Beginning Your TrekStart your Top of the World trek at the first parking lot beyond the Wetmore Pond turnoff on M-550 (if you reach Harlow Lake Road as you approach from the south, you've gone too far). Take the double track from the parking lot's southern end. In .2 or .3 mile, you'll come to a fork on a short downhill stretch through a pine grove; take the left fork and continue on. The trail winds through a mixed forest and actually loses a little elevation as it approaches a small stream. Watch out for bikers in the summer and skiers/snowshoers in the winter; this section of multi-purpose trail is heavily traveled. After about .6 mile, you'll reach a vehicle barrier and a bridge over a small stream. The good news: Past this point, you won't have to contend with motorized vehicles. The bad news: Things get a bit rougher and muddier from here on out. You'll be on a single track for the duration.
Getting to the OverlookOnce you cross the stream, you'll find yourself in a majestic hemlock grove that looks like it hasn't been touched since, well, ever. (This could very well be the case.) Deer and other wildlife abound here, so take your time and keep your eyes open. You'll also need to be on the lookout for the right path. This area is dense with lazily intersecting trails, and wrong turns aren't always obvious. Fortunately, most intersections feature small maps that show your position relative to Hogback, Harlow Lake and Top of the World, which is always marked "Overlook." Since these intersections are too numerous to describe one by one, you can follow a simple rule of thumb: On the maps, you'll always be to the right of the overlook; simply follow the trail that leads there in a straight line from your current position. There are a handful of landmarks that make this job easier. First, you'll cross a snowmobile/ATV path about .5 miles after the stream. Second, you'll follow a small but relatively deep gorge for most of the trek beyond this path. In the summer, heavy leaf cover keeps it obscured on occasion; when the leaves are down, though, you should always be able to see it on your left. Third, you'll come to a major fork about .8 mile after the stream crossing. Follow the left path; the right path leads down a long hill to Harlow Lake and Harlow Lake Road. After you've cleared these landmarks, it's pretty much a straight shot to the top. After the left fork, the trail begins to ascend steadily, passing through an upland hardwood forest that blazes with yellow, orange and red glory during the fall months. Within three-quarters of a mile, you'll cross Forestville Road/County Road HD and come across a dirt parking area that sits at the base of a series of steep, rocky outcroppings. To reach the viewpoint, just walk through this parking lot and ascend the trail that curves to the right. You'll come out on a broad ledge that sits just above the towering pine canopy below. This isn't the highest point in the vicinity, actually--that honor goes to the hill on the other side of the parking lot--but it's free of vegetation and boasts a breathtaking view of Lake Superior and the Huron Mountains.
When to GoWhile the path to Top of the World isn't nearly as steep as the Hogback summit trail, it's more than two miles from bottom to top. Accordingly, plan on spending at least three hours on the trail, including time at the top. On the bright side, this path is a perfect all-season trek. Most of it is permanently shaded, so it's a great relief from summer's warmth. From the top, fall's colors offer a splendid reward at the end of a long walk. In the winter, skiers, showshoers and walkers all have clearly defined paths. But the best part of Top of the World? This.
Brian Martucci is a Marquette-based writer with a passion for food, beer, and the great outdoors. Maybe not in that order.