MIO, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – While Mio may not be on your bucket list of “Up North” destinations, the area is rich in recreational opportunities…not the least of which is the Wolf Creek Trail. It is beautiful in any season and is a great way to relax while exploring the local treasures.

Wolf Creek Trail winds through different environments with several loops providing options for longer or shorter walks. The trail, a mix of groomed gravel and boardwalks, twists and turns through a large section of prime land along the AuSable River. The forests here are cedar, oak, and pine that make up the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

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The trail access is at the Au Sable River public access site just a couple of blocks from downtown Mio. The trail begins right at the paved parking area and follows the course of the river. Within a short distance an excellent boardwalk takes hikers through wetlands and wildflowers to a small bridge that crosses Wolf Creek. The variety and convenience provided, make this a favorite trail, for those looking for a short break in a forested semi-primitive setting.

This first section of the trail offers several spots where hikers can pause beside the pristine waters of the Au Sable River. The first loop is less than half a mile from the trail head. From that junction the trail creates a short loop and intersects further on with other junctions where longer hikes can be taken. Along the way are interpretive signs that describe habitats and history. In addition to views of the river, trail users can observe a wide diversity of plants in a natural woodland setting and can expect to encounter a variety of wildlife. The entire trail system is non-motorized and covers just under five miles.

In addition to the Wolf Creek Trail, there are several attractions nearby. The Orion International Dark Sky Park, in the Bull Gap area near Mio, will be the first in the nation to be certified inside a National Forest. The Bull Gap trail head has a parking area and restrooms. There is an open area at that trail head, which is perfect for night sky viewing, photography and for setting up telescopes for viewing planets and constellations. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) recently added two more Dark Sky Parks, taking the number of officially recognized star-gazing spots around the world to 25.

The gorgeous Au Sable River runs through Mio on its way to Lake Huron.  In French, “au sable” literally means “with sand.” A 1795 map calls it the Beauais River. The stretch of the Au Sable River from Grayling to Lake Huron offers breathtaking scenery as well as excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.  Panoramic vistas from high bluff overlooks, long wooden boardwalks over spring-fed streams and miles of quiet, undeveloped shoreline all can be found along this scenic river. The Au Sable River is considered one of the best brown trout fisheries east of the Rockies and has been designated a blue ribbon trout stream by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The Our Lady of the Woods Shrine is an enormous limestone structure which is honeycombed with grottoes and niches. The shrine is actually several shrines, each with a different purpose, all woven together. The shrine is open to all.  Visitors are encouraged to stop and explore the statuary and dedications. It began with the visions of Rev. Hubert Rakowski in the mid 40’s and was dedicated in September of 1955.

The Big Cedar is one of the largest native white cedar trees on the mainland of Michigan. It is more than 150 inches around with a diameter in excess of 47 inches, almost 4 feet. The total height is over 40 feet. A storm sometime in the past removed a large part of the original crown about 29 feet above the ground. The break at that point has a diameter of more than two feet. No one is sure of the exact age of the big cedar but estimates put it at more than 350 years old.  That would mean that it was just a little seedling or small sapling when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  The tree is in a sort of loop of the Au Sable River which may explain how it survived the forest fires of the early 1900s.  The lumberjacks probably gave it a pass because of its defects.

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The second Wolf Creek public access point is 2.0 miles east of the stop light on County Road 602. This access point and parking lot are the best spot for winter sport activities.

The Orion International Dark Sky Park is 5 miles east of Mio on 8th St./South River Rd.,  also known as County Road 602.

The Big Cedar is on U.S Forest land east of Mio. Go east from the light in Mio on 8th St. for 2.5 miles to Forest Road 4354. Go north for about 1.5 miles to an intersection, then left into the parking area for the tree or right to get to parking for the fishing area.