another sign for the yet-to-be-built interpretive trail (13.17), stay right on the NCT and soon you will enter Old Victoria (13.35).  Old Victoria is a portion of the Victoria mining community that the Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria has chosen to preserve and restore.  You'll pass the sauna on the right (usable by those who join the Society) and then a new outhouse.  Ahead is the Arvola house, and to its left, the Usimaki house, which serves as a visitor center.  Go there to chat with Society staff, and for guided tours.  

The Restoration site chronicles life late in the history of mining at Victoria, from 1899 to 1921.  Mining operations began in the area in 1849, and continued sporadically under numerous ownerships until 1921.  Victoria Mine was the latest of the mines that were operated there.  This narrative barely touches the history of this fascinating site.  For more information, check the references at the link below.

The NCT continues east, behind the Arvola and Usimaki houses.  It's worth following the trail, past other houses, both restored and deteriorating, to the Old Victoria shelter, where you're welcome to spend the night on this or future trips to the area.  Before you leave, fill up on water if you'd like.  The vertical metal pipe, on a side trail off the NCT more or less behind the Usimaki house, is a clear water source, but should be filtered.  About a half mile east of Old Victoria, on the road to Rockland, is Victoria Spring, in the north road ditch.  It's a pipe producing a slow flow of clear, pure water from a deep drill hole. 

Also, before leaving, congratulate yourself for having completed one of the most varied, spectacular, and historically-interesting hikes on the entire NCT!

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Last modified: April 16, 2013