EMPIRE — Trail riding through the north country is a little like a wagon train journey and a lot like a scenic tour. Riders along the Shore-to-Shore State Horse Trail travel Old West style from Empire to Oscoda.
The Ovid-based Michigan Trail Riders Association (MTRA) hosts annual summer “Trophy Rides” along the 220-mile trail the organization helped build in the early 1960s. Two MTRA groups made the guided coast-to-coast journey in June. Equestrians from 3 months to 81 years traveled about 20 miles daily before gathering around campfires at trail camps at Garey Lake near Empire, Lake Dubonnet near Interlochen, Scheck’s Place along the Boardman River, Rapid River in Kalkaska and others located along the east/west route.
“It’s very unique,” said Beulah resident Al Davis, former association president. “I have yet to find another one in the United States with the same concepts and the beauty of Michigan.”
The Michigan Shore-to Shore Trail is one of a handful of Midwest equestrian trails offering long-distance rides with the benefit of established overnight camps. MTRA manages the trail under a special use permit from the Huron-Manistee National Forest and Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The primarily single-track trail connecting the Great Lakes coasts winds through woods, hills and along the Au Sable River highbanks. Northwest of Grayling, horses carry riders through the waters of the Manistee River.
Davis said equestrians come from across the country and as far as Europe to hit the trail with association groups. Fifteen equestrians made the crossing 50 times or more, he said.
It’s early to bed and early to rise for riders, said Ron Wolfin of Ovid.
“It’s a vacation, but not a restful vacation,” he said. Wolfin and his wife are among MTRA members who made the crossing 50 times. “I still love it,” he said.
MTRA conducts spring and late summer work bees each year to maintain and repair trail camps and trails. Wolfin oversees volunteer work at Garey Lake and Dubonnet Lake trail camps and the connecting trail. The group also maintains two trail spurs. One winds north to Mackinaw from the main trail. The other weaves south to Cadillac.
In June, 127 riders completed the Shore-to-Shore crossing. They received a trophy for their achievement. Horses completing the 10- or 16-day journey may be registered as a Michigan Trail Horse.
The Shore-to-Shore Trail is open to all equestrians, but some, like Cheryl Ulsh, tackle only a segment. Ulsh and friend Kelly Swanson of Ada transported their paint horses north to adventure along the trail. A private campground near Garey Lake served as their base from which they set out on two- to four-hour adventures for four days.
“I’ve never had a horse conditioned to complete the crossing,” Ulsh said. “We rode different sections. It’s one of my favorite places to ride. It’s peaceful and it never gets old.”
Ulsh’s horse, Jack, is a trail veteran but it was the first big trail riding experience for Swanson’s rescue horse, River.
Ulsh said the best part of trail time is “partnering with my horse and spending time with friends.”
MTRA presents shorter guided rides, including the eight-day Family Ride in August, the 11-day September ride and an eight-day Fall Color Ride in October.