This popular access point on the Pere Marquette River is used by boaters, hikers, and anglers. The Pere Marquette is a Wild and Scenic River within the Manistee National Forest.
Although not officially a trailhead for the North Country Trail the trail uses this bridge to cross the river, so it's a convenient parking spot.
Boat Launch- paved ramp for boats on trailers, sand ramp for canoes and kayaks, racks for commercial canoe launching.
Distance and time- Canoe Upper Branch Bridge to Lower Branch Bridge 1 hour 15 minutes, 3.1 miles.
Sulak Landing- Follow the link for a description of Sulak Landing.
Fishing- The Pere Marquette is known for steelhead and salmon runs, and brown/rainbow trout. Fly fishing is popular too.
This is not any one designated trail, but I've become quite fond of this walk, as you can see at least 11 different kinds of ferns on this one loop. Some fern names are clickable pop-ups with some pictures and descriptions. Not all my pictures turned out. I'll just have to walk it again! I recommend the small key called Fern Finder by Hallowell and Hallowell published by the Nature Study Guild. It fits in a pocket, and is the easiest field key to ferns that I've seen. I'm just learning ferns, but they are FUN.
The description begins at easternmost loop of the parking area at Upper Branch Bridge. This loop uses a combination of trails and two-tracks. Pay attention and you won't have any trouble finding it.
Leave the parking lot cross South Branch Road near the south end of the parking area (near the east latrine). Directly across the road you should see blue blazes, where the North Country National Scenic Trail angles into the woods. Take this trail.
Reach the river in 180 feet; there is a fire ring there. Turn right along the river- trail is obvious. In another 200 feet you will reach the highest climb of this hike with 45 cabled-log steps set into the hill. At the top of this hill go another 150 feet and the trail will turn left, roughly following an old two-track, now high above the river. Stay on the blue-blazed trail, and climb gently to the crossing of Sulak Road in about 1/10 mile. The North Country Trail continues straight, but for this loop you will turn right onto Sulak Road. (If you turn left you will reach Sulak Access at the river.)
The ferns here are all Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum); you will continue to see Bracken throughout this hike.
Turn to the right on Sulak Road, and follow it (around a bend to the left) for 1/4 mile till you return again to South Branch Road. You could have just walked up the road, but you would have missed those nice views of the river.
Cross the road, and almost immediately take a two-track dirt road west into the woods. This is driveable when things are dry if your car is not low. You'll see the deep holes and ruts as you continue. Basically you are just going to follow this dirt road for a little over a mile first through a red pine plantation and then through young maple, cottonwood and oak woods with some occasional white pine. Stay on the main track which is pretty obvious. About every quarter-mile some side track will veer off: at the first two, keep to the right, then to the left, and then right again. After just about one mile the trees will open up, the soil is sandier, more sunlight gets in, and you will begin to go gently up hill. Here you will encounter Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), which is not really a fern at all, although it looks very fern-like.
Continue this gradual climb and you will again enter more woods. At the top of the climb you will notice that ahead of you is a bluff edge, although you would need to leave the track to look over it. Soon the track comes to an open space with evidence of cars parking, and campfires. The road continues with a turn to the left, but to the right is a brown Carsonite post with "Foot Travel Welcome" on it. This is at the beginning of what was a road down to the river. Now there are two posts blocking motorized traffic, and you will see why as you proceed. Take this "road" to the right, and start downhill through hemlocks.
To your right you can look down into a wetland area with large ferns growing. You don't need to leave the trail though; you'll soon come to some just like those much closer at hand. About 1/10 mile from the top of the hill you will find some of the large ferns, mostly on the right side of the path. These are Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).
Look around among the Cinnamon Fern and you will see some smaller ferns that are thrice divided (they look lacier). These are Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina).Low, three leaved ferns here are Oak Fern. I have also found Intermediate Wood Fern here.
Farther down the slope, past some broken log corduroy, down the steepest part, and almost at the bottom of the slope on the west side of the trail is a huge patch of Bulblet Fern. Angle right toward the river. You will begin to find Ostrich Fern and will see that continuously along the river.
At the river there is a cabin directly across, and remnants of some hand-strung cable in some trees on the side you are on. Follow the worn treadway upstream. There are no trail markings, but you can't get lost- you are just following the river. For about 100 yards the trail is in an open area, but then enters denser trees. The trail is about 10 feet above river level, but then descend steeply to the river level through a marshy area. There are many braided pathways through here, and if it is a wet season you will need to stay back from the river edge to find dry footing through here. This wet area continues for about 200 yards. At the end of this area you are back about 8 feet above water level with a nice band of mixed hemlock and white cedar between the trail and the river.
In another 100 yards the trail again drops steeply to water level and soon climbs back up again. About 0.4 mile from where you came down to the river you will see a cabin to your right. Stay along the water edge. Here the river makes a sharp turn to the right. In wet seasons you will see a small creek emptying into the river on the other side. Shortly after the sharp bend you pass the foundation for an old cabin. All that remain are the cement pad, steps, and base of the fireplace. About 300 yards from the bend you enter another marshy area. Stay on the sandy berm right at the water's edge for the best footing. Soon there is another sharp short climb followed almost immediately by a matching descent back to river level. There is a large rock pile on this higher section- possibly a former field corner.
0.8 miles from where you came down to the river you enter Elk Campground. This is a primitive campsite for canoeing or walk-ins. There is Forest Service vehicle access for service, but the road is gated. There are four campsites with fire rings and benches, and a latrine. Taking canoes out here is a little tricky as there is only a very narrow beach, and they need to be then lifted/ carried up the 6-foot bank to the campground level.
From here on you have two choices to return to the parking area. You can continue along the river edge. If you take this pathway you will cross a small stream on a very narrow bridge. You see more diversity of wildflowers by this path. If you want to see at least two more kinds of ferns follow the description in the next paragraph.
Between campsites 1 and 2 there is a service road which leads away from the river. Follow this. In 100 yards this road T's at another road. Take the left hand fork. Leave the more open deciduous woods. The road sweeps to the left, descending in a shallow cut and enters a deep hemlock forest. There are great liverworts and mosses here in bottomland hardwood swamp. Cross a small stream with a culvert under the road. Soon you will begin to see beech mixed with the hemlock. 500 yards from where you began to follow service roads there is a more open area with a larger creek flowing under the road. There is both Royal Fern and Interrupted Fern here. In another 150-200 yards you pass two small trails angling back to the left. You would have come out on one of these if you had stayed along the river. Return to the parking area in another 100 yards after crossing one more stream just at the gate.
Access- Parking and boat launching on the west side of South Branch Road.
Fees- Upper Branch Bridge is a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). See Manistee National Forest Recreation Fees Restrictions- Foot travel only along the river
Seasonality- Walking beside the river in winter could be treacherous
Distance and time- 3 miles measured on a topographic map and verified by pacing at which I am fairly accurate. An easy 2 hour walk unless you are spending a lot of time looking at the plants!
Trail Markers-none on the fern loop, blue rectangles on the short section of North Country Trail
Treadway- packed sandy soil, somewhat uneven footing in many places, narrow eroded trail along the river in several spots, some roads and two-tracks.
Grades- mostly gentle to moderate grades, steep descent to the river with a couple of steep, short ups and downs along the river.
Marking- none- take these directions
Ecosystem- Young maple, cottonwood, oak forest along the two-track, river edge, some Cedar swamp, great spring wildflowers and ferns
Other points of interest- Good fishing, boat/canoe launch at parking area, Elk Campground Canoe Camp, North Country Trail, Sulak Landing nearby
Most recent date this info personally checked on foot- July 2010
Back to map Comment
Handicap Accessibility- one of the latrines ais accessible
Rest Rooms and Potable Water
Rest Rooms- latrines
Potable Water- water pipe has been removed
Access- via paved South Branch Road, parking areas dirt
Fees- Upper Branch Bridge and some of the landings along the river require a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). See Manistee National Forest Recreation Fees Restrictions- Foot travel only along the river, must have permit for any watercraft on the Pere Marquette (A Wild and Scenic Waterway), boating allowed only 9am to 6pm, no glass containers. parking $3 daily, $5 weekly, or $20 yearly pass, no camping at parking area
Seasonality- parking may not be plowed in winter
Ecosystem- wooded bank of river
Other points of interest- Sulak Landing is just upstream, Lower Branch Bridge is downstream
Most recent date this info personally checked- April 2010
Additional Facilities- Monofilament recycle
Maintained by- Baldwin District of the Manistee National Forest 650 N. Michigan Avenue
P.O. Box D
Baldwin, MI 49304
More- The Pere Marquette is a designated Wild and Scenic Waterway between The Forks and Custer Bridge. If you wish to canoe on this portion of the Pere Marquette River you need a permit between May 15 and September 10. There are special regulations which apply. Private watercraft permits may be reserved by calling 1-231-745-4631. Some of the landings along the river require a Recreation Fee sticker to park there (self-pay tubes are available for daily passes, yearly passes may be purchased at a Ranger Station). See Manistee National Forest Recreation Fees
Turn south on Tyndall Road at Branch, MI on US 10. Take a left on Stevenson Road (before the railroad tracks), and this will curve right in a mile. In about another mile you will cross the Pere Marquette River, and the parking area is immediately on your right.