Explore the Trap Hills on the North Country Trail!

Cliffs, spectacular views, waterfalls, and areas of old growth forest await you along the NCT in the Trap Hills of Ontonagon County
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

bluff east of Whisky Hollow Creek
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  Why the Trap Hills?

Where exactly are the Trap Hills?

History of the Trap Hills

Ecology of the Trap Hills

Hiking the NCT in the Trap Hills

Details for hiking in the Trap Hills

Winter activities

Suggested day hikes in the Trap Hills

Be an activist for the Trap Hills

Hiking the NCT in the Trap Hills
    For 34 miles, the NCT follows an up-and-down route across the Trap Hills, from Highway M-64 to Old Victoria.  The route is entirely off road except for a few hundred feet.  And, the scenery is spectacular from the highest cliffs in the state of Michigan! With most of the route on lands of the Ottawa National Forest, it is not hard to find places to camp. PWC Segments 2 thru 10 in the Trap Hills are all on US Forest Service lands in the Ottawa National Forest. You may find places where others have camped, but there are no developed tent sites on the NCT in the Trap Hills. 
    All in all, the Trap Hills provides one of the best choices for backpacking in the Upper Midwest.  The trail is not heavily used, and many days you may see no one else on the trail.  The only negative is that, since the NCT is a linear trail, a shuttle is usually needed.  The Trap Hills section is only part of a longer continuous section of NCT, from near Copper Peak north of Bessemer in Gogebic County, to Baraga Plains in Baraga County.  Combining the Trap Hills section with more North Country Trail on one one or both ends, a trip of nearly 140 miles can be done; only about a mile of that hike would be on public roads.
    Except at the Old Victoria NCT built Shelter, camping on private lands is not permitted.  There are some private lands PWC segments 11-18 in the Trap Hills.  Trail segment descriptions on this website identify where the private lands are located.  It is recommended that you use common sense when selecting a campsite.  Try to avoid creating new campsites close to the trail, and avoid sites close to streams.

Why the Trap Hills?
    As for the geologic history, the story begins about 1.1 billion years ago, as a great rift opened in the area now home to the Lake Superior basin.  Molten lava flowed from the rift and across the landscape, and streams from surrounding highlands carried sediments into the rift basin.  When the lava cooled and the sediments of sand and cobbles were cemented into rock, they formed layers of basalt, andesite, rhyolite, sandstone, and conglomerate.  That the Trap Hills are here today is due largely to the hard, erosion-resistant nature of the basalt, andesite, and conglomerate, which cap most of the ridges, and are also well-exposed where the ridges are cut by streams to form falls and gorges.
One name for a basaltic lava flow is Trap Rock, or Trap; hence the name Trap Hills.
    Most cliffs are found on the south-facing sides of the ridges.  This is because the rock layers have a northward dip (i.e., the tops of all rock layers slope toward the north).  The dip is usually about 10 to 20 degrees.  The north-facing slopes of the hills usually slope northward at a gentler angle than the dip of the rock layers that underly them, but the south-facing slopes are steeper (occasionally vertical) because that is where the rock layers are truncated by erosion.
    This generalized geologic cross section shows the basic geology of the area and its relationship to Trap Hills topography.  The slanting lines represent the orientation of rock layers.
    Between many of the rock ridges of the Trap Hills are found valleys of varying width, basically oriented north-south or northwest-southeast, and home to such streams as Bush and Whisky Hollow Creeks.  Rock exposures are rare in these valleys, but perhaps numerous faults and fractures are present in the rocks there, causing those rocks to be susceptible weathering and to erosion by streams.  Continental glaciers moving from north to south probably helped scour and smooth out these valleys as well.  Other faults are likely responsible for the valleys of the smaller streams, like Gleason Creek, which flow southward off the bluffs.
    Soils on ridgetops are typically loamy, while those in the valleys between the hills are clayey, thanks to thick deposits of red clay that accumulated in many lower areas of Ontonagon County in a post-glacial lake trapped between a glacier to the north and high country to the south.

Where exactly are the Trap Hills?
    That all depends.  It is clear from maps that the area that is definitely the Trap Hills is the area between Old M-64 and Bush Creek.  However, geologically and topographically, the Trap Hills cover a much larger area.  For the purposes of the NCT, I'm defining the Trap Hills as the hills along and near the trail between Highway M-64 and Old Victoria.  Both east and west of those points, the landscape and geology change, while the landscape and geology between those two points remains fairly uniform.

History of the Trap Hills
    Earliest human use of the Trap Hills began in prehistoric time, as native peoples occasionally used the area for hunting and extracted small quantities of copper from veins in the rock.  This same copper attracted Europeans, who began exploring the hills toward the end of the first half of the 19th Century  They were encouraged by Michigan State Geologist Douglass Houghton's reports of the copper deposits in the western U.P., and by the moving of the famous Ontonagon Boulder, a two-ton mass of copper, from its original location in the West Branch of the Ontonagon River near Victoria to Detroit.  Both events took place in 1841, and by 1850 over a dozen mines and hundreds (or more) of exploration pits could be found in the Trap Hills.  Most famous and successful of the mines were the Norwich Mine, north of the bridge over the West Branch on Norwich Road, and the Forest Mine at Victoria.  Towns supporting these mines prospered in accordance with the success of the mine at the time; that success varied depending on the price of copper, the cost per ton to mine the copper, transportation issues, competition, and depletion of ore bodies.
    By early in the 20th century, all mining had ceased, and the mines and their supporting communities began to be reclaimed by nature.  Today, there's still a lot to see if you know where to look, but most evidence is gone.  Along the NCT you'll see occasional pits and trenches dug for mineral exploration, and traces of old roads.   At Victoria, you'll see restored mining cabins at the Old Victoria Restoration Site, thanks to the efforts of the Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria.  From there west to Lookout Mountain, there is much evidence of the Forest Mine, including foundations, a building the trail actually goes through, and a tramway.  The trail passes the small 1845 United States Mine, though it's not right on the trail, so you'll need to search a bit (it's at the base of a bluff north of the trail).  On the Gleason Falls Trail, between the NCT and Gleason Falls, there's an 1800's exploration adit (horizontal opening) right next to the trail.  The trail also passes through the Norwich Mine area, between Whisky Hollow Creek and Norwich Road.  Most things to see there are off the trail; one can find old mining equipment, former mine openings, rock piles, a cemetery, etc.  Interpretive trails are planned for Old Victoria and Norwich.
    Since the decline of copper mining, timber harvesting and recreation have been the dominant activities in the Trap Hills.  Farming has never been a profitable venture, for while the soil is fertile, the land is mostly rugged, rocky, and remote.  Likewise, the climate is not amendable to many forms of agriculture.

Ecology of the Trap Hills
    Ecosystems in the Trap Hills are largely the product of climate, soils, and topography.  Winters can be cold and snowy, with 200 inches or more of snow per year being typical.  Winters are moderately cold, and temperatures may reach -30 degrees F, though summers are pleasant, with typical highs in the low 70's.  Moisture is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year.  Severe summer storms are rare.  Almost all winter precipitation (November through March) falls as snow.
    Moisture is adequate and summers and winters are temperate enough to support forests of northern hardwoods, hemlock, spruce, and fir on mesic sites (sites with average soil moisture).  Xeric (dry) sites are characterized by thin or no topsoil over rock, and typical trees there are northern red oak and cherry, with a scattering of shrubs such a juniper, with lichens on bare rock.  Hydric (wet) sites may contain various mixtures of ash, red maple, cedar, and alder.  Hydric sites are usually associated with clay soils or beaver ponds. White pine can be found in almost any site.  Two habitat types, sand plains and bogs, are essentially absent in the Trap Hills, so there are few jack pine and tamarack.  Conifers, other than white pine, are most common in moister, shadier, or north-facing slopes.  Aspen (quaking and bigtooth) are scattered throughout the forest, and are least common in mature hardwood/hemlock forests.  Timber management for aspen is not common on the Trap Hills ridges, though aspen are an important part of the ecosystem in areas between the ridges.  If standing on a high, south-facing bluff looking across the West Branch of the Ontonagon toward Wisconsin, one currently observes a forest patchwork whose main component is aspen.  There are also patches of northern hardwoods, and stream valleys are easily identified by strings of conifers, mainly black and white spruce and balsam fir.  Here and there, white pines stand out.  Had you been at the same viewpoint in the late 1800's, vast areas of enormous white pine would also been included in your view.  Currently, in the Trap Hills and nearby, few areas of old growth timber remain.
    A number of rare plants are found in the Trap Hills.  For reasons of protection, little will be said of these, other than that they have been found in hardwood forests, on rock outcroppings, in moist stream gorges, and in other habitats as well.  Some groups are working to protect these rare plants from disturbance.
    The fauna of the Trap Hills is typical of much of the U.P.  Deer are often abundant, sometimes overly abundant, and usually migrate from the ridges toward Lake Superior in mid-winter.  Other common mammals are coyote, striped skunk, black bear, raccoon, red fox, red squirrel, bobcat, eastern and least chipmunks, fisher, and pine marten.  The remoteness of the area favors a modest concentration of timber wolf, but you will be lucky to see one, or even hear one.  Keep an eye out for tracks, though.  A great diversity of bird life can be found in the Trap Hills in summer.  Warblers are particularly diverse.  In winter, few species remain.
    As for aquatic life, few streams running off the Trap Hills, or in the valleys between them, contain game fish. Streams running off the hills are often clear, though streams running through clay-rich soil in the valleys between the hills are often cloudy.  In reality, though, I know little about the detailed fauna and flora of Trap Hills streams.

Hiking the NCT in the Trap Hills
    For 34 miles, the NCT follows an up-and-down route across the Trap Hills, from Highway M-64 to Old Victoria.  The route is entirely off road except for a few hundred feet.  With most of the route on lands of the Ottawa National Forest, it is not hard to find places to camp. And, the scenery is spectacular!
    All in all, the Trap Hills provides one of the best choices for backpacking in the Upper Midwest.  The trail is not heavily used, and many days you may see no one else on the trail.  The only negative is that, since the NCT is a linear trail, a shuttle is usually needed.  The Trap Hills section is only part of a longer continuous section of NCT, from near Copper Peak north of Bessemer in Gogebic County, to Baraga Plains in Baraga County.  Combining the Trap Hills section with more North Country Trail on one one or both ends, a trip of nearly 140 miles can be done; only about a mile of that hike would be on public roads.
    Camping in this section is not permitted on private lands, except at the Old Victoria Shelter.  You may find places where others have camped, but there are no developed tent sites on the NCT in the Trap Hills.  Trail segment descriptions on this website identify where the private lands are located.  It is recommended that you use common sense when selecting a campsite.  Try to avoid creating new campsites close to the trail, and avoid sites close to streams.

Here are some details you may wish to use to plan your hike (or ski or snowshoe trip):
1.   For the purposes of this website, the NCT in the western U.P. is divided into segments. Follow this link and click on the segments of interest.  The trail segment in the Trap Hills include the NCT from M-64 to Forest Rd. 733-F, the Gogebic Ridge Trail, the Cascade Falls Trail, and the Gleason Falls Trail.
2.    Click here for an interactive mileage chart for the NCT in the western U.P.  Just follow the instructions and the Microsoft Excel program will calculate mileages for you from the starting point of your choice!
3.    These two images show topographic profiles along the NCT in the Trap Hills area:
           Highway M-64 to Norwich Road
           Norwich Road to U.S. Highway 45
4.    The link in 1. above lead to dozens of  maps and photos, as well as detailed trail info.
5.    While online maps of trail segments are available on this website, you will probably wish to obtain more durable, water-resistant maps of the trail.  These are available through NCTA.  Buy them online at the NCTA Trail Shop or call NCTA at (866) HIKE-NCT.  Map TMI-13, Alberta to Cascade Falls covers the eastern portion of the Trap Hills.  TMI-14, Cascade Falls to Ironwood, covers the western portion of the Trap Hills.
6.    The Ottawa National Forest of the U.S. Forest Service manages most of the land through which the NCT passes in the western U.P.  They are an excellent source of info for the NCT, other recreational options on the Ottawa, and current road conditions.  Click here for their website, or call them at (906) 932-1330.  That phone number if for the Forest Supervisor's Office in Ironwood.  They may direct you to a local District Office for more detailed info.
7.    Another source of current info about the trail is the Current Conditions page on this website.  It will give you info on snow and road conditions, stream levels, phenology (what's blooming, fall color report, what berries are in season, etc.), current weather forecasts, and other issues of immediate concern.

Winter activities on the NCT in the Trap Hills can be a challenge.  While there are a number of places where the NCT may be accessed by motor vehicle during the summer, trailhead access is much more difficult during the winter. Highway M-64 receives good winter maintenance, and the M-64 trailhead should be considered as always accessible except in really extreme weather.  There is no plowed parking spot, though, so most of the winter you will need to park along the road shoulder, which may be very narrow.  Norwich Road is also plowed in winter, but is not a high priority road, so access cannot be assured 24 hours a day, every day.  Weekend plowing of secondary roads in the U.P. is often substandard (and it's often substandard 90% of the rest of the time on most secondary roads!), so check weather conditions carefully and consider other alternatives if weather is questionable. Victoria Dam Road is plowed in winter, since access to U.P. Power Company's Victoria Dam needs to be maintained at all times.  However, parking is limited, and the road has some extremely steep stretches between Rockland and Old Victoria.  A short plowed pulloff is often available at Old Victoria, but make sure you leave room for folks who may want to visit Old Victoria, or to visit its caretaker, Chris.  Victoria Road is not plowed except for a short distance west from Victoria Dam Road at Victoria.  When the road has snowbanks (i.e., most of the winter), it is not safe to try to park at the Lookout Mountain Trailhead.  One safe spot is the small plowed parking area just past Victoria Dam on the left.  It may not be safe to assume that this lot will always be plowed, thoiugh.  Do not attempt to drive past this lot  and past the gate on the "flume road," even if the gate is open.  From this lot, it is about a half mile walk back up the hill to the Lookout Mountain Trailhead.
    When parking your car on the side of the road, always take care to park safely.  Consider how visible your vehicle will be as cars approach it from either direction, and what would be the consequences of two vehicles approaching your vehicle at the same time.  It is always advisable to carry a shovel and container of sand or kitty litter to enlarge your parking spot or help you get unstuck.
    Deep snow often makes skiing difficult in winter anywhere in the U.P., unless you're very lucky and someone else has broken trail.  There are sometimes exceptions.  Early in winter (usually before mid-December), snow depths may not exceed a foot, so breaking trail may not be difficult.  Also, in late winter, there may be a major thaw, followed by colder weather and new snow.  If the old snow freezes up hard before the new snow falls, conditions can be fantastic.  This most often occurs in March, so late March and April may provide good snow conditions.  Mid-April is usually the limit for finding good skiiable snow, though in some winters skiing is possible in places into early May.
    In general, though, snowshoeing is a better option, due both to snow depth and terrain.  Experienced skiers with backcountry skis will find much of the trail fun when conditions are excellent, but there are many areas that are simply too steep, narrow, or winding to ski, or at least to enjoy skiing on and the snow will be too deep to walk without snowshoes or skis. Follow this link for some winter options at the various trailheads:

Winter recreation options on the NCT in the Trap Hills

    Make sure you take adequate safety precautions when venturing onto any Trap Hills trails in winter.  Some precautions are obvious, such as the need to wear or bring appropriate clothing, and to check the weather forecast.  More problems in winter travel are likely to result from failure to consider the following:
1.    Always make sure you let someone know where you or your party are going, and when you expect to return.
2.    If you travel alone, don't take any chances.  A serious injury miles from the road might result in death if you're alone, but a successful rescue is more likely if there's someone to go for help or to give you aid.
3.   Your 3 mph pace in summer may be that in winter, too, if snow conditions are good, but you may only average 1 mph if snow conditions are poor or terrain is rough.  In really steep terrain, with snow several feet deep, it may take an hour to go 1/4 mile sometimes, if you're sinking to your waist occasionally.  You might also end up spending a significant portion of your trip sidestepping up or down hills. Always allow lots of extra time, and carry a light with fresh batteries in case your trip extends into the early evening.  You should also allow extra time in case trail blazes are missing or covered with snow.  Remember, you won't likely see any sign of the trail itself in winter, and you may spend 15 minutes (or more) on your trip searching for the trail.
4.    Consider bringing both snowshoes and skis in your vehicle.  Many times, people have come to trailheads with just their skis, only to find the snow conditions poor for skiing, and wished they'd brought snowshoes instead.  Or, they come with just snowshoes, only to find ski conditions excellent.  Having flexibility might not only make your trip more enjoyable, it could also make it safer if you have the proper equipment for conditions.  Note, too, that in rough terrain, or in deep, loose snow, it is usually advisable to use ski poles while snowshoeing, for stability.

Suggested day hikes in the Trap Hills
    The following hikes do not involve a car shuttle, unless indicated:

1.    Gogebic Ridge Trail, Weary Lake and Lake Gogebic Overlook
     Trailhead is on the east side of Forest Road 250, approx. 0.9 miles north of M-28.  FR 250 heads north from M-28 0.45 miles east of where M-64 turns south, and 3.25 miles west of the M-28/M-64 junction in Bergland.  Keep an eye out for white blazes.  Follow trail east to Weary Lake in about 0.8 miles and to a clifftop view of Lake Gogebic in about 1.0 miles.  Trail continues east beyond this point, eventually to the NCT.

2.    Gogebic Ridge Trail, M-64 to pretty wetland
      Begin at the Gogebic Ridge Trail Trailhead about 3.3 miles north of Bergland on M-64.  Follow the trail west, cross a pretty wetland, to a rocky area about 1/4 mile beyond the wetland, and return.  Round trip is a little over 1/2 mile.  Trail has white blazes.

3.    Gogebic Ridge Trail, Old M-64 to Cookout Mountain, OR M-64 to Cookout Mountain
    See map.  Follow Gogebic Ridge Trail west from Old M-64 to Cookout Mountain, or east from M-64.  Cookout Mtn. is the high hill south of Weidman Lake.  Just south of the viewless summit of Cookout Mountain, watch for a short trail going left (east) to an excellent view south to Bergland and beyond.  Trail has white blazes.  Round trip is about 2.5 miles, from either direction.

4.    Gogebic Ridge Trail and NCT, Sandhill Creek area
    Again, see map.  Follow Gogebic Ridge Trail 0.7 miles east from M-64 to NCT, then NCT east (right) for about 2 miles to high overlooks of Cascade Creek valley and beyond.  Nice stream (a dependable water source) near NCT/GRT junction.  Round trip to high viewpoint is about 5.4 miles.

5.    Cascade Falls Trail
    See map.  This trail provides a nice loop option.  A good way to do this is to take the trail first to Cascade Falls (staying down in the valley), then begin the return hike and watch for a fork to the right which goes uphill.  Follow that looping trail up to a great view west to the high part of the Trap Hills, then continue down to the valley trail and turn right and return shortly to the parking lot.  Total distance is about 1.4 miles.

6.    FR 400/FR 630/NCT loop
    Again, see map.   This loop involves 2.2 miles on lightly used gravel roads and 3.3 miles on the NCT.  There are two great views on the NCT portion of the hike. One at the top of a narrow rock ridge looks west to the highest part of the Trap Hills, while the other, a clifftop viewpoint, looks east to Norwich Bluffs and southeast across the valley of the West Branch of the Ontonagon.  Total loop length is 5.5 miles.

7.    NCT/Side Trail/Victoria Road/Norwich Road loop
    This loop has a lot of variety, and a number of spectacular views.  See map.   For the hike itself, I also recommend NCTA's 1:100,000 map of the NCT from Cascade Falls to Alberta (available through the Online Trail Shop or by calling NCTA at (866) HIKE-NCT).  The printed NCTA map is a better choice for in the woods, in part because it's more durable and water-resistant.  It also gives you a better picture of the trail as a whole, and of the surrounding countryside.  For one thing, you'll be able to identify more of what you're looking at from those high blufftop overlooks.
    The loop can begin either at the Norwich Road NCT parking lot near FR 630, or at the NCT trailhead on Victoria Road 1.6 miles east of Norwich Road.  A major mudhole is sometimes present in Victoria Road just west of the Victoria Road trailhead, so it may be best to park on Norwich Road if Victoria Road is muddy.
    The route involves the NCT from Norwich Road to the white-blazed side trail near Whisky Hollow Creek, the side trail to the Victoria Road trailhead, Victoria Road, and a short section of Norwich Road.  Victoria Road is a gravel road which receives little traffic.  Don't expect much traffic on Norwich Road, either, except during deer season.  This loop is a good choice in either direction, and is 6.7 miles long, and can be lengthened by a mile or so by exploring off-trail around the Norwich Mine/Norwich Bluffs area.
    If one wanted to do just one, not overly strenuous loop day hike in the Trap Hills area, this would be my first choice.

8.  Norwich Road to Old Victoria (or reverse)
    This would be my first choice of all fairly strenuous day hikes in the Trap Hills.  However, unlike hike 7 above, it requires two vehicles.  The hike involves frequent ups and downs, loads of spectacular rocky ridges and blufftop views, historic structures, mines and a copper exploration adit, a waterfall and a small cascade, and much more.  While the length (13.35 miles, and over a half mile more with side trips to Gleason Falls and the summit of "The Rock") may intimidate some, folks in good condition and a full day to spare will find this an incredibly rewarding hike.
    I have chosen to include a narrative for this hike, rather than describe it. Mileages are from the mileage chart referred to above, and are GPS-based.  The narrative is based on a hypothetical west to east hike.
    Online maps include the following:    map  map  map  map  map

Norwich to Victoria hike narrative

9.   Old Victoria to Lookout Mountain
    The following  map  map  are particularly handy for this hike, but the NCTA-published maps don't show as much detail.
    Begin at the Old Victoria Restoration Site, about 4 miles west of Rockland on Victoria Dam Road.  The NCT is marked with blue paint blazes behind the cabins.  When finding the trail, go left, then turn right just before the sauna and leave the developed area. In about 1000 feet, a white-blazed trail (the unmaintained interpretive trail) goes right (and up a rock ledge).  Stay on the NCT.  The NCT goes straight, through the Sawmill Location area (where you'll see scattered remains of old buildings), then angles left across a rocky road, follows an old road for a few hundred feet, angles right (past an old copper mining exploration opening), and makes a long, winding climb to a hilltop, where it goes through an roofless stone building  (the former "Hoist House") and emerges onto a narrow gravel road.  Continue west along this road to an obvious open area to the right, where you can walk out to the top of a huge rockpile and get a spectacular view to the north to Lake Superior and to the east to Rockland.  From the junction of the white-blazed trail to the "rockpile" is 1/3 mile.  Continue west from the rockpile.  Very soon on the right will be the capped entrance to the Forest Mine.  Keep an eye out to the right, too, though as the trail will turn sharply left in this area.  Follow the trail left, into the woods, and wind around past many signs of past mining activity to Victoria Road, a good gravel road at this point.  Make sure you don't accidentally go into the yard of the large house you'll see.  From the "rockpile" to Victoria Road is only a few hundred feet.
    Turn left on Victoria Road, passing the former mining captain's house on the left.  In a couple hundred feet, the trail leaves the road to the right, winds downhill, left, down a small valley, and then uphill to the right to intersect the other end of the white-blazed trail.  From Victoria Road to this point is only a few hundred feet.  To reach Lookout Mountain, continue straight on the NCT (blue blazes) from the south end of the white-blazed trail.  The NCT will go up and down and wind a bit, eventually climbing in a switchback to a powerline.  Cross the powerline, angling downhill a bit (may be brushy).  On the other side, the NCT goes left and angles into the woods for 1000 feet or so, before turning right onto an old tram railroad grade.  Follow the tramway for about 750 feet, climb up to the road (Victoria Dam Road) on the left, angle across the road, follow an old woods road for a couple hundred feet, and return to Victoria Dam Road at the Lookout Mountain Trailhead.  From the white-blazed trail to the Lookout Mtn. Trailhead is about 2000 feet.
    There is normally room to park one or two vehicles at this trailhead.  From here, the NCT climbs steeply up to a bank. From there on, the grade to Lookout Mountain is moderate.  Unfortunately, the current route is frequented by ATV's.  An alternate route, for foot traffic only, is being considered.  Lookout Mountain is not a summit, but a rock ledge with a spectacular view of Victoria Dam and reservoir.  From Victoria Dam Road to Lookout Mountain is about 0.4 miles.
    From here back to Old Victoria, simply retrace your step.
    While at Old Victoria, visit the open cabins.  The Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria offers tours (fee) most days during the summer.  You may also want to check out the Old Victoria backpacker's shelter, just east of Old Victoria on the NCT.
    The round-trip hike from Old Victoria to Lookout Mountain is about 2.6 miles.

10.    Old Victoria/NCT/Flume Road Loop (with side trip to West Branch of the Ontonagon River)
    See the following map.   

    There are many possible starting points for this hike.  The best parking is at Old Victoria or at the large parking lot at the south end of the Victoria Dam Road, just downstream from the dam.  The lot is on the left, shortly before a gate (which may be open) on the "flume road."  The flume road is not to be used by private vehicles without permission, even if the gate is open.  It is an official canoe portage route, however, and is therefore open to foot traffic.
    This narrative will start at the Victoria Dam Parking lot, and proceed clockwise.  This way, the largest uphill and probably the least interesting part of the hike will be done first.
    After leaving the parking lot, walk uphill (north) on Victoria Dam Road.  Walking past the boat launch, rather than taking the beeline (main) road up the hill, is prettier, has less traffic, and will allow you to read the Ontonagon Boulder sign.  The "straight route" and the "scenic route" meet partway up the hill.
    About 1/2 mile from the parking lot, the NCT crosses Victoria Dam Road.  Left is to Lookout Mountain, and right goes to Old Victoria.  Angle right into the woods and follow the blue blazes to Old Victoria.
    While at Old Victoria, visit the open cabins.  The Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria offers tours (fee) most days during the summer.  Then, continue east on the NCT, following blue blazes.  Just after leaving Old Victoria, the Old Victoria backpacking shelter is just right on the trail, overlooking a small ravine.  From Old Victoria to the next crossing of Victoria Dam Road is 1.25 miles.  In this stretch, the trail parallels Victoria Dam Road, crossing a number of intermittent streams.  To stop at Victoria Spring (metal pipe along the roadside), go up a short hill after crossing the only boardwalk in this stretch, and then go through an opening  in the woods toward the road.
    When reaching Victoria Dam Road, the trail angles gradually across the road, entering the woods again just past the entrance to a gravel road.  The trail then winds through the woods for 0.8 miles and intersects a powerline.  Turn right on the powerline road (2-track).  Stay on the powerline road, which keeps the left.  After a short while, the valley of the West Branch of the Ontonagon River is visible on your left.  Keep an eye out for some great viewpoints.  After walking along the powerline road for about 1/3 mile, you'll encounter a gravel road coming in from the right, and a steep, officially closed road going downhill to the left.  Go left here and down the hill.
    As the grade lessens, you'll see a water tower on your left, the flume (metal pipe for carrying water from the dam to the powerhouse), and the flume road, which comes in from the right.  It's a mile back on the flume road to your starting point.  However, you may find it interesting to explore the area between here, the powerplant, and the area where the NCT fords the river.
    If continuing on to the West Branch, continue downhill after intersecting the flume road, on a road that makes a long, gradual curve to the left.  The road will end at the powerplant (it's worth a peek in the windows), but the NCT turns right down an obvious woods road before you get there.  After a few hundred feet on this woods road, the NCT turns right, then sharply left, and follows near the top of a low bluff before descending the bluff onto the rocky floodplain of the West Branch of the Ontonagon.  There are few large trees on the floodplain, so cairns mark the trail in spots.  However, when the river floods and carries ice downstream, these cairns tend to be "rearranged."  You should have no trouble finding the river, though.  A large blue blaze on a tree in a small opening in the trees across the river is the goal for those fording the river.
    To return to your vehicle, retrace your steps to the flume road, and follow it to the left.

    The loop without a side trip to the river is 4.9 miles.  Exploring around in the powerplant/river area will lengthen it by up to a mile.

Be an Activist for the Trap Hills
    The Trap Hills is a special place.  It is probably the most spectacular section of the NCT in the U.P. that does not receive any special protection (other areas considered as extraordinary, the Black River corridor, Porkies, Little Presque Isle/Wetmore Landing/Sugarloaf area near Marquette, McCormick Wilderness, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, all are afforded some sort of protection from logging and/or other intrusive impacts).

 If you wish to be involved in helping protect the Trap Hills, and enhance and promote recreational opportunities there, contact Doug Welker.  The Trap Hills Conservation Alliance is promoting the concept of a Trap Hills National Recreation Area.

    **You may also wish to read the May, 2002 issue of Backpacker magazine.  It features a two-page article on the Trap Hills, by Eric Hansen**
Off site info on the Trap Hills: http://www.summitpost.org/trap-hills/340745

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Last modified: October 5, 2014

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