5.19.14 Old Mission (3 of 10)
Old Mission Peninsula
42.0 miles Link to Map

I start this ride at a small city park, East Bay Park along East Bay Boulevard on the shores of….ta da…East Bay. There are other places to park all over the peninsula (noted on the map) and you can even begin this ride from downtown Traverse City if you’re into good hearty rides. This East Bay Park location lets you get the full peninsula in one loopy sweep without excess, but it’s only a suggested starting/ending point.

Boat on East Bay

This is not your typical transport vehicle. Click on it to enlarge and see the cargo.

The ride heads out along East Bay, swings through the community of Old Mission, out to the tip of the peninsula at the Old Mission Lighthouse and the Old Mission State Park, then back along the west side, past Bowers Harbor, winding along West Bay. It’s hard to get lost when they name the bays with orientation points on the compass.
colorful barn roof

Center Rd_Old Mission Peninsula

Let me give you the basic gist of the peninsula. First, traffic is quieter at the north end. It gets busy as you get closer to Traverse City. Next, Center Road is a main through-route. Traffic moves fast and it’s busier than other roads. It also has relatively wide shoulders, though there are sections in poor condition. The shoreline roads are relatively flat. Inland it gets hilly fast. Be prepared to do some climbing. The villages tend to be at the mid to north end. Vineyards and orchards are all over the place.

If you want to hang around the peninsula to stop into a pub or restaurant after your ride, or if you want to do a wine tasting tour, you should consider parking in a place like Bowers Harbor and do your loop from there. Jolly Pumpkin is a short way from the Bowers Harbor boat launch parking area (again, see map for parking options). Peninsula Grill or Bad Dog Deli is also a short trek from there in Mapleton on Center Road. The Old Mission General Store on Mission Road is a fun place to check out along the way. Be aware, the general store is quirky and that’s what makes it interesting. As mentioned above, there are many wineries a stone’s throw from most places you’re riding.
old mission general store

Now for a little history. Native Americans wandered here for many years before the Europeans arrived in the 1830s. Old Mission, settled by a couple of missionaries in 1839, was the first community in the region. The Mission was moved in 1852 to Omena on that other peninsula to the west, Leelanau. That made the first mission “old.” The name stuck. The New Mission one didn’t, hence Omena. The Old Mission community is a small, pleasant place tucked around Old Mission Harbor. There is a replica of the mission itself on Mission Road near the General Store.
replica of old mission

The peninsula is known for various fruits. It’s part of Michigan’s major fruit belt. Viniculture is big, and growing. With the new interest in cider, an increased number of apple orchards are sprouting up. It’s been a key part of the cherry industry for years.
cherry hut

There are a number of major wineries splayed along either side of Center Road all along the way, such as Chateau Grand Traverse, Chateau Chantal, Two Lads, and Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and more. These offer tastings during the warm season.
swaney road at old mission

There’s also a lighthouse included on this route. The Mission Point Light is situated on the 45th Parallel. It looks more like a house with a beacon on top than the statuesque Grand Traverse lighthouse on the tip of Leelanau County, but it’s still quite quaint in its setting. It’s open to visitors. There’s also an 1856 log house, the Hesler House, nearby that’s worth checking out as well.

old mission lighthouse


hesler log houseMost of all, though, this area is scenic. Between the vineyards, the orchards, the topography, the farms, the lighthouse, and the views over either or both bays, it’s beautiful. Though development still takes place in the area, this was one of the early regions that adapted conservation easements, so there have been strategies put into place to help retain its character.
bluff road along east bay
For further information on accommodations, markets, wineries, food, and other highlights, go to www.oldmission.com. They do a nice job of laying it out for you.

As for the route, in order to make the full ride work, there are a couple of areas on the south end that are more suited to the cycling enthusiast who is not shaken by busy roads or unique cut-throughs. If this seems too daunting to you, I recommend that you head to a parking spot farther out the peninsula and spend your day riding out at that end. You’ll experience the peninsula at its finest either way. See Route by Miles info on the map sheet for a further explanation.
45th Parallel Marker

Link to Map

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “OLD MISSION PENINSULA LOOP grand traverse
  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for the review. My wife and I are heading that way in a couple weeks. We are spending a couple nights at the Chateau Grand Traverse on the Old Mission peninsula. We are thinking about renting some bikes and riding; however, we are not hard core riders and are just interested in taking our time looking at the scenery and not riding to long/hard. Is the trail mostly flat/rolling, or are there bigger hills? Approximately how long would the entire 42 mile loop take someone who stops periodically to check out the sights? Any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Rob says:

      Hi Bill,

      To be clear, this is not a trail, it’s all on roads with traffic of one kind or another. You say you’re not “hard core” riders and that can mean a lot of things, from those who are occasional, casual riders to those who don’t mind a few challenges, but I do want to give you some idea about what you’ll encounter.

      Center Road can get very busy and the traffic goes by at a high rate of speed. There is a good wide shoulder, but it’s probably the busiest road on the peninsula. Also, not to be too cautionary, but the hills on the peninsula are quite long and can be steep in some areas. For the most part, whatever isn’t along a shoreline is rising to the high, mid-ridge of the peninsula. It can be a challenge. East Bay Shore Road, Bluff Road and Center Road north of Swaney Road (out of Old Mission) to the lighthouse are relatively flat exceptions and, even with minimal shoulders, are beautiful to ride along. Peninsula Drive along West Bay is also relatively flat, but traffic can be busy, there are blind curves and there’s no shoulder.

      It is a beautiful place to ride, but the route I’ve laid out is a tough one in places, and 42 miles should only be undertaken by those in pretty good shape who are used to such distances. It would be an epic day for those who only get out on occasional rides and it might be more of a slog than a grand day out.

      I’d like to recommend the TART trail in Traverse City. The ride from town out to Suttons Bay and back is beautiful, relatively flat and in my opinion not to be missed if you’re in the area. That would be a grand day out and Suttons Bay is a real treat. Park somewhere in TC, find the trail and head westnorthwest.

      Have a great time in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


CommentLuv badge