Overnight Hike and Camp in the Jordan River Valley

The Jordan River region is one of the truly wild spots in Northern Lower Michigan and a perfect spot for an overnight hike and camp in the Jordan River Valley. This 18,000-acre portion of state-owned forest land in the upper, northeast corner of Antrim County is filled with wildlife and breathtaking scenery, as well as life in and around the Jordan River, Michigan’s first waterway to be officially designated as a Wild and Scenic River by the federal government.

There are a few different hiking trails, (see “What To Know” below) but the most notable is the 18-mile Jordan Valley Pathway that winds through a portion of the Mackinaw State Forest. Make the entire Pathway your goal and pair it with overnight camping at one of the two state forest campgrounds located within the Valley, the Pinney Bridge and the Graves Crossing campgrounds. Or choose one of several loops of the Pathway, of varying lengths, for a lovely day hike. One such loop begins at Deadman’s Hill, offering a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside and river floodplain. A second memorable vista is can be seen from the Landslide Overlook. Part of the Jordan River Pathway merges with the North Country National Scenic Trail. The North Country trail, when finished, will extend 4,000 miles from New York to North Dakota. In addition, the seven miles of the Warner Creek Pathway merge into the Jordan Valley area.

Don your wildlife identification cap as there is a good probability you’ll see wetland-related wildlife throughout this area, such as beavers, raccoons, mink, otters, frogs, turtles, herons, and waterfowl. Wildlife is best seen hiking the trails but you can drive slowly on local roads for great wildlife viewing opportunities. Most of the local access is on unimproved dirt roads not suitable for large vehicles.

It’s important to note that Jordan Valley River hiking trails are moderate to rugged and may be poorly marked in spots. See below for our best suggestion for a good map and bring it! Fall is a particularly beautiful time to visit the Jordan Valley, particularly as the hardwoods throughout the valley begin to change color. It is a spectacular spot any time, but it should be noted that because of the low, wet nature of this site, spring flooding is common in the floodplain, and black flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes can be extremely numerous in spring and summer. Come prepared and you will be comfortable while exploring one of Michigan’s truly wild and scenic places.

What to Know Before You Go

Length of the Jordan Valley Pathway

18 miles.

Difficulty

Moderate. Expect some hills—most of gradual ascent and descent.

Trailhead

Deadman’s Hill Scenic Overlook. Head two miles west on Deadman’s Hill Road (six miles north of Alba) from U.S. 131. Trailhead is at north end of overlook; trail end is at south end, along fence line.

Camping

Pinney Bridge Campground (also known as Penny Bridge, even on maps) conveniently sits at the midpoint of the 18-mile loop. Find 15 rustic campsites with picnic tables and fire rings, hand pump and pit toilets.

Maps

Don’t leave home without one—a good one. The best can be found at Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Gaylord Operations Service Center, (989-732-3541; michigandnr.gov). The East Jordan Chamber of Commerce (231-536-7351, ejchamber.org) also offers maps, as well as information on guides and outfitters.

Directions

The Jordan Valley can be entered from several points. Best routes are from Mancelona by driving eight miles north on M-66 to Pinney Bridge Road, or 11 miles north of Mancelona on US-131 to Deadman’s Hill Road. From the village of Alba, drive northeast on US-131 about six miles to Deadman’s Hill Road, turn left (west) and follow the signs about two miles to Deadman’s Hill Scenic Overlook. To get to Landslide Scenic Overlook, drive 1 ½ miles west of Alba to Harvey Road and north 1 ½ miles. For more information on the North Country Trail contact: North Country Trail Association, P.O. Box 311, White Cloud, MI 49349.

The Cheat Sheet

If a two-day 18-miler with backpacks scares the beejeebers out of you, don’t assume the Jordan Valley Pathway is out of your league. You’ve got two other options to take advantage of this gem:

Daytrip: A three-mile loop is available at the north end of the trail. Like its big 18-mile brother, it descends from and loops back to the Deadman’s Hill Scenic Overlook, and wends past wetlands full of wildlife, through the woods and near the river. Cap off your hike with a cruise by car directly to the aweinspiring Landslide Overlook. From Alba, head 1 1/2 miles west of U.S. 131 on Alba Highway (C-42) to Harvey Road. Go north 1 1/2 miles on Harvey Road.

Ultra-Light Overnight: A two-car team can make this 18-miler as footloose and backpack-free as a walk in the park. Simply park one car—and your heavy overnight gear—in the dusty lot linked to the hike-in-only 1/2–mile path to Pinney Bridge Campground (5.5 miles northwest of Alba via 620 and Cascade Road). Park the other car at the Deadman’s Hill Scenic Overlook trailhead. Just be sure to take along keys to the car at Pinney Bridge and any essentials—lunch, water, sunscreen, bug spray, rain gear—you’ll want while you’re hiking.

Lots More on the Jordan River Valley

Pack some fun in Antrim County around your Jordan River Valley visit!

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