Although this is listed as "dispersed" camping, the camping on the Manistee River Trail side of this loop is mostly at designated sites. Most sites seemed to be able to accommodate large groups. The sites along the bluffs tended to be farther from a water source, but never too far. No matter where you end up setting up camp, you're in for a beautiful and gentle hike.
Too much to say about this!
Start at Red Bridge Access, and you can do a 23 mile loop covering miles on the North Country Trail (west side) and the Manistee River Trail (on the east side).
Note; NCT side allows camping anywhere. MRT has specific spots.
My review describes some of the MRT spots.
Great dispersed camping area to getaway! Can sometimes get busy on the weekends, but nothing like a normal campsite. Think it’s just this summer but I did pull 2 ticks off the dogs after this hike.
Make sure to pack bug spray and be sure to check out the mini-waterfall near mile marker 3!
The Manistee River trail is great for beginner and experienced hikers. The trail is ungroomed and pretty hilly, but the views of the river from the higher elevations are pretty amazing.
Both times I visited were during Memorial Day weekend and the dispersed campsites, which are available on a first-come, first served basis, filled up very quickly. Despite this, my hiking partner and I were able to find an awesome spot next to the river and a creek. The flowing water on two sides of us made for some great sleep.
Highly recommend the area if you are just getting into backpacking and hiking.
From the web: The Manistee River Trail follows the east shore of the Manistee River for 8.8 miles through rolling hills. The trail traverses past several wetlands and there are bridges crossing two creeks. A waterfall near the northern end of the trail is very popular with many hikers. The Manistee River Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail connector is also the site of the largest wooden suspension bridge in Lower Michigan. Several observation sites along the trail provide hikers with vista views of the Manistee River and surrounding area. There are several dispersed campsites along the trail.
A 23-mile loop trail is formed with the Manistee River Trail along the Manistee River. The loop trail can be accessed from the Marilla and Upper River Road Trailheads for the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Red Bridge and Seaton Creek accesses for the Manistee River Trail.