ALCONA COUNTY, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – World famous for trout fishing, the Au Sable River runs more than 100 miles through some of the most beautiful wilderness in lower Michigan before flowing into Lake Huron. Far up atop the bluffs along the river, the Au Sable Highbanks Trail affords some of the most spectacular scenic views in Northern Michigan. The trail runs some seven miles along the Au Sable River Valley. There are access points to this ski/hike trail, 15 miles outside of Oscoda, at Iargo Springs and the Lumberman’s Monument.
In the height of the season, these areas will often be crowded with tourists. The noise of people and traffic tend to diminish the experience to be found in this beautiful wilderness. However, there is an uncrowded spot where you can access one of the most beautiful sections of the high banks, and enjoy a short walk along the bluffs.
You can park at the junction of Au Sable Road and USFS Road 3993 (to avoid driving on gravel) and walk in, or you can drive in on 3993 to the parking area. If you decide to walk in, you will immediately enter the towering pines and mixed hardwood trees of the Huron National Forest. The path to the bluffs isn’t very long and it will only take a short time to reach the split rail fence that runs along this section of the Highbanks Trail. The fence runs along an overlook that is more than 300 feet above the river.
At the overlook you can simply pause, rest, and take in the breathtaking view of the bend in the Au Sable River, spread out below. A gentle pathway runs along the top of the bluff in both directions for short distances to get even more perspectives on the river valley. Needless to say, this is a spot cherished by photographers during color tour time. For the adventurous, and those in good physical condition, there is a stairway that winds down the bluff all the way to the river. It is a long way down, but well worth it if you have the energy. During the warm months, you may encounter hikers doing the whole seven miles. You may also see fishermen and paddlers on the river. In the winter, you might be the only person there taking in the pure air high up on the bluffs.
Other Nearby Attractions
Iargo Springs is easily one of the most beautiful, and easily missed, spots in Northeast Michigan. Far down the cliff are pools of pristine spring waters, that have been visited and revered since humans first found the springs, in the distant past. These ancient springs form large pools of crystal-clear water. The water is so perfectly transparent that you can easily see all the way down to the floor of the pool. When you visit Iargo Springs you will need to be prepared to handle the steps, some 300 of them, take your time. There are several places on the stairs to pause, rest and enjoy the view. Keep your eye peeled for the Bald Eagles that live here.
The springs are just one of the stops along the River Road Scenic Byway which runs 22 miles along the Au Sable River. This drive begins at the junction with U.S. 23 in Iosco County, and is one of two National Scenic Byways, in Michigan. The road winds through the forest that is home to a variety of wildlife, including the occasional black bear. The scenery is gorgeous in all four seasons. You will be treated to breathtaking views from the high riverbanks and Iargo Springs is just a short distance off the main track. There are six dams in this section of the river, and there are several attractions to visit including the Lumberman’s Monument.
There are a couple of ways to get to the short section of the Highbanks Trail.
From Mio – Go north on Route 33 a short distance out of town you will cross the Au Sable River. The next turn to the east is F-32 to McKinley. In a few miles you can go north or south. Go south toward Glennie. In about a mile, will be a turn to the west, USFS 3993, to the Highbanks Overlook.
From Route 65 at Glennie or Curan – Take the route west toward the Alcona Dam Pond to reach the same spot. F-32 McKinley Road to Au Sable Road to USFS Road 3993 or Route 65 to the junction at the Glennie Road in Glennie. That road west from Glennie is called the Bamfield Road and will go to the Au Sable Road.
The Au Sable Highbanks Trail is open year-round. There is no fee required to use the trail.