The family adventure of a lifetime: Hiking the entire Potawatomi Trail

The Moorehouse family on the Potawatomi Trail.

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The Potawatomi Trail is one of Livingston County’s biggest treasures. It’s a beautiful and very hilly 17.4-mile loop that winds its way through the Pinckney Recreation Area, taking you past countless lakes and streams along the way. It’s positively gorgeous in spots.

The trail was built starting in 1964 as a joint venture between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Boy Scouts, and it has since become one of the most popular mountain-biking and hiking trails in the Midwest. It’s a big deal to say that you’ve hiked or biked the Potawatomi.

A lot of people have biked the entire trail in one day. It’s a very challenging trail, but if you’re a semi-experienced mountain biker, you can probably do the entire trail in less than two hours.

But to HIKE the entire trail in one day? That’s a truly Herculean feat. Walking about 20 miles in a single day on flat pavement is a feat. Walking 20 miles on a hilly, wooded trail? That’s something else entirely.

And it’s something that our family accomplished on July 21, 2019. We hiked the entire Potawatomi Trail in one day – all 17.4 miles of it and then some – and lived to tell the tale.

I tell you this story for several reasons, but mostly because I hope it will give you the idea that you need to do this yourself someday – with your family, with your work colleagues, with your church group, with your whatever. It’s an incredible bonding experience and it’s a truly spectacular accomplishment, and it’s something you can do right here in Livingston County.

And it’s totally free. Well, aside from having to buy about 750 cans of bug spray (more on that later), it’s totally free.

So after you hear this story, I want you to make plans to do it yourself this year or next, with your family or other group. It will be the highlight of your year, I promise.

Without further ado, then, here’s the story of how an ordinary family did something truly extraordinary – hiked the entire Potawatomi Trail in one day.

But first, I need to point something out. Whoever is saying that the Potawatomi Trail is 17.4 miles is a damn liar. That’s what it says right on the Michigan DNR website, and it’s a damn lie. We hiked the whole thing and we only had a couple small detours, and we ended up walking 20.1 miles total.

We had a GPS that tracked every last step, and it said that we walked 20.1 miles from start to finish, so just know going in that if you hike the entire Potawatomi Trail, you’re going to end up hiking a whole lot more than 17.4 miles. Which makes this whole experience all the more impressive.

And here’s a little background before we get into the story of the hike. Our family has lived in Livingston County forever, but shame on us, it’s only been recently that we’ve discovered the Potawatomi Trail. I used to hike it all the time when I was a Boy Scout, back during the Woodrow Wilson administration, but I didn’t begin hiking it as an adult until last year.

Our entire family immediately fell in love with the trail, and on most weekends last summer and fall, we would make time to do a five-mile or six-mile hike.

That led us to make it a goal as a family that at some point in the future, we would attempt to hike the entire trail – all TWENTY DAMN MILES OF IT – in one day.

We told my brother Dave (who lives in Florida) about this goal, and because he loves this kind of stuff, he wanted to be part of it, too. And his son Brady – our family’s resident Boy Scout – also thought it would be a blast.

So on the weekend of July 19-21, Dave and Brady flew up to Michigan for the epic hike. We planned our route, we packed lunches and snacks, and off we went.

And now, let’s meet the six Moorehouse Family hikers who made up our Potawatomi Party:

Buddy Moorehouse, 58. Eagle Scout, drone pilot, man about town. Charter school communications guy, magician, documentary filmmaker, Livingston Post blogger and former newspaper editor – occupations which which were of zero use in preparing him for this adventure.

Kathy Moorehouse, actual age undetermined but appears to be in her early 30s. Montessori director at Light of the World Academy in Pinckney. Gardener extraordinaire. Big Dr. Phil fan.

Amelia Moorehouse, 21. Recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, currently enrolled as a graduate student at Michigan State University. Varsity college gymnast and two-time team captain. Incredibly fit workout freak. Showoff.

Lottie Moorehouse, 15. Sophomore at Fowlerville High School and Dance Team member. Competitive dancer at Maria’s School of Dance in Fowlerville. World’s biggest fan of both “Stranger Things” and Ariana Grande.

Dave Moorehouse, 52. Engineer by trade and plant manager from Palm Harbor, Florida. Marathon runner. Also a showoff.

Brady Moorehouse, 11. Boy Scout and honor student from Palm Harbor, Florida. Plans to become the third Eagle Scout in his family, following his Grandpa Hank and Uncle Buddy. Freakishly strong.

We hit the trail at 9:01 a.m. on July 21, after dropping off a car filled with food, drinks, swimsuits and towels at the Halfmoon Lake Day Use Area.

Brady, Lottie and Amelia set out on the hike.

Most people who hike or bike the entire Potawatomi like to start and finish at the Silver Lake beach, but we decided to start out at Blind Lake, about eight miles away. Our thinking was that Silver Lake (which has flush toilets and a concession stand) would be a great place for our first big stop. Halfmoon Lake would be about 11 miles in, so that would be a good spot for lunch.

Dave carried a cooler backpack filled with water, while I carried a backpack filled with bug spray and everybody’s phones. We set out with eight bottles of water and two cans of bug spray, and as we soon discovered, that ratio was a mistake. We should have had eight bottles of water and about 16 cans of bug spray.

PRO TIP NUMBER 1: If you do decide to hike the Potawatomi yourself at some point in your life, bring lots and lots and lots of bug spray.

However much bug spray you think you’ll need, triple it. The skeeters are thick, but they won’t bother you if you’re covered in Deep Woods Off. The only problem is that you need to coat yourself again and again along the way, so you need to bring a lot of cans with you.

The weather was fairly perfect for a hike like this – about 70 degrees and overcast when we took off – and even though you’re in the shade 95 percent of the time, it’s a lot better when it’s not too sunny out.

Because the bikers go clockwise on the trail, we started hiking counter-clockwise. The first few miles of the hike flew by, and the scenery was beautiful. We were on the far southern end of the trail, and we hiked by a couple secluded lakes that didn’t appear to have any homes on them.

Thankfully – and this was pretty much true the entire time – everyone in our hiking party had a great attitude. Along with bug spray, that’s pretty much a necessity when you’re attempting to do a 20-mile hike in the woods. It was still really early in the process, but nobody was complaining yet.

Posing for a photo on one of the many beautiful bridges on the trail.

Amelia and Lottie were a little faster than the rest of us, so they went on ahead and then they’d wait for us to catch up. Kathy cheerfully pointed out the various flowers that we were seeing, and I pretended like this information was interesting to me. Dave and I started teaching Brady some songs that we had learned back when we were in Boy Scouts, including a few that I hope he didn’t repeat when he got back home to his own troop.

We stopped at Pickerel Lake for a water break, about four miles into the trip, and quickly realized that the two cans of bug spray we had brought with us weren’t going to last very long. Our hope was that the concession stand at Silver Lake would have some more. If they didn’t, Plan B was that we’d call someone we know and have them meet us along the trail with some more.

Dave had a great GPS tracker on his phone that he uses when he runs, and it told us that we were averaging about three miles an hour. That’s what we were hoping for.

At 11:45 a.m., about eight miles into the hike, we arrived at Silver Lake – the big state park area south of Pinckney that has a beach, bathrooms and concession stand.

We went to the concession stand with fingers crossed, hoping they sold bug spray.

Bonus! They did! Dave and I put our heads together and figured that we only needed to buy one additional can for the rest of the trip.

PRO TIP NUMBER 2: Never put either of the Moorehouse brothers in charge of how much bug spray you need to buy at the Silver Lake concession stand.

We should have cleaned them out. We only bought one can, and it made the last few miles of the trip far more stressful than they should have been.

We also grabbed a pretzel and a bag of chips at the concession stand, figuring they would last us until we made it to Halfmoon Lake for lunch.

But mostly we just sat down and rested. We had already hiked eight miles, which would be more than a good day’s effort in itself, and we weren’t even close to being halfway done. We tried not to remind ourselves of that too much.

As we were sitting at the picnic tables resting, Brady started doing some incredible balancing thing that he had somehow realized he could do. It was sort of a half-plank, half-pushup in which he balanced his entire body on his hands. I call it “Picnic Table Planking.”

Amelia, who loves stuff like that, decided she needed to try Picnic Table Planking, too. And she did it! “You’re the only other person I’ve seen who can do this,” Brady said. In case you want to try it at home, it looked this this:

Picnic Table Planking.

To answer the question that you’re surely asking yourself now, yes, I tried it myself. And it will shock you to learn that no, I couldn’t do it. Brady and Amelia are apparently still the only two human beings who can do the Picnic Table Plank.

We rested for about a half-hour, and as we prepared to set sail again, I reminded everyone to use the bathroom and wash their hands, because this would be the last running water we were going to see (Halfmoon Lake is all rustic).

One hour later, about 11 miles into the hike, we arrived at Halfmoon Lake. This is where we had a car planted that had a cooler filled with sandwiches and drinks.

Those were the best sandwiches and drinks I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing like hiking 11 miles over hills and through mosquitoes to make you hungry.

It was almost 1:30 p.m., and by now, the sun was out and it was hot. We had packed our bathing suits in the car, so we all took a glorious swim in Halfmoon Lake. Amelia took a nap under a shady tree.

By now, my legs were starting to get pretty sore, and it dawned on me that this was probably the longest I had ever hiked in my adult life. AND I STILL HAD NINE MILES TO GO.

So as we sat there enjoying the last few minutes of our rest time at Halfmoon Lake, I took out my phone and Googled, “Oldest person ever to hike the entire Potawatomi Trail.” Nothing came up, so I naturally made the assumption that because nobody had ever laid claim to that title, the oldest person ever to hike the entire Potawatomi Trail must be ME!

And that’s what I’m going with. Unless somebody can prove otherwise, that title belongs to me. When I die, the headline will read, “OLDEST PERSON EVER TO HIKE THE ENTIRE POTAWATOMI TRAIL DIES.”

After a good, long rest – and with a fresh change of clothes on – we hit the trail again at 3 p.m. We restocked with water and the last of our bug spray.

The oldest person ever to hike the entire Potawatomi Trail.

As we started hiking the last nine miles of our journey, the pace had indeed slowed a bit and the hills seemed to be getting steeper and steeper. We were definitely feeling it.

The scenery, though, was just as beautiful, and that always helps. We crossed over Patterson Lake Road, just west of Hell, and then made the final turn south.

And this is when we encountered the first and only real turmoil on our trip. Dave had been monitoring our exact mileage and I had been tracking our progress on my phone using an app called AllTrails. Those liars at the Michigan DNR had told us that this was a 17.4-mile trip, so even with the slight detours at Silver Lake and Halfmoon Lake, I figured we would be hiking maybe 18.5 miles total, tops.

When Dave told us we had just passed the 15-mile mark, everyone naturally thought that we had maybe three miles more to go. But the map was telling me it was going to be closer to five miles or more. So the conversation went something like this:

DAVE: “OK, everybody, we just hit 15 miles.”

KATHY: “Just three more miles to go! One hour! We can do this!”

BUDDY: (Looking at phone.) “Umm …”

LOTTIE: “What do you mean, ‘umm…?’”

BUDDY: “Umm, it looks more like five or six miles more to go.”

EVERYONE: “WHAT?!”

AMELIA: “Five or six MILES?”

LOTTIE: “You’ve been lying to us!”

KATHY: “Look, there’s some purple coneflower!”

Everyone except Brady was ready to mutiny on me, but they all got over it and decided we just had to muddle through.

With just one mile to go and our bodies totally dead, we were right near Camp Munhacke, the Boy Scout camp on Bruin Lake in Gregory. We came upon a monster hill – probably the longest hill we had seen all day – so naturally, Dave came up with the brilliant idea that he was going to run the rest of the way. “Me, too,” said Amelia.

So Showoff Dave and Showoff Amelia took off running for the last mile, while the rest of us trudged up the final hill one slow step at a time.

At exactly 6:45 p.m., Kathy, Lottie, Brady and I arrived back at our car. Dave and Amelia had arrived about 10 minutes earlier.

Dave’s watch gave us the final tally:

  • 20.1 miles
  • 6 hours, 41 minutes and 52 seconds of actual hiking
  • 3,258 calories burned

We took a family selfie to mark the occasion and then headed over to the Hell Saloon for the best meal of our lives. Just walking from the parking lot to the restaurant was a chore.

All smiles at the end of the hike. From left, Amelia, Kathy, Lottie, Dave, Brady and Buddy.

But we had done it – we had hiked the entire Potawatomi Trail in a single day. Brady will be able to use this as credit toward his Hiking merit badge (one of the requirements is to do a 20-mile hike), and all of us will feel some shared pride the day he receives it.

And there you have it. The tale of an ordinary family that had an extraordinary experience. Right here in Livingston County.

As I said, you need to try it yourself someday. It’s an experience that will stay with you forever.

And in case I didn’t mention it, you might want to bring some bug spray.

Interesting in hiking the Potawatomi Trail? You’ll find what you need to know here.

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About Buddy Moorehouse 196 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

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