One nice thing about this ride is that you begin and end with views over Lake Michigan. Along with that, you’re on a public beach where you can take a refreshing dip when the ride is done (believe me, you don’t smell as fresh as you did when you began this adventure).
Empire also has a nice pub, food and groceries in the heart of town. If you really like to treat yourself, there’s the Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate Shop just south of the M-72 crossroad on M-22. Handmade and delicious.
You may have also noticed that this ride is listed as a Benzie County ride, but it begins and ends in a Leelanau County town. I can’t do much about political jurisdictions, but most of the ride is within Benzie County, so it’s listed as such. You get the best of both worlds. Plus, while everyone else is staring at the big lake to the west, you’re inland enjoying the other side of the beauty equation this area has to offer.
This ride also begins with a stout uphill climb on M-22. For some reason somebody put a very steep rise just south of the town. There’s no way around it. Though M-22 can be busy at times, the climb includes a wide shoulder. It’s curving, tree-covered and quite beautiful. Take it at your own pace. It’s a nice way to warm up those legs.
The rest of the route has some rolling topography, some sections a bit more biting than others, but overall it’s quite typical of the region and not overly challenging if you’re in good physical shape. There’s a shortcut option at mile 8.0 that cuts across Fowler Road. This shortens the loop by 14.0 miles, making it a 13.6 mile ride. It’s an excellent route even at half the overall distance.
The countryside along the entire route is beautiful. It passes some century old farmsteads with expansive views along corn rows and tended orchards, and when not, much of the area is covered in forest on either side of the road. Wildlife is all around you. Wild turkey, deer, soaring hawks, and all kinds of other animals abound.
At its south end it swings through the village of Honor where you can fill up on protein and liquids. There’s a small park on Deadstream Road (one of the great road names) where you can have a short picnic before heading back. The Platt River runs through the town and it hosts the Coho Salmon festival in August. You might get a fish fry out of the deal if you time it right.
Like many towns in the area, the lumbering industry played a major part in the settlement of the area. Honor took a unique approach, building a business based on cask making. The Guelph Patent Cask Company was founded here in 1895. The town was named after the owner’s baby daughter.
Head back and it’s a long rolling ride north past more farms and forests. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will be on the left as you cruise along M-22. You won’t see the lake, but you’ll look across a large expansive field to the barrier dune that perches high above the water.
Finally, the brisk, shady sweep down the narrow Wilco Road as it descends into the village of Empire is a thrill, though it’s also sometimes sand covered (it is in among the rolls of a barrier dune after all) and it has developed a few potholes to watch for.
NOTE on PARKING
Be aware that Village Park is very busy in the summer months, particularly on warm weekends. Alternate parking is also available on the east side of M-22 along M-72 at the National Park Service Information Center (where there’s also some great info about the area).