Staying in the Bear Den Rustic Cabin in Yankee Springs Recreation Area – April 7-9, 2017
We were thinking about getting out the camper for the second weekend of spring break. However, when I started looking at the State Park Campground options on the Michigan DNR reservation site we came across the rustic cabin rentals at Yankee Springs Recreation Area. At the time, the forecast was looking mixed, so we decided to give the cabin a try for something different. We thought that if we were going to be stuck inside, at least we would have more room than in our camper.
It turned out to be a really nice weekend and the rental cabin was even better than we expected.
On the way out we stopped at Dick’s Market in Door, MI to pick up some of their homemade brats to grill for dinner on Saturday night. They have a least dozen different types of brats and sausages to pick from. So far, our favorites are the are the Bacon & Cheddar and Pineapple & Brown Sugar. If you are heading down this way from the Grand Rapids area, it is worth making the short detour at the Door exit for the Dick’s Sausage Shop.
The Bear Den Cabin – Chief Noonday Outdoor Center – Yankee Springs Recreation Area
Our home for the weekend was the Bear Den Cabin on Chief Noonday Lake. The cabins are operated and maintained by the State Park and are available for rent April through November. They are $70 per night and can be booked up to a year in advance on the Michigan State Park & Harbor Reservation website.
The Bear Den Cabin is a single room that is about 20 x 30 foot. There are bunks for up to 6 people. You have to bring your own sheets, sleeping bags and pillows.
One of the really cool things about the cabin is that it was built in 1938 and much of it still looks to be original and very well maintained.
By the front entrance there is small kitchen area with a microwave, mini refrigerator and coffee pot. There is also an electric heater on the wall that kept us nice and warm even when the temperature dropped below freezing on our first night. The cabins are rustic so they do not have running water, but a hand pump is available just up the drive. There is also a pit toilet available about 50 ft from the front door.
Our favorite part of the cabin is the big field stone fireplace. After unpacking, we got a nice fire going and had some chili for dinner.
After dinner we went out to explore the Chief Noonday Outdoor Center.
There were 2 old bunkhouses right across from our cabin that are no longer used.
The road back to our cabin was a little muddy from all the recent rain that we had.
Checking out the Crane House Cabin.
There are 4 cabins on Chief Noonday Lake that the State Park has refurbished and are currently available for rent. The Bear Den, Crane House and Deer Lodge are all the same design. Our cabin had 6 beds, but the other 2 cabins have more bunk beds and will sleep up to 8 people. The other cabin is the Chickadee which is a smaller bunk house that sleeps 4. We were not able to look in the Chickadee Cabin because it was occupied.
Between the Crane House and Deer Lodge there is a big open area on the water with old camp benches around a fire pit.
Also located on the property is the old Mud Lake Camp.
Here is the history from a brochure that was in our cabin: “The Chief Noonday Outdoor Center was built in 1938 as a WPA (Worker’s Project Authority) project using local labor and artisans. Originally known as Mud Lake camp and run by the National Park Service, the lake and the camp were renamed in honor of the great Ottawa leader, Chief Noonday.
All the buildings in the area are original and the camp is listed on the national registry of historic places. Yankee Springs Recreation Area, in cooperation with the DNR Stewardship Division, is renovating these buildings to ensure that they are preserved and can be enjoyed by visitors as much now as they have been in the past.”
We could not find any information as to when the Mud Lake Camp closed down operations. Although, it looks like the Crane House was the first cabin the State Park refurbished and it was made available for rent in the summer of 2013.
Looking inside the old mess hall.
There is not much information available online about the camp, but I did find a quote on Newspapers.com from the Battle Creek Enquirer issue on Friday, January 1, 1937: “C. V. Saunders, superintendent of field construction on the project, estimates it will take two years to complete the work. Most of the work so far has been done on a 30-acre playground for underprivileged children at Mud lake, near Hastings, the first unit of the Yankee Springs project. The camp, one of four included in the Yankee Springs development, will be equipped with 24 cabins, an infirmary, a central mess hall and recreational lodges, providing accommodations for 96 children at a time.”
It looked like someone had been working on the inside of the Infirmary building.
The picnic tables stacked against the Craft Shop have been there for a while.
There was a very cool breeze blowing right off the lake so we spent the rest of the night inside the cabin by the fireplace. It was nice to fall asleep to the flickering of the fire burning down.
The next morning it was frosty, but mostly sunny. We watched a group of swans chasing each other around on the lake as the sun broke out above the trees.
We made another fire in the cabin and took our time eating breakfast while waiting for it to warm up.
The Hall Lake Trail
By mid morning it was starting to warm up so we drove over to hike the Hall Lake Trail. The trailhead is located on Gun Lake Road near the intersection with Hastings Point Road.
The Hall Lake Trail is a 2 mile loop that is well marked with orange directional signs.
After about a 0.5 mile you reach the west shore of Hall Lake.
Hall Lake is a little scenic lake with 3 small islands. It is about 40 acres in size and a depth of 20 feet. There is a gravel access for small boats off from Gun Lake Road and most mornings you will see at least a couple people out fishing.
The trail follows the west shore for about a 0.25 mile, then starts climbing up towards Graves Hill at the north end of the lake. As you start climbing there is a bridge over a small spring that plunges straight down into Hall Lake. It was almost a mini waterfall. during our visit.
The trail continues to climb until you top out at the spur trail to Graves Hill about 1 mile from the start. The Hall Lake trail goes to the left here, but our plan was to take the spur and continue on to Graves Hill and Devil’s Soup Bowl.
The Graves Hill “Overlook.”
Today the overlook is just a high point surround by trees. At one time there was a panoramic view of Gun Lake stretching out to the west. However, I have been visiting this area for over 20 years and I can’t remember there ever being a view.
From Graves Hill it is another 0.25 mile hike to see Devil’s Soup Bowl
The view over the fence down into Devil’s Soup Bowl. This glacially carved kettle is about 80 feet deep. Most kettles fill with water forming lakes, Devils Soup Bowl is unique because it remains dry.
From the fence we took a left and headed north on the trail circling along the edge of the Bowl in the clockwise direction. In less than a 0.25 mile there is another intersection in the trail. We stayed to the right and followed it down along the ridge shown above, that splits Devil’s Soup Bowl and Little Devil’s Soup Bowl. This is one of the more scenic sections of the hike with a drop-off on either side. Without the leaves we could see all the way down to the bottom of both depressions.
Just before the trail starts climbing, there is a steep spur trail that leads down to the bottom of Devil’s Soup Bowl. There really wasn’t much to see in the bottom of the kettle and it is a steep climb back out, but at least now we can say that we did it!
After climbing back out the trail joins the Deep Lake mountain bike trail for a short section.
Back at the fence after completing the loop around Devils Soup Bowl. From here we backtracked to Graves Hill and then picked up the Hall Lake Trail again to loop back.
The second half of the Hall Lake Loop runs along Graves Hill Road, but other than one section it is out of view for most of the hike back.
Just before the end of the hike, the trails skirts a low area and even though it was almost noon, the spring peepers were going crazy.
The Yankee Spring Recreation Area Trail Map. Download and/or print this map.
The Hall Lake Trail including the side trip around Devil’s Soup Bowl was a 3.6 mile outing. Other than the optional side trip down into the Soup Bowl it was an easy hike.
You can find more on this hike at: MichiganTrailMaps.com
We had lunch back at the cabin, then I drove over to Deep Lake to ride the mountain bike loop. The Deep Lake Mountain Bike Trail, which is typically just called “Yankee” by local riders, was one of the first bike trails in West Michigan. This is where a lot of us first learned to ride technical single track and it still remains a favorite. There is a 2 mile warm-up loop and a main loop that is just under 12 miles long. There are a couple cut back options on the big loop that can be used to shorten the ride.
The trail was typically ridden in the counterclockwise direction, but in 2016 the direction started changing based on the day of the week. On Saturdays it is ridden in the reverse direction. I think the trail flows a lot better in the direction that it was originally designed, but the variety was nice and it feels like a completely different trail. Either way it is still a fun and challenging ride.
For the latest trail conditions see the Yankee Springs Trail (WMMBA) Facebook page.
Our afternoon entertainment.
Grilling the brats for dinner behind the cabin.
After a cold start it warmed up nicely and the rest of the afternoon and evening was spent relaxing by the fire pit. We were lucky that there was a dead tree recently taken down right next the the cabin providing us with an ample supply of firewood.
I bought this Folding Sling Shot on Amazon right before we left and it may be the best $8 I have spent in some time. It was good for several hours of entertainment and even seemed to make our hikes go a little better.
With the kids tired out we had some rare quiet time reading by the fire as the sun set over Chief Noonday Lake.
After breakfast the next morning we decided to pack up and clean the cabin before heading out on one more hike. The check-out time is not until 1 pm, but we decided to get the work done so we could enjoy the rest of the day. They ask that you clean out the fireplace, wipe down the tables and counters and sweep the floor and porch when checking out.
The Chief Noonday Trail
After getting everything packed back into the van we drove up the road to the Chief Noonday Trail.
By now you are probably wondering, who was this Chief Noonday? There does not seem to be much information available about him. The best description that I was able to find was on the MSU Michigan History page: “Chief Noonday was a tall, muscular chief who happened to be an excellent hiker, which is how the Chief Noonday Trail, a beautiful hiking trail around the lake, came to be named. Noonday was an Ottawa tribe member, and chief of a village that resided on the upper Grand River. He was involved in some of Michigan’s early historical battles, such as the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and possibly fought in the Revolution, though this is questionable.
One fight he was officially documented in was the Battle of the Thames, which took place at the same time as the War of 1812. During this battle Chief Noonday allied with Chief Tecumseh, a noteworthy Shawnee chief. Chief Tecumseh was slain while fighting with a which soldier, and Noonday, along with another Gun Lake area chief, carried his body out of the battlefield. Noonday had the honor of inheriting Tecumseh’s hat and tomahawk.
Later on in his life, Chief Noonday befriended a reverend who wanted to build a mission in the area. Noonday was among the first to be baptized at this location, and he became very close with the family of the missionary who had baptized him. When Noonday was an old man, he passed away while visiting the Bradley Mission, and was buried back home alongside his wife.”
For a couple more historical records see this page on Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association website.
The first part of the hike runs through a low area and there were still a few muddy sections to navigate. Without the leaves on the trees we could see Mc Donald Lake through the trees to the east.
Soon the trail starts climbing up to higher and dryer ground.
The trail has some changes in elevation as you hike up, down and along the forested ridges in the interior of the park. There are not any scenic views along the way, but without the leaves we could see all the rolling terrain through the trees. In a few more weeks things will be looking a lot different out here.
The kids found this vine swing down in one of the valleys.
A little further down the trail there was also a dragon ride.
After 1.5 miles the Chief Noonday Trail ends at the intersection with the Long Lake Trail. This was the turnaround point for our out and back hike.
If you wish to continue on from here, taking a right will take you past Long Lake and on to nice boardwalk section through the wetlands. In 2 miles you will reach the Long Lake Trailhead at Briggs Road. Taking a left goes toward Graves Hill and in less than a 0.5 mile connects with the area that hiked on the previous day.
You will notice several big boulders scattered along the trail and they made for a good rest stop on the way back.
We were just cruising along, walking and talking on the way back and enjoying the nice warm weather. When I saw McDonald though the trees to our left I realized that we missed our turn off.
Our buddy was a little tired and not very excited about the extra hiking.
The Chief Noonday Foot Trail was a nice little 3 mile (3.4 miles for us) hike through the middle of the recreation area. The sign at the start has it as a 2 hour hike, but even with the wrong turn it took us just over 1.5 hours to complete.
The Chief Noonday Trail is part of a 7 mile loop described in: Explorer’s Guide 50 Hikes in Michigan: Sixty Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula.
After the hike we drove over to the day use area on Gun Lake to eat lunch.
The Gun Lake Unit of Yankee Springs Recreation Area is a 1 mile long peninsula that juts out into the middle of the lake. There is a modern campground, 2 beach areas, concession building, boat launch and several picnic areas and shelters scattered along both shores. This time of the year the park was pretty empty, but on weekends in the summer it can get really busy.
After eating we walked out to the very tip of the park which is called Murphy’s Point. If you are willing to carry your stuff, there is a single picnic table in a nice spot right on the end.
After this it was time to load up and head back towards home. We really enjoyed our weekend in Yankee Springs. It was one of the first really nice spring weekends of the year and the cabin was better than any of us expected. We would highly recommend giving it a try.
I picked up a bow saw to keep in the camper a few years ago and it has paid for itself several times over since then. With bundles of firewood selling for $5 or more you can save a lot of money by at least cutting some wood yourself. A 20 or 24 inch bow saw is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to pack. You will be surprised how quick you can rip through logs as big as 6 inches or more with one these.
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