Bowman Lake Foot Travel Area – Backpacking

Backpacking to Bowman Lake near Baldwin, MI – April 30 – May 1, 2016

For the 2016 edition of our annual spring backpacking trip we decided to do an easy overnight at Bowman Lake near Baldwin, Michigan.  We pieced this trip together from information that we found in the Backpacking in Michigan book and a post on the Get Off the Couch website.

Our plan was to park at the trailhead off from 40th Street and then hike 2.5 miles on the North Country Trail to the hike-in campsites at Bowman Lake.  The campsites can also be accessed by a hike of less than a 0.5 from the parking area off from 56th Street, but we wanted to do a little longer distance.  This also set us up to loop back to the van on the Bowman Lake Trail the next morning.

Our crew ready to go.  Photo by JDV

The trailhead off from 40th Street has parking for several cars, but no other facilities.  There is a contact board and the trail map shown above that lets you know that you are in the right place.

Heading off down the connector to the North Country Trail.  Photo by JDV

The trails were surprisingly well marked with numbers and maps at the intersections.  Photo by JDV

There we a couple short climbs near the beginning that helped us warm up on the cool morning.

Most of the hike is through hardwoods with more pines mixing in as you get closer to Bowman Lake.

According to Jim DuFresne in Backpacking in Michigan “Bowman Lake is glacial depression that filled with water when the ice melted.”  The NCT skirts a couple other dry treeless glacial depressions on the way to the lake.

Dropping down to Bowman Lake after about 2.7 miles on the trail.  Photo by JDV

After reaching our destination we did a loop around the lake to find a campsite.

Bowman Lake has 4 established campsites.  Sites #1 and #2 are close together on the east end of the Lake.  Site #3 is in a nice spot off the Bowman Trail on the northwest end of the lake.  Site #4, shown above, is probably the most scheduled on a bluff over looking the west end of the lake.  Site #4 seemed to be the least used of the 4 campsites.  Probably because it was a little harder to find. We missed it on our first pass around the lake because the trail that we followed stayed right down by the water.

The view from the southwest corner of Bowman Lake.

We settled on campsites #1 and 2 because they gave us plenty of room to spread out and the fire pit next to #1 had the best seating area.  All of the campsites had fire pits with cooking grates and nice raised tent pads.  There is also a bench by the water near campsite #1.

The panoramic view from behind campsite #1.

After setting up camp we had lunch with a lake view.

In the afternoon we jumped back on the North Country Trail and continued south across 56th Street.

About a 0.25 mile after crossing the road the trail swings to the east and heads toward the Bowman Bridge Campground.  At about 1.75 miles from Bowman Lake the trail crosses a 2-track road and then shortly after this there is a spur trail on the left the heads back across 56th Street and into the campground.

Our final destination for the afternoon hike was Bowman Landing on the Pere Marquette River.  We took a short break here and took advantage of the facilities (pit toilets) before heading back on the trail.  We were also able to refill our water bottles in the campground on the way back through.

I tracked the hike to Bowman Landing and back to be 5.4 miles and it took us about 2.5 hours including the break.

The route that we took for the afternoon hike is the reverse of the Bowman Lake trip that is detailed in Backpacking in Michigan. This would also be a good option for doing a quick weekend getaway.  As Mr. DuFresne says in the book, you could arrive on Friday evening and spend the night at the Bowman Bridge Campground and then hike to Bowman Lake for Saturday night.

Using the Pocket Chainsaw to cut up some firewood back at our campsite.  Photo by JDV

After breaking 3 of the folding saws over the years I decided give this a try.  So far I am happy with the purchase.  It cuts fast and seems more durable than the lightweight folding saw options.

Dinner time by the campfire.

As we were eating more people started showing up at the lake.  This is the downside of camping only about a 0.5 mile off the main road.  Staying here you are trading some seclusion for the location and nice campsites by the water.  Most of the people just passed though on an evening walk, but there were 2 dudes that came to fish with an annoying dog that kept barking at everyone.

The radar was not looking very good for the rest of the evening.

With weather on way we had to get the evening festivities going early.  Luckily the rain held off until around 8:30.  We had to move under the hammock tarp until the whiskey was  gone and then it was an early bed time. Photo by JDV

It rained most of the night and it was still sprinkling while we ate breakfast and packed up camp.

The rain finally let up just as we were getting ready to walk out.  We started out by following the Bowman Trail along the south shore of the Lake.  Photo by JDV

The first part of the hike was nice with some elevation change and big clearings in the valleys.

At 1.3 miles you reach marker #7 at the junction with the Bowman Lake Trail.  From here it is just over 2 miles back to the parking area.  About 0.3 miles after this intersection the trail starts heading north in almost a straight line on what appears to be an old road bed.  This makes for a fairly easy hike the rest of the way back.

The total distance from the campsite to the car on the Bowman and Bowman Lake Trails was 3.4 miles and it took us about 1:15 to to complete.

Overall this was an easy backpacking trip that would be good for families or beginners.  The area was nice and the campsites and trails were well maintained.  It is not too far north which makes it perfect for a quick overnight trip.

For the latest conditions at the Bowman Lake Campground check the Manistee National Forest website.



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Backpacking in Michigan

Backpacking in Michigan has always been one of my favorite Michigan guidebooks. It highlights 50 trails that range from an easy overnight at the hike-in sites at Ludington State Park to a week long adventure on Isle Royale. I have read it cover to cover at least a couple times and have found that it is also a good resource for planning shorter day hikes on portions of the the trails.

Like all of the books written by Mr. DuFresne, there are well written trail descriptions and nice maps of each outing. This book also includes 65 photos.

Find Backpacking in Michigan on Amazon >>

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2 Responses

  1. Richard Krieger

    Hi…nice little adventure and a great report. I was very proud and happy to see this report and the photos. I worked with the Baldwin District of the Forest Service to make/open the Bowman Lake Trail (white blazes). There was an existing path and abandoned road there and I worked to turn it into more of a real hiking trail. I also made the Leatherleaf Trail from scratch (also white blazes if I recall correctly). I made/refurbished the two little connecting trails between the Bowman Lake Trail and the NCT. I designed and made all the the signage on the posts on these two trails; donated them to the Forest Service and they were installed with the volunteer efforts of local Boy Scouts.
    I live in Romania now and this morning got a little curious and searched the web…found this sit and very pleased to see it all again!
    Richard Krieger
    Past Manager, Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary, Manistee, MI
    Past President, Spirit of the Woods Chapter, NCTA

    • MyMichiganTrips

      Hi Richard, Thanks for the message and all the work you put into the trail. I need to plan a trip back up there with the kids. It is a nice spot for an easy overnight.

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