Hogback Mountain is located about 1/2 mile up the road from Sugarloaf Mountain and that fact sets the tone for the rest of their relationship. Everything about Hogback is just a little bit more. My most recent visit turned into an unexpected delight!
“As is ever the case when hiking Hogback, an ordinary day had turned into something more. It’s the main reason I go there, despite the slight inconvenience of driving just a little further up the road.”
An Overview of Hogback Mountain
Compared to Sugarloaf Mountain, Hogback Mountain is just a little harder to get to, a little more rugged, a little taller, a little more remote, and has one more peak than its southeasterly neighbor. It even has an extra name, often referred to as “Hogsback” by tourists and locals alike.
It’s a little easier to get lost hiking Hogback as well, something to which I can personally attest. My partner Kaitlyn and I drove north from Marquette on County Road 550. After an obligatory stop at Phil’s 550 Store to pick up some last-minute supplies, we continued on.
Things to Consider Before You Hike Hogback Mountain
As with any outdoor excursion, preparation is key. Here are several things that you should think about before starting your hike.
No Cell Service
Hogback Mountain is a great place to go when you want to get away, but anticipate no cellphone service. I certainly don’t.
Also, sometimes getting away leads to getting lost. This happens to a lot of tourists and a few locals as well. I’ve been lost twice myself—once during the day and once at night. So, it’s important to review the route ahead of time and bring printed directions.
There’s a map near the parking area. While I wouldn’t recommend relying on this resource alone, you might find it a useful way to orient yourself. The trail is marked by a series of blazes in different colors: first white, then blue, white and green, then just blue, and then back to just white again.
As is always the case when hiking in remote locations without cell service, it’s a good idea to let someone know where you’re going. In the event people need to go looking for you, this will make their job easier.
Hiking Essentials for Each Season
In the spring or early summer, some type of bug protection will come in handy. In the winter, a pair of traction cleats should keep your feet under you when the trail gets icy. Water is essential any time of year.
The Hike Takes a Few Hours
I would recommend at least three hours out and back. You’ll want to leave plenty of time to admire the view when you get to the top.
The full hike is approximately 2.8 miles, but the steep terrain, especially near the summit, makes it more challenging and takes more time to traverse. Take note of what time the sun is setting, and give yourself more time than you think you need to find your way to the top and back out again.
On the latter occasion, I had lingered at the summit just a little too long, watching the rosy glow of the sunset dim over Lake Superior. As someone whose job at the time was to provide directions, I may have been operating under a false sense of my own navigation abilities.
As I descended below the timberline, I had been plunged into darkness. The trail is marked by blazes nailed or painted to the tree trunks. I would need to locate these to find my way back.
I had no service, naturally, but I had figured I could use my phone as a flashlight. This had worked pretty well until the battery died about halfway down. After that, I searched for the little plastic plates with my fingers. A couple hours later, I made it to the parking lot.
Hopefully my cautionary sidebar hasn’t dissuaded you from making the trek yourself.
Finding the Unmarked Parking Lot
The parking area for Sugarloaf Mountain is located on the right side of the road. It’s well-marked and easy to access. We passed this and continued down the road for half a mile.
The parking area for Hogback is located on the left side of the ride. It’s not marked at all and is slightly less easy to access, especially during the snowier months. We turned down the dirt incline that leads to the parking area for Wetmore Pond Nature Trails and Hogback Mountain.
The dirt and gravel parking area doesn’t get plowed during winter. I have a distinct memory from a few winters back of a group of strangers rallying to push a small car up the icy incline.
On this dreary Saturday in November, ice was not an issue. A light dusting of snow had fallen earlier in the day, but this had mostly melted, leaving the leaf-covered ground soggy.
Our Initial Impression Transformed
Hogback Mountain is a beautiful hike any time of the year, but I don’t think either of us started out feeling particularly inspired.
The fall colors had come and gone. The mud and boulders and bare branches lent an aura of desolate beauty. The dark greens of conifers, pale yellows of thimbleberry leaves, and rusty browns of the pine needles underfoot popped out of an otherwise desaturated landscape.
The sweet scent of pine mixed with the hearty aroma of moist earth reminded me where I was. The thought detritus that had been swirling in my brain began to seem just a little bit less important.
One benefit of visiting outside the summer and fall color seasons, though, was that we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We started noticing the little things: bracket fungi clinging to the side of a mossy stump, a root with a goblet-like depression full of clear water, and lots of colorful lichens on trees and rocks.
Best of all, there were no bugs!
Navigating the Well-Marked Trails
Don’t be thrown by all the different colors that mark the trees. Hiking Hogback Mountain requires the use of multiple trails, which is what the different blazes indicate.
You’ll start by following white blazes down a winding, somewhat rugged, but mostly horizontal trail. A series of boardwalks will take you over some wet areas.
The trail goes up and over a rocky outcrop. On the other side, you’ll pass another boardwalk and a small bridge. This is where the blazes switch to a combination of blue, white, and green. Then, you’ll cross a snowmobile trail.
When you reach a fork in the trail, go right. This is the trail that leads to the top of Hogback Mountain. If you go left, you’ll be on the Lily Pond loop, which is an adventure for another day.
Follow the blue rectangles for a bit — they will turn to white again closer to the top. A small stream on the left side of the trail marks the point where the ascent begins in earnest.
When we got to the stream, we looked down at the clear water as it wound among the roots and rocks, trickling over leaves in varying shades and hues of brown.
Reaching the Hogback Mountain Summit
As we got closer to the summit, I began to notice areas where recent dustings of snow still clung to the leaves and branches. As if pulled by the snow, Kaitlyn hurried ahead when I stopped to take a picture.
When I got to a break in the trees, which usually offers the first glimpse of Lake Superior, I was greeted instead by a curtain of white. The rolling gray hills below faded into the pale sky before they met the water.
The Precambrian dome of the mountain was wet and slippery underfoot. Big, fluffy flakes landed on the ancient rock, which, like the rest of the landscape in the area, had been shaped by glaciers during the Pleistocene.
Even in less slippery weather, you’ll probably need to employ all four limbs to get yourself to the top. When I had clamored up, I turned around to take in the view.
In the summer, you can see the green peaks of the Huron Mountains descend into Lake Superior. In the fall, the greens shift to oranges, reds, and yellows and Lake Superior turns from sparkling indigo to icy gunmetal.
On a clear day, you may be able to make out Pictured Rocks to the east and the Keweenaw Peninsula to the West.
On this particular day, the muted November landscape had been transformed. The snow had cleared just enough to reveal the blue of the lake and the sky. Far off over the lake, ragged altostratus clouds unloaded brilliant columns of snow over the water.
I could see by the look on her face that Kaitlyn was having a similar experience.
More Adventurous Experiences in Marquette & the Upper Peninsula Await
If you’re looking for a breathtaking view, hiking Hogback Mountain won’t disappoint. This mountain is one of several incredible peaks on the Upper Peninsula.