How to Get Started Hiking Michigan's Shore to Shore Trail:
There is a significant void of information about this trail. My article will fill in the gaps.
First up (and possibly the most lacking) is the MTRA website, these people "own" the trail in a sense and are responsible for the only set of production maps available for the trail. It can cost either $25 or $15 depending on what time of the year one orders the maps as MTRA requires a membership (sort of) in order to get the maps. Let me tell you right now, the only good these maps will do you is to give a vague sense of the shape, direction, and intersections of the Shore to Shore Trail. For backpackers (me) they don't do much good at all, the only markings on them are for equine camps and equine watering holes. Unfortunately most of us will have to give in and buy a set of these fire starters from the MTRA just to see the trail in any detail. The trail does intersect a lot of roads and small towns through the state, so it can be marginally helpful for getting landmarks and intersections.
Our set of maps was already showing holes in the folds by the end of the first day, and by the end of our shore four day hike the maps were sheared apart at the folds. They're also organized so that the map which fits on the border of the one you're looking at is actually on the back of the one you're looking at. In order to lay out a full view of the trail, I had to copy the maps onto copy paper to lay them out side by side. One might just as well forego the maps and wing it.
An alternative method of gathering resources, information, and friends is to walk into any local bar in Oscoda with your pack on. The patrons will quickly take you up as one of their own, in fact the chef even came out of the kitchen to greet us as we sat down for our end of the trip meal. Everyone is eager to hear stores, share information, and help out travelers. See who you can talk to before you set out, and what you can learn!
Second up, which you will find to be equally useless, is the Wikipedia page for Michigan Shore to Shore Trail. For all intents and purposes, the Wikipedia page simply restates what MTRA already said, such as the length of the trail (220 mi) and the two endpoints (Oscoda or Ausable, and Empire). It gives little other pertinent information to prospective hikers. This excerpt is from Trails.com and has a little more pertinent information than other places:
"The Shore-To-Shore Trail was the idea of trail riders looking for a lengthy horseback trek from shore to shore across the northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. With the help of Michigan Senator William Milliken, the trail was established in 1962. The 220-mile trail connects the town of Empire, on Lake Michigan, with the Lake Huron community of Oscoda. Hikers need to be aware of the use of the trail by horseback riders, but the trail is open for all users but bicyclists. It is the longest continuous trail in the Lower Peninsula. The trail offers a look into rural Michigan, and although it doesn't trace a path through the wilds like the North Country Trail does, it follows many northern back roads and river valleys. The Shore-To-Shore Trail is easy to hike as it follows roads and well-marked pathways through stands of conifers and hardwoods, making its way across the northern tip of the state. A group of horseback trail riders called The Michigan Trail Riders provides a complete set of maps, as well as a trail guide, to help hikers cross the state by this route. Although the trail is fairly "urban," it avoids the tourist destinations of Michigan's north country. Its scenery—some of the most beautiful the state offers—ranks highest on the list of special attractions. Another attraction is the Kirtland warbler habitat near Grayling and the banks of the Au Sable River, through which hikers pass. The rare Kirtland warbler is carefully watched over by the Department of Natural Resources; it is a treat to see and hear. Mixed upland and lowland habitats mean that hikers will see a wide variety of birds, animals, and other creatures as they hike from shore to shore. Special attractions: Cross-state route, wildlife, rare Kirtland warblers."Original Site: Shore-to-Shore Trail | Oscoda Michigan Hikes | Trails.com http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=HGM034-021#ixzz0yrcf9zn8
The Real Shore to Shore Trail:
While it is true that the trail runs along a lot of the Au Sable, it doesn't really follow it in any reasonable sense. For the most part the Shore to Shore Trail keeps a distance from the river but does follow the same direction. The maps and all sources would have you believe that for fifty miles, the Shore to Shore Trail becomes one with the river. You will occasionally bump into the river on your hike, and don't get me wrong, the views of the Au Sable are beautiful.
On my own hike of the Au Sable stretch of the Shore to Shore Trail, my partner and I ran into a guy who had attempted a through hike of the Shore to Shore Trail some years prior. He had, in his youth, completed the entire Appalachian Trail. However, upon trying to through hike the Shore to Shore Trail in autumn, he ran out of water in the middle of the state, where the trail has few water resources and little contact with civilization. He was admitted to the hospital for dehydration and heat stroke where he spent five weeks recovering. This shows clearly that while the trail is tailored for equine uses, hikers be warned! Trails.com advises readers that this trail is "best in fall", I would urge hikers to seriously reconsider this (not to mention this site lacks any pertinent information). I'm not saying, at all, that it's not possible. In fact, this older gentleman revealed to us his plans to re-attempt the trail in the spring time when water is in more supply. So be sure to plan your hike accordingly and carry lots of extra water!
Due to heavy use by equine traffic, the trail has a cross section of a V. This relentless groove in the center of the path if from countless hooves and horseshoes removing soil in a narrow, eight inch, path. When wet and muddy, or snowy this kind of trail, even on level terrain, is a hazard to foot traffic. I can tell you personally how much it hurts to have your foot twisted step after step while trying to walk in a deep groove. I gave up and walked beside the trail, even though the brush was less well kept. Anything is better than that foot torture with a 35 pound pack on!
I tried to compile a list of the best resources on the web available to supplement my information about Michigan's Shore to Shore Trail... however I find myself utterly at a loss for any other information. There are quite literally no other decent web resources (even Wikipedia failed me this time). I apologize, however if you've read this much you're already ten steps ahead of me when I set out to hike this trail. Buy the maps from MTRA (if you must), and just go and hike it.