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#TrailTuesday: Exploring Brighton's Secluded Kahchin Trail

Welcome back to our #TrailTuesday Series! This edition treks across Brighton Recreation Area's "hiding in plain sight" gem: the Kahchin Trail. Join us as we explore deep into the heart of Brighton's woodlands along this short-but-sweet trail!

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Sometimes I dread Saturday mornings. That may read as blasphemous or ludicrous on face value. Allow me to elaborate.


On a rainy weekday, most adults have their schedule more or less locked in for the day. They wake up, shower, head to work, get the kids to school, handle projects or chores, prepare meals, etc., etc. Of course there's some variation of these tasks from day-to-day, but as a whole, we'd be willing to bet that 80-90% of your weekday itinerary is spoken for.


That structure goes right out the window on a beautiful, clear-skied Saturday. Between household projects, social commitments, and recreational ambitions, Saturday mornings can entail a "paralysis of choices." Especially considering the immensity of outdoor recreational outlets that we have before us in the Detroit region, we at Expedition Detroit have admittedly struggled determining which experience to prioritize over all the others.


Would I have enough time to kayak and hike at Island Lake?

What about a quick Maybury ride before shooting out to Brighton?

Maybe Proud Lake has thawed enough for a paddle to Milford?

Are Alpine Valley or Mt. Holly still open for this skiing season?


See? Choices. Lots and lots of choices, which are often limited by other factors like family, pets, or other responsibilities.

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Trail Pup loving the Kahchin Trail

Last Saturday, after completing a morning of household projects, I knew that I had to get my trail pup Lucy outside before evening commitments set in. We had roughly a two hour window. Not enough time for a paddle. Way too much time for a neighborhood walk. Just enough time for a shorter, scenic hike.


After some meaningful dialogue, Lucy and I landed on a "new-to-us" trail: Brighton's Kahchin Trail. An offshoot of the far more popular Penosha Trail that I had hiked past countless times, but had yet to actually explore. The perfect, shorter trail for our window.


And, ultimately, my new go-to recommendation for a shorter, yet astoundingly beautiful, hiking destination.


It is our privilege to reintroduce the Kahchin Trail and Brighton Recreation Area now.

expedition detroit kahchin trail brighton recreation area michigan hiking adventure trail tuesday bishop lake sunset

MEET BRIGHTON RECREATION AREA

Here at Expedition Detroit, we have a bias towards the remarkable. Experiences, landscapes, stories, and equipment that dramatically redefine previous perceptions - and most often misconceptions - of Detroit's outdoor industry. We actively search for the unique opportunities that leave both visitors and life-long residents of the Detroit region in awe of the world-class destinations waiting just around the corner.


Exploring Brighton Recreation Area and its 4,947 acres represents one such opportunity. The destination's dramatic landscapes, pristine lakes, and surprisingly steep ridge lines trace the park's 25,000 year history, when receding glaciers forever etched their mark into park's defining moraine hills and other geographic features. The first modern settlements to the area arrived in the 1820s, resulting in the largely unsuccessful cultivation of the rugged terrain and eventual abandonment by the 1940s. Tracing the post-World War II boom in recreation that inspired the foundation of many other Michigan state parks, the Michigan Department of Conservation first established Brighton Recreation Area in 1944 and has since continued to increase its acreage over the decades.


The "Brighton Rec" of 2024 continues to pack a knock-out punch with its full menu of outdoor pursuits. Scattered throughout the park's hills, dense forests, marshlands, and lakes, recreationists can pursue mountain biking, hiking, trail running, equestrianism (mostly throughout the western segments of the park), paddling, swimming, fishing, hunting, camping, and cross-country skiing. For camping, Brighton maintains several reservation-only campgrounds, with its Appleton Lake and Murray Lake campgrounds constituting the park's two "rustic" camping options.


For hikers, Brighton also proudly features one of the Great State of Michigan's favorite trails: the Penosha Trail. This ~5 mile loop - described as a "quintessential Michigan hike" - features the best of the Jackson Interlobate Range's rolling hills, mature pine forests, and wildlife-teeming marshlands. On a related note, it's also our most popular guided hike offering.

EXPLORE BRIGHTON'S PENOSHA TRAIL WITH EXPEDITION DETROIT!


While most hikers arrive to Bishop Lake's shores looking to conquer Penosha, Brighton's most beloved trail also provides the gateway to a lesser known - yet arguably just as beautiful - experience. Literally a "little" trail nestled entirely within Penosha's larger ring. An escape into the isolated heart of Brighton without even needing to break 2 miles.


Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Kahchin Trail: Brighton's hidden hiking gem.

HIT THE TRAIL

Total Distance: 1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 141 feet

Trail Rating: Easy

Route Orientation: Loop

Parking Specifics: Parking available at Bishop Lake trailhead (Michigan Recreation Passport required)


When you're heading out from Brighton's main Bishop Lake Trailhead, one of the most important - and confusing - navigational hurdles hits roughly 0.1 miles into your hike. As depicted below, the trail is abruptly bombarded with signage due to the voluminous mountain biking and hiking trails that diverge from the same intersection.


In order to save you the 5 minutes required to check your map and confirm your heading, simply keep right through this intersection until the trail dead ends at trail marker #7. Then turn left.

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For those of us not already fluent in Ojibwe, "Kahchin" is loosely translated as "short," while "Penosha" is translated as "long." These descriptors are accurate, given Penosha's 4.9 miles to the Kahchin Trail's 1.7. With this literary distinction in mind, note that you will follow the relatively flat route of the Penosha Trail for the first 0.6 miles of the Kahchin Trail.


It's very had to miss due to Brighton's excellent signage, but don't forget to keep an eye out for the Kahchin Trail turn-off at trail marker #8. While some readers certainly wouldn't mind adding nearly 3 miles to their hike, anyone that selected the Kahchin Trail due to time constraints or desired physical exertion will find themselves in a dicey situation by missing the turn. Just remember to follow the yellow signage throughout your hike and you'll be just fine.

expedition detroit kahchin trail brighton recreation area michigan hiking adventure trail tuesday penosha

In our opinion, the Kahchin Trail hike doesn't really start until you've started trekking south past this trail marker. We're talking especially to any readers that might be on the fence about hiking Kahchin due to its "Easy" rating on AllTrails. In our professional opinion, this trail is only rated as such due to its low mileage. If the Kahchin Trail were just as long as Penosha, then it would surely be "Moderate" ranked - honestly, possibly even higher.


You'll witness this for yourself during the 0.4 mile climb that immediately follows the Kahchin Trail turn-off. As you gradually climb south, the hardwood forests surrounding you steadily consume the trail deep within its rolling acres. The Kahchin Trail loop doesn't waste any time taking you deep into one of the most wild stretches of Brighton Recreation Area, far away from any intersecting mountain biking or bridle paths. Especially when hiking or trail running during the full foliage of late spring or summer, this segment of the trail will quickly engulf your within its forested wonderland.

expedition detroit kahchin trail brighton recreation area michigan hiking adventure trail tuesday

Right at the top of this climb is a natural feature accurately designated "the Rock Bath" (featured in the cover photo). If hiking in early spring, you'll know that you're getting close to it when you hear the deafening sound of the frogs and toads engaging in their seasonal mating rites. The small pond located directly below the Rock Bath apparently serves as sacred ground for regional amphibian procreation. We're not biologists, but the sheer volume of males calling out to females certainly gives off that vibe.


The Rock Bath itself is located just a few yards off of the trail to your left. You can't miss it, and the stones provide a fantastic photo opportunity with their contrast against the natural scenery surrounding it. The location also provides panoramic views of the pond and surrounding woodlands below. We absolutely recommend pausing your hike here for a few moments to enjoy the vista.

But wait - this "short trail" has much more in store for you. Just below the Rock Bath, the trail descends 0.2 miles towards a bench with stunning views of the surround forest and its shockingly dramatic moraine ridge lines. Especially during "stick season" when views are unencumbered by leaves or snow, this vantage points provides an idyllic opportunity for wildlife viewing or backcountry scouting. Mark our words - if the Detroit region finds itself blessed by a freak mid-spring dump of 6+ inches of snow, we'll be climbing up and skiing down the ~200 ft. of elevation gain along those ridges.

expedition detroit kahchin trail brighton recreation area michigan hiking adventure trail tuesday scenic bench vista forest

Beyond this bench, the Kahchin Trail flattens briefly before one final, somewhat steep ascent due north. Past this high point at the 1.3 mile marker, the trail kicks off its gradual 0.4 mile descent back towards the trailhead. You'll link back up with the Penosha Trail at trail marker #12 (turn right, the signage is not very Kahchin Trail-friendly when approaching from the south).

expedition detroit kahchin trail brighton recreation area michigan hiking adventure trail tuesday
View towards Bishop Lake Complex Rd.

Now that you've rejoined the well-trodden Penosha Trail, all that's left of this hike is a safe crossing of Bishop Lake Complex Rd., staying on-trail to avoid wandering into an archery range, and continuing straight until linking up with the main trail head. Or, you could bank right again at trail marker #7 to run it back along the Kahchin Trail - or take on the full Penosha.

You couldn't go wrong either way.

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WEEKEND BONUS TIPS

Pick an adventure. Any adventure. Guess what - you're just 10 minutes away from starting on it.


That's the caliber of outdoor experiences immediately available to wonderfully-spoiled recreation hubs like Brighton, Michigan. Even if you were to limit your geographic scope to just Brighton Rec - no, even just the Bishop Lake Trailhead area - you would already be well-positioned to pair your Penosha Trail hike with a mountain biking, backpacking, or paddling expedition. Now that we're heading into the warmer months, we especially recommend bringing your bike along for the ride to tackle Brighton Rec's full MTB Loop Trail System: a heart-pounding 14.8 miles in total that constitutes one of only three "Black Diamond" ranked trails existing within the Detroit region.


Beyond Brighton Rec, we advise allocating the rest of your recreational weekend around seasonal outdoor opportunities. Has fresh snow covered the trails? Awesome - head over to either Mt. Brighton ski resort to carve your tracks into groomed runs or take on nordic skiing at Huron Meadows Metropark's nationally-acclaimed facilities. Does the summer sun have you heated? No sweat - allow the Huron River to cool you down, especially in light of the pristine paddling opportunities waiting for your launch at Kensington Metropark and Island Lake State Recreation Area.


Again, pick any adventure and a general direction. Regardless of the season or conditions, we guarantee that you will find a destination around the Brighton area to scratch that recreational itch.


We can't wait to see you out there.


EXPLORE ISLAND LAKE'S YELLOW TRAIL WITH EXPEDITION DETROIT!

 

The #TrailTuesday Series idea started as a recommendation from readers looking for a deeper analysis into the individual trails that define Detroit's vast network. One of our main goals for this platform is to produce content that reflects the outdoor interests and desires of our community, so please continue to provide us with your suggestions via our contact form or here in the comments!

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