French Benchmark is the highest point of Barry County in Michigan. It is likely of interest to only county highpointers or people interested in the sites of former fire towers. French Benchmark is located at the summit of a hill in the Barry State Game Area, which is about 17,000 acres in size.
There is no USGS (or other) name for the hill that the benchmark is located on. Also, there is no view over the surrounding country; trees are present all around the summit. The top of the hill is covered with thorny plants, probably barberry - and that's only going to get worse.
A Barry County map
indicates that a road called "Fire Tower Trail" once went to the site of this benchmark, and there are concrete footings present. Therefore, it is likely that on this site was once located a fire tower. However, there is nothing else available on the web to definitely identify this. (There are a couple of websites dedicated to Michigan fire towers, but they are incomplete.)
Please note that the road/trail has almost completely disappeared, so it is a bushwhack pretty much all the way from the parking area to the top. Since there is mostly no trail, the best tool to use is a GPS. If you are wearing shorts, gaiters are highly recommended (especially for when you get into the barberry!).
Getting to the general area of French Benchmark is not difficult. It is located near the western edge of Barry County, south of Middleville. US-131, a major divided highway, is a little more than 11 miles west. It is also located close to M-179, M-37, and M-43 - which are Michigan state highways.
Directions from the west: from US-131 exit 61, go east on M-179 a little more than 11 miles. Take a right onto Yankee Springs Road and go south about a mile. Park at the Barry State Game Area HQ (or go further by vehicle).
Barry State Game Area HQ
Directions from the east: from the intersection of M-37 and M-43 west of Hastings, go west on M-43 to meet M-179 and then continue about 5.5 miles. Take a left onto Yankee Springs Road and go south about a mile. Park at the Barry State Game Area HQ (or go further by vehicle).
From the north or south, either get to one of the highways already listed, or you would already be close enough to use local roads.
From the Barry State Game Area HQ, continue south on Yankee Springs Road a short distance to Hart Road (on the left). This is a one lane dirt/sand/rock woods road/trail that can be driven on by car, but it is rough and it is possible to get stuck in the sand. There is a parking area about 0.3 to 0.5 miles in. A regular car can make it, but 4WD and higher clearance would be preferable.
From the parking area, the high point and benchmark are generally southeast. The Barry County map shows a road called "Fire Tower Trail", but it has mostly disappeared. See the attached album for notes.
Also, for North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) hikers (who might also be county highpointers), French Benchmark is located about 1-2 miles southeast of the trail. The closest road point may be the M-179 (Chief Noonday Road) trailhead.
There is no red tape for admission or parking. However, this is a hunting area, so it is a good idea to be familiar with the various hunting seasons in Michigan.
There is plenty of camping in the general area. The closest is at Yankee Springs Recreation Area.
USGS 7.5 x 7.5: Cloverdale
North Country Trail, map MI-02, Marshall to 76th Street (not labeled)
Barry County map
, from Overview
Barry State Game Area map
External LinksFrench Benchmark entry at Peakbagger
Barry County entry at County Highpointers