My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

The Mason Tract, some details

I have not hiked the entire 10 miles of the Mason Tract Trail yet, but I thought I would get a start on this page anyway. I have hiked the southern half of the trail, from Chase Bridge Landing to past the Castle Landing twice.

Update, in the spring of 2014 I completed the north half of the trail twice.

Here’s a blurb from the Michigan DNR about the Mason Tract…A 4,493 acre special management area along the South Branch of the Au Sable River designed to protect the quality fishing waters of this area. The Mason Tract originated from acceptance of a 1500-acre gift from The George Mason family in 1954. Over time, additional acreage has been acquired from the US Forest Service and private individuals through land exchanges. The Mason gift was contingent the area be used as a permanent game preserve, no part shall ever be sold by the state, and no camping be allowed in the area for 25 years. The State of Michigan has continued the no camping restriction in the Mason Tract. The only camping allowed is within Canoe Harbor State Forest Campground, located at the north end of the Tract on the Au Sable River. The Mason Tract offers quality fishing, hunting, and canoeing opportunities. The Mason Tract is home to the pristine Mason Chapel. The Mason Family constructed the Chapel in 1960 to provide fishermen with a place of reverence and has developed into a popular tourist attraction. The Mason Tract also contains the Mason Tract Pathway, which is used for hiking and cross-country skiing. Mountain biking on the Mason Tract Pathway is prohibited via a Director’s Order.

The start of the trail through the Mason Tract


This is a special place for me, because it does protect the gorgeous south branch of the Au Sable River, which I love to fish. The trail itself is beautiful, offering many great views of the south branch as it winds its way northward to join the main stream of the Au Sable. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, and easy to hike. It winds through a mixture of forest types, from wetland cedar marshes, some old growth pines, and mixed hardwoods in different places along the river.

A friend hiking the Mason Tract in early spring


The trail is popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter, but is closed to mountain biking.

The south branch of the Au Sable from the Mason Tract trail


The river is also popular with canoeists and kayakers, and there are several landings on the river which also access the trail. One thing I would like to do someday is to hike the trail on a Saturday, then run the river in my kayak on Sunday.

The only place where camping is allowed in the Mason Tract is Canoe Harbor Campground, that was exempt from Mason’s camping ban because the area was federally owned at the time of the original gift. The state forest campground has 54 sites for tent and small trailers and 10 canoe group campsites as well as drinking water, vault toilets, and a canoe landing on the river.

Me at the Castle landing while hiking the Mason Tract.


The trail takes you past where “Durant Castle” was being built. During the late 1920s, William Durant, who amassed a fortune as president of General Motors, started construction on his own personal castle in northern Michigan, along the banks of the Au Sable River. Just before he moved in, however, the castle burned to the ground. This event was suspected to have been an act of arson, allegedly by the hands of the fledgling UAW, whom Durant refused to acknowledge as a union. All that’s left is some of the exposed foundation of where the castle used to stand.

Also in the Mason Tract is the Mason Chapel, built in the 60’s by the Mason family for use by fishermen. It is on the other side of the river from the trail though.

To get there from Grayling, take M 72, which is South Down River Rd. east to reach the entrance to the Mason Tract posted at Canoe Harbor Road. Turn south (right) on this dirt road and a parking lot and large trail sign soon appears to the east (left). If you continue on the dirt road past the trailhead, within half mile, you will pass the posted entrance to Canoe Harbor State Forest Campground.

Alternately, you can turn south (right) on Chase Bridge Road before you get to the northern trailhead if you prefer to hike the trail from south to north. The trailhead on Chase Bridge Road is just after the bridge over the south branch of the AU Sable.

This is a very popular area in the summer, too popular for my tastes. A large number of kayakers and canoeists will be on the river all weekend long, although I don’t think the trail gets as much use. While most people go there from Memorial Day to Labor Day, for me, it’s the other way around due to the crowds on the river.


29 responses

  1. alf

    I just camped (late Feb.) with xc skis near the Canoe Harbor campgrounds. Saw 2 snowmobiles on road in 18 hours and the place seemed exceptionally secluded and wild (no phone service). There were zero cars in lot on Rt 72 on Saturday evening. then 2-3 plus mine on Saturday afternoon. I stayed on road the whole time & skiing there was good — broken by snowmachines but powdery and not iced. I can’t say anything about the pathway but it migh have been a better choice. (“Pathway” starts directly behind parking lot kiosk. When looking at kiosk, the road begins across the parking lot, almost 180 degrees to right and 60 yards away. I never quite even reached the river & hope to return. I suspect that for “long-distance” skiing, the road on certain stretches places, would be better than trail.


    February 28, 2023 at 7:31 pm

    • Thank you very much for your input! For reasons I won’t go into, I haven’t been able to spend any time there for the past few years. However, your comment brought back many fond memories to me, and I’m glad that you were able to enjoy one of my favorite areas in Michigan.


      March 1, 2023 at 7:11 am

  2. William Semion

    According to history posted at the Castle site, it does not mention the UAW at all. In my opinion I think that’s a rumor. Perhaps started by the Durante :-). And seeing that it burned in 1929, when there are the roads are even worse than they are in the mason tract today, and one of the few ways of getting to the house was by aeroplane, that even still throws more doubt on your UAW comment. It does mention paint thinner soaked rags left behind by workers. This also was the start of the depression. So getting rid of an expensive location could’ve also been a factor.


    March 16, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    • Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. One thing that I’ve learned since I did that post a few years ago, is that history is seldom easy to learn. A person could probably spend months doing research on the castle, and still never learn to true story of the fire. I do suspect that you’re correct in your assumptions though.


      March 16, 2022 at 5:23 pm

  3. William Semion

    The castle, Information at the site says, was built by Billy Durrant but by his son. I’m still trying to find out if that is true.


    March 16, 2022 at 4:37 pm

  4. William Semion

    Hi I would suggest a little more historical digging especially about the castle. It was to be completed around 1929. Then mysteriously burned. The display at the castle blames rags left behind by workmen. Others have said because of the depression it suddenly caught fire. The tale of the uaw doing it is never mentioned. You may want to delve a little deeper than rumors you may have heard.


    March 16, 2022 at 4:34 pm

  5. Thank you for continuing to look at my blog. I so hope you are keeping free from this awful virus as I am.


    October 8, 2020 at 10:49 am

  6. D

    I’d love to hear more.i grew up on the ausable.that area has fascinating history!


    October 5, 2020 at 8:15 am

    • Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’ve decided to take a break from blogging, mostly due to my current work schedule that leaves me little time for blogging. That, and my iMac computer no longer works well with WordPress.


      October 5, 2020 at 10:18 am

  7. I am grateful that you continue to look at my blog. I hope you are keeping well in these troubled times!


    September 23, 2020 at 3:09 am

    • Thanks for the note, yes, I’m doing fine and continuing to work. I’m thankful for that, I’d hate being stuck in my apartment 24/7 like many people are.


      October 3, 2020 at 7:31 am

  8. Thank you for continuing to look at my blog, I appreciate your interest.


    August 12, 2020 at 9:45 am

    • I do enjoy your posts, especially since I can find out what’s going on in the rest of the world, along with seeing parts of London that I’ll never get a chance to see in person.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 13, 2020 at 9:07 am

  9. Hello…how lovely to see your ‘like’ on a post. Miss your wonderful posts. Hope all is well and you have avoided ‘the virus’! We are fine here but can’t wait for lock down to end. At least we have a garden to walk in and enjoy. Take care.


    May 6, 2020 at 6:51 am

    • Thank you! I’ve been too busy, and the weather here has been horrible this spring, so I haven’t made it out to shoot many photos at all, or keep my blog going. I do enjoy seeing your posts, and wish that computer didn’t make it nearly impossible for me to comment on your posts. There’s a major upgrade to the iMac operating system available, which may or may not fix that problem, however, if I install it, the version of Lightroom that I use to catalog and edit my photos will no longer function. I’d have to upgrade to the monthly subscription plan for Lightroom, and I’m too cheap to do so. Other than my bizarre schedule, things are going well for me overall in about every way possible. I hope that things are going as well for you during this pandemic.

      Liked by 1 person

      May 15, 2020 at 8:53 am

      • So good to hear from you and to know that all is well with you. Our spring has been quite amazing with sunny days and hardly any rain …this is after a dreadful February when it poured down with floods everywhere! These computers have minds of their own!! If something goes awry and you try to fix it something else stops working! I can just about understand WordPress! It came a bit of a shock for me when I had to start paying for the basic package or my posts would stop!
        We are still in lockdown in Wales but England have eased their restrictions which has led to a bit of confusion! Everyone is looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’ whatever that is and when it will be is anyone’s guess. Best thing for everyone is to try to stay well, active and safe active…sounds like you are ticking all the boxes! Keep it up!


        May 16, 2020 at 7:22 am

  10. Nice to hear from you, hope all is well!


    January 22, 2020 at 6:18 am

    • Thank you for thinking of me Susan. I was hoping that by now, that the incompatibility between my iMac and WordPress would have been sorted out, but not yet. It makes commenting or even liking some blogs impossible depending on the theme the blogger uses. At least I can like your posts, even if I can’t comment on them unless I use a different browser. And, I don’t have the time to blog with the work schedule I have these days.


      January 22, 2020 at 7:04 am

      • Good luck with it all. Sorry your work schedule is so heavy though.

        Liked by 1 person

        January 22, 2020 at 7:23 am

  11. Just hiked the trail today – the Thayer Loop
    – approximately 7 miles round trip. It is a stunningly beautiful trail and we lived the river access, where our dog stopped for a drink of cool river water. But we were stunned to encounter hunters along the pathway. I can’t believe the hunting would be allowed so close to the trails. We were not the only hikers out today. I’d at least expect a sign warning of the possibility of hunters. Very unnerving hearing gunshots ahead of us.


    October 11, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    • It is, but I was up in the UP this last week, the Pictured Rocks, it’s a must see when the leaves are at peak color!


      October 14, 2019 at 8:29 pm

  12. For some reason I haven’t been getting your recent posts so enjoyed this archive one very much.


    August 6, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    • Thank you Susan! I haven’t done a new post in a couple of months, which is why you haven’t seen any from me. My new work schedule is part of the reason, also, I’m busy planning my next vacation (holiday) for this fall.


      August 7, 2019 at 5:40 am

  13. jim wright

    A chapel in the woods, a place for spiritual inspiration, where we can reflect on the nature of our lives amidst the depths of woods & holy waters of the Au Sable It’s a gift from Mr. Mason, offering to all generations a spot and time to find our sense of place.
    I feel it’s a sin the way the DNR is neglecting its entrusted responsibility to care & preserve “The Chapel in the Woods”. I’m ashamed of the DNRs failure to maintain basic care of this site, especially in light of its purpose as a chapel. A higher level of care by the DNR for the condition of the chapel needs to be indicated to the general public. The public perception of wild abandonment encourages a “No One Cares” attitude, and negative behaviors towards the chapels wellbeing. Care for the chapel by the public will only come with increased care for the chapel by the DNR. No major operations, just some TLC in the form of repairs, clean, inform & oversight. DNR needs to pick up its game in caring for The Chapel in the Woods, after all its much more than just a physical structure. So let’s get busy, God is watching .and waiting, and so are we.

    J.W. Kzoo.


    August 28, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    • Your so very right Jim, the DNR should maintain the chapel much better than they do. I have fears that they let cherished things like that slide, hoping that the private sector will step in and take over the maintenance of those things.


      August 28, 2016 at 6:25 pm


        Awesome Jim, although I’ve never been there. I’m actually camping in Grayling right at this moment & due to your response going to head there tomorrow & check it out. M G

        Liked by 1 person

        August 28, 2016 at 10:35 pm

  14. Pingback: Today, I’m going to be lazy « Quietsolopursuits's Blog

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