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Backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail
Backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

Backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

After running a few sections of this beautiful 36-mile trail, I got it in my heart that I wanted to hike it from end to end. When researching what it would take to do it, I came across this detailed trip report on Reddit. This couple did the entire trail in three days, but I wanted to complete it in two. Here is a full report of my hike.

Hiking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail
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Prepared to Hike Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

Day 1: Waterloo Recreation Area

  • Starting Point: Portage Lake Campground Grass Lake, MI
  • End Point: Green Lake Rustic Campground Chelsea, MI
  • Trail Facts: 22.9 miles, 1,949 ft. of elevation, ca. 9 hours of hiking.
  • Trail Amenities: Restrooms at Portage Lake Outhouses at Pines Campground, Headquarter’s Trailhead, Eddy Discovery Center, and Green Lake Campground. There is no running water along the trail, but there is a water pump at Green Lake Campground.

Trail Conditions on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail Day 1

The trail is mostly hard packed dirt. From Seymour Road to List Road and again from the Mount Hope Trailhead to the Mount Hope Road crossing, the trail is a bit overgrown with lots of high grass.

Backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail
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From mile 7 to mile 15 (Mount Hope Road until the first McClure Road crossing), the trail is a shared horse trail. In this area, the trail is thick, loose sand that can be difficult at times to hike through.

Although there were almost 2,000 feet of climbing, the climbing is spread throughout. There are only two larger climbs. The first climb was at the end of mile 6, Sackrider Hill at 338 meters. There is a resting area at the top to make your first pit stop. The second and largest climb is at mile 13, the Switchback at 350 meters. There is an old cement block at the top of the Switchback. I used this as a great spot to stop for lunch.

The last ten miles of the hike are relatively flat and hard packed dirt. The entire trail from end to end has mile markers and is marked with blue blazes throughout. There are a few sections where you have to really pay attention to stay on the trail, as it intersects many other trails in the State Recreation area. Also be aware that you cross McClure Road three times, so don’t be frightened when you see the same sign again and again.

Backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail
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Crooked Lake

After you pass McClure Road, you will come around Crooked Lake. There are many benches throughout the last part of the hike, use them to rest and enjoy as needed for this section of the hike.

Green Lake Campground

Green Lake is a rustic campground with only 25 sites. You must register ahead of time to guarantee a spot. If you don’t register, you can register on site, but you must have cash on hand as it is a self-registration campground. The campsites are huge here. Each site is equipt with a picnic table and fire ring. Firewood is not available on site, but I was able to collect enough downed limbs for a small fire. This campground has one water pump and three outhouses. There is also a boat launch, but don’t expect to swim here. The water is pretty shallow and disgusting.

Overall, the first day of hiking was really great. I didn’t experience to many bugs on the first day. There were are few deer flies near the water, but otherwise it was a very pleasant hike. The trail was also very light on foot traffic. I only saw ten other people on the trail throughout the day.

Day 2: Pinckney Recreation Area

  • Starting Point: Green Lake Rustic Campground Chelsea, MI
  • End Point: Silver Lake Beach Pinckney, MI
  • Trail Facts: 14.34 miles, 1,122 feet of elevation, ca. 5.5 hours of hiking.
  • Trail Amenities: There are lots of benches for resting throughout the hike, but there is no running water or outhouses along the trail. Again, the trail is clearly marked with mile markers and blue blazes throughout.

Trail Conditions on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail Day 2

The trail is hardpacked dirt throughout. In the first 5 miles of the trail until Hadley Road, there are many boardwalks crossing over marshes. The deer flies are in full force throughout this section of the trail. Come prepared with lots of bug spray or a bug net for your head.

From Hadley Road until Silver Lake, the trail is a shared mountain biking trail, so stay alert for cyclist.

You will also come across a lot more foot traffic after mile 10 when you cross Hankred Road. This portion of the trail is also part of the Potawatomi Trail. Of the ten people I saw on the trail on day two, nine of them were in the last five miles.

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail
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Overall this was a great experience and I am glad I did it. The first day of hiking was a bit long for me since I haven’t backpacked in a few years. It is however easily completed in two days. If you decide to do this hike in two days, remember to book a campsite ahead of time and bring plenty of water.

Enjoy the trail and follow for more adventures. ~KiteBikeVan

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