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.
Island Lake Recreation Area is home to two Huron River Canoe Camps. The sites are boat-in only (!) meaning you must haul any and all gear in a kayak or canoe for your stay. The sites, Canoe Camp #1 and #2, can be only be reserved by calling or visiting the main office.
This is an awesome place to stay, especially if you live in the area, as it provides a backcountry, boat-in camping experience very close to town. The sites each feature a fire ring and picnic table. Canoe #1 sports a floating dock to tie up boats. There is also a vault toilet, and firewood provided for both sites to share, as well recycling and trash cans.
The sites and common area (toilet and garbage cans) are connected by short trails and you may, once in awhile, hear the folks at the site next to you. Thankfully, In my experience, people have always been friendly and respectful.
This is a beautiful place to camp. I’ve only been to the boat-in only sites and I love it. You are surrounded by forest and dunes and the sites themselves provide ample space for a group of 5 or more. The islands (site 41c specifically) are the best spots - there’s very little reason to worry about critters when you’re on an island. The one thing I don’t like are the powered boats. In the “lower AuSable” areas like Cooke Dam Pond, you will see and hear pontoon boats, speed boats and the occasional jet ski, which kind of takes away from the dispersed camping/backcountry feel. Still a wonderful place to get away from it all.