Few backpackers know the trails of Northern Michigan as well as Jim DuFresne, who literally wrote the book on “Backpacking in Northern Michigan.”
“I have been hiking in Michigan since my Boy Scout days as an 11-year-old,” DuFresne says. “There are many trails I haven’t done, but I have done a lot, including every trail on Isle Royale, the Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes, to name a few of the larger hiking and backpacking areas of Michigan. Although I have covered other things in my writing career - sports, travel, fly fishing, hunting to name a few - really, trails has always been my main focus.”
DuFresne spends his winters in Clarkston and his summers in Elk Rapids, but he’s also created a cottage industry writing about backpacking the trails of Northern Michigan -- and most recently, offering high-quality maps and online trail guides.
His website, www.MichiganTrailMaps.com offers information on 170 trails, including detailed maps that can be downloaded and printed along with directions to trailheads.
HIKING EVERY TRAIL
DeFresne’s publishing company, Michigan TrailMaps, has also created a detailed map series, “Classic Trails of Michigan,” which is tailored to the needs of backpackers and hikers. Printed on durable cardboard stock, maps include such popular destinations as the North and South Manitou Islands and the Jordan River Pathway. Currently his company is working on a map of the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail.
“For the maps of the Manitous, we spent three weeks hiking every trail,” he says. “We work with a GPS unit, take field notes, and layer the information we collect on topographic maps.
“What people who are out hiking want is a map with really valuable information, such as the distances between junctions,” he adds.
DuFresne has a staff of five to six employees who are “very avid trail users.” He’s also benefited from the support of the rangers at the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, where his books and maps are sold in the park headquarters store. For the future, he and his staff have identified 20 to 30 additional trails for mapping.
While his maps and books are sold at the park store, the Manitou Island Ferry shop in Leland, Horizon Books and Backcountry North in TC, DuFresne relies on his website to generate a wider net of online sales.
“We launched our website in 2010 and had 14,000 visitors last August,” he says. “We’re shooting for 20,000 visitors this August to sell our maps online.”
Of course, one could just download a map from his site, but many visitors opt for the more detailed, color maps on heavy stock which, to a backcountry hiker, well worth $4.95 for the wealth of information they provide.
TRAMPING IN NEW ZEALAND
DuFresne earned his degree in journalism from Michigan State University in the ‘70s and found work as a sportswriter in Juneau, Alaska. In the early ‘80s, he spent a winter hiking Down Under, writing his first book, “Tramping in New Zealand” for Lonely Planet Publications. After six editions and 25 years, it’s still the bestselling book on backpacking New Zealand.
Overall, he spent 32 years writing for Lonely Planet, including guides to Alaska and the Great Lakes. He also spent time writing about the outdoors for Booth Newspapers in Michigan before the industry tanked. “We had these great outdoor sections and then nothing,” he recalls. “But people still want trail information in Michigan.”
Thus, his backwoods publishing empire that has included books such as “Isle Royale Naitonal Park: Foot Trails and Water Routes,” “50 Hikes in Michigan,” Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park,” “The Complete Guide to Michigan Sand Dunes” and the aforementioned “Backpacking in Michigan,” which includes information and maps on 50 trails.
Check out a wealth of backpacking trail options at www.MichiganTrailMaps.com .SEIZE THE DAY
When it comes to backpacking in Northern Michigan, nothing tops the months of August through October.
Reason? By then the blizzard of biting flies and mosquitoes that haunt the woods all through late May, June and July has died down, allowing you to enjoy the region’s trails without swatting and cursing like an animated windmill.
Nights are cooler -- perfect for snuggling around a campfire, but also a good reason to pack along a heavier sleeping bag.
For tips on what gear to pack, dealing with bears and trail options, check out Jim DuFresne’s book, “Backpacking in Michigan,” available in local bookstores.