LAKE LEELANAU SW LOOP leelanau

character image - windmill
Lake Leelanau SW Loop
17.0 mile loop
Link to Map

This is such a pleasant way to spend seventeen miles. It all begins (and ends) in a small township park at the north end of Popp Road a short way west of the Village of Lake Leelanau. Schneider Beach Park offers a long, majestic view of the north arm of Lake Leelanau. There’s plenty of parking and a port-a-potty. What more could you want? Read more ›

Lake Leelanau Area + 9-26-13_60

Ride south, out to M-204, turn left, and cruise into the small village of Lake Leelanau.

If you like to begin a ride with a cup of coffee, there are two great little shops, one on each side of the narrows along M-204, The Redheads Café on the west or Pedaling Beans on the east. Once caffeinated, take a spin through the village, where there’s a good grocery (NJ’s) and some nice eateries and shops to check out.

One of the highlights in Lake Leelanau is the use of fieldstone on the churches. It’s a beautiful local vernacular material and you only wish it would have caught on more.

bikers

When done prowling the big city, head south on South Lake Shore Drive (County Road 643). The road skirts the west shore of the south arm of Lake Leelanau. This is a flat to gently rolling stretch of road with only minimal shoulder width, but traffic usually travels at a moderate pace. This is one of the most agreeable beginnings to a ride you’ll find anywhere. It’s lined with trees, there are nice occasional views over the lake, the roadway is dotted with small working farms as well as well-kept homes. The homes are both seasonal and year-round. There are also some vegetable and fruit stands along the way if you’re looking for a fresh snack or for greens for dinner.

lake leelanau

The other ag product you’ll find here is grape crushing. This yields wine. Wineries are all over the place. Throw a grape and you’ll hit one. On this route they’re called Bel Lago, or Chateau Fontaine. Bel Lago is actually just off the route, a short way further south on Lake Shore Road, but close enough for a quick pedal up to its tasting room.

apples

If you’d like a stop along the way, or if you’d like to touch the lake, take a left at mile 5.8, Hohnke Road, and coast down to the shoreline where there’s a boat launch. Otherwise, continue south to Kabot Road. If you love going uphill, you’ll love this road. There are a couple of short downhills within, but it’s mostly up. The arrival on French Road is worth the effort, though. It rolls gently up and down across the high midsection of land between Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan. The views are mostly farmsteads, wide open fields, a few cows, a horse or two, vineyards, and orchards. And the road usually has a very low traffic flow. Heaven on a bicycle.

french road

After a few miles you’ll pass Lavassar Road on the right and from there back to the township park it’s a long sweeping downhill.

Post ride can be a return to Lake Leelanau, where a coffee shop awaits, good food is available, or drop into Dick’s Pour House or the Northern Latitudes Distillery for something a bit stronger.

farmstead

 

Link to Map

 

CHARLTON PARK – NASHVILLE LOOP barry

Campground Road Pond

35.4 Miles

It’s a long road to Nashville for many. It takes years of practice. But, today is your day. You’re going to Nashville. It all starts in humble Charlton Park (N42 37.105 W85 11.939) a few miles east of Hastings, Michigan. In fact, you’ll pedal all the way to Nashville and return to Charlton within a few hours. I can’t promise a Grand Ole Opry, but I can promise a very nice ride. Be aware that this is a mixed media ride: both dirt and paved roads. Barry County is a real hybrid of roads and best explored with a bike that can handle both surfaces (cyclocross, hybrid, mtb, road bike with 28mm wide tires, or the like).Link to Map

Read more ›

Confession 1I have a couple of confessions to make. First, on the day I rode this route, there was construction on the Charlton Road Bridge over the Thornapple River and the section of roadway between M-79 and the park entrance was closed. It might have been the main route if it weren’t closed.

Confession 2 – Second, and more embarrassingly, I had intended to ride the route straight south from McKeown Bridge on McKeown Road (Shortcut 1, below) and instead got spun around and ended up heading west up Nashville Road. It was a fortunate mistake, because I found that I liked the route enough to keep it in. It does zig-zag all over, though, due to my continuous directional ineptitude. Sometimes I like getting lost because I end up discovering some pleasant place I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. In this case I did it on a continual basis and I’m glad I did. Barry County is really a wonder. You seldom go wrong even when you go wrong.

Charlton Park was donated to Barry County in 1936 by Irving D. Charlton, a collector of historical bits and relics of the area. A museum was completed on the property in 1950 and more local historical buildings have been added, moved from various parts of the County. Charlton’s collection is now housed within these historic buildings. There are many exhibits and events that take place in the park and they’re well worth checking out either before or after your ride. Find more info at charltonpark.org. Parking and admission is free, unless there’s a scheduled special event.

The park is situated along Thornapple Lake, which is really just a wide part of the Thornapple River, a tributary of the Grand River, with nice views over the water with possible sightings of herons, osprey, and various species of ducks. Keep your eyes peeled. (How do you like that for an image? Peeled eyes.)

I gently warmed up my legs on a small, level dirt road loop in the park that follows the river and circles back to the center of the park, then onto asphalt. Charlton Park is along the river valley, so of course it means a climb to exit and Charlton doesn’t disappoint. Up you go along the park entrance drive to Charlton Park Road (mile 1.5). Now you’re really warmed up.

river road

From there, turn right onto Charlton Park Road and take a more gentle rise to River Road (mile 1.8). Turn left onto the dirt (or, gravel, if you prefer that term) River Road. For the next mile or so the views south are great, looking over the farm fields down into the river valley. At mile 2.8, at the intersection with Mathison Road, asphalt returns.

Continue to the corner of McKeown Road at mile 3.1 and turn left. McKeown Bridge Park and McKeown Bridge itself are just before the river crossing. You can continue on the road, but to ride across the interesting pedestrian bridge take a left just before the river. Both land at Nashville Road on the other side.

Shortcut 1If time is limited, or if you don’t feel like riding the full route, this is a good place to take a shortcut. Instead of turning right (west) onto Nashville Road, continue south on McKeown Road. It’s paved for the first 0.3 miles to where it crosses M-79, then becomes dirt for the next 1.4 miles to where it reconnects with the main route at McGlynn road. This will take 9.3 miles off of the total route, revising it to 26.1 miles total.

Turn right onto Nashville Road (mile 3.7) and follow along the river on the north side and a mix of fields and houses on the south. Though the shoulder is narrow, the roadway is pleasantly tucked in and winding up to River Road at mile 4.9. Turn left onto River Road.

easter island in wood

River Road is dirt, with another climb, and it’s wrapped in trees. What more could you want? Take it to paved Star School Road at mile 5.7 and turn left. For those who like art that appears out of nowhere, you’ll like the wood sculptural display at mile 5.8 on your right, with some wood carved figures that look like they came from a slightly twisted, humorous version of Easter Island. You don’t have to go to an island in the south Pacific far off the coast of Chile. It’s right here on Star School Road. Enjoy.

Once sated with the display, continue to M-37 at mile 6.5. Turn right onto M-37. This is a busy highway, but it also has a wide shoulder and it’s a quick downhill run for just over a mile before turning left onto the quieter Campground Road at mile 7.7.

marsh on campground rd

Campground Road runs beside Fall Creek, first on the left behind some houses, then crossing the road and becoming more visible on the right. It’s quite a rich and fecund landscape to pass through until coming to Broadway Road at mile 9.1.

broadway farm

Turn left onto Broadway. This is one of the main roads through the area, and is an active roadway through the heart of Hastings a short way to the north. It’s quite a pleasant scene in this section with farmland on each side, but be aware that there’s very little paved shoulder and traffic moves rapidly past you, including trucks. Add to that a gradual uphill climb and it is one of the few sections of this route that feels more exposed to traffic. It’s only a mile long and from here on out, the traffic is less intense.

Turn left onto Sager Road at mile 10.1. This narrower stretch of roadway climbs a short rise for half a mile in a wide expanse of fields on each side, then over the top and rolling downhill in a forested residential area for the next half mile, arriving at M-37 at mile 11.1.

Okay, I lied. There is another short stretch of a busy roadway. M-37 is active, but again, it has a nice, wide shoulder and you’ll only be on this for a very short time. Turn right and rapidly drop down to McGlynn Road at mile 11.4.

Turn left onto McGlynn, but take care as you enter, as this transitions to a dirt road. For the next few miles you’ll wind through this beautiful farmland on dirt roads.  Take a right onto McKewon Road at mile 13.1, then a quick left onto Roush Road at mile 13.3. Turn right on Bird Road at mile 14.1, then left onto Ickes Road at mile 15.1. The route returns to pavement at Charlton Park Road at mile 15.6. The dirt road route just traversed is one of the most forested of the ride and it’s dotted with farms throughout. It also rolls continuously, with a gradual overall uphill grade to Ickes Road onto Charlton Park Road. In the past, it’s been possible to cross Charlton Park Road and continue on Ickes, but as of this writing there is a bridge out on Ickes and this part of the road is closed.

Turn right off of Ickes Road onto paved Charlton Park Road and roll to Lawrence Road at mile 16.1. Turn left onto Lawrence Road. Drop sharply into a valley and over High Bank Creek at mile 16.5, then uphill once more to continue on a gently rolling roadway surrounded by majestic farmland. There is not much of a shoulder, but traffic is usually light. Cross Barryville Road at mile 18.0, Assyria Road at mile 19.9, and continue on to Guy Road at mile 21.0.

nashville sign

Turn left onto Guy Road, a return to dirt. The farmland theme continues, only on a quieter note along a quieter road. At mile 23.0, Guy Road swings right onto Casgrove Road and T’s into M-66 a mile up. Take a left onto this paved highway and head into Nashville.

The town was named after Garaudus Nash in 1869. He was the chief engineer of the Grand River Valley Railroad and he must have been quite charismatic, since he never actually lived in Nashville, yet somehow convinced them to name the town after him. It had been nameless since its settlement in 1936. Don’t you kind of wish they would have used his first name? How did we lose such wonderful given names? How many Garaudus’s do you know?

So, you’re in Nashville. You’re a Nashville Cat. Be aware that though you’re going through Nashville on a main highway, there is a wide paved shoulder on the road. Hang out, or head north and cross the Thornapple River. If you need a break, there’s a park (N42 36.521 W85 05.648) on the left just over the bridge (mile 24.9). If not, continue north, up the hill, to Thornapple Lake Road at mile 26.1 and turn left.

Thornapple Road passes through more farmland and eventually it crosses the river once more at about mile 28.8. Turn right at Barger Road a short way further at mile 29.6.

Shortcut 2For a more direct return to Charlton Park, continue straight on Thornapple Road for 2.4 miles to M-79. Turn right onto the highway for 0.7 miles to Charlton Park Road. Turn right and take this across the river once more, and up the hill 0.7 miles to the park entrance. It’s about 3.7 miles total going this way and 5.1 miles taking the regular route up Barger Road. You choose. Again, Charlton Park Road over the river was closed for bridge repair when I marked the route, but it should be open by the time this hits the webpage.

Continuing north on Barger Road, ride through the heavily wooded lowland river valley and across the river once more, then over Mud Creek, to Center Road (30.6 miles). Turn left and roll, then gradually climb, up to Charlton Park Road at mile 33.3. Turn left once more and undulate over the roadway until you return to the park entrance (mile 34.6). Drop, or maybe it’s more of a plummet, into the heart of the park until it levels out and you can pedal back to your vehicle, finishing at about mile 35.4.

I leave you with one final image. Thanks for coming along.Link to Map

Easter Island Glasses

FRANKFORT – BEULAH – BETSIE VALLEY TRAIL benzie

antiques beulah

This is a 25.4 mile loop ride. You can take it in either direction. I am going to describe the most challenging direction that puts a climb at the beginning as you leave Frankfort. Actually, I’m going to recommend a few options as you depart from that charming waterside town, all with climbs of some degree. Someone put hills in this area. Congratulations to those who love them. My heartfelt condolences to those who don’t. Be consoled that the rest of the route is relatively flat.Link to Map

Read more ›

frankfort lighthouse

Begin the adventure down by the docks in Frankfort. A freighter used to make daily runs over to Wisconsin from here, one of the many Ann Arbor railway freighters that were part of life in Frankfort through the years. I know firsthand, since I took one back in the early 70s while delivering farm equipment (mainly cherry shakers) to Door County, Wisconsin for my dad’s business, MAP-PUL Equipment out of Traverse City. I think those were the latter days of this run, since we usually drove to Ludington for our sojourns on the mighty Badger after that. Watching these ferries swallow up entire trains is one of the great wonders of the world. To cap that off, the ship’s crew then loads the dozens and dozens of cars and trucks of the travelers waiting to cross.

But that’s all in Frankfort’s past. Now, the slips are filled with recreational boats and the town itself appears to be doing well. It’s very active with tourists and summertime residents in the warm months of the year.

frankfort beach house

From the docks, head up 5th Street, cross Main and ride on to Forest Avenue. Turn left. I think that’s the only option anyway as it’s one-way going west. I loop you this way because the houses in Frankfort are worth checking out. This is a beautiful neighborhood with houses that were built in the early days of the town, many of which have been carefully restored and maintained.

Take this to Michigan Avenue, a T, and turn right. Ride a block up to Leelanau Avenue at mile 0.6 and…

yellow house

Main Option (all mileages are based on this option) – Turn right onto Leelanau Avenue and head east to experience some fascinating homes, some of the largest in town, set back on the rising barrier dune on the left. That’s not to take away from the houses on the right, which are nicely restored and maintained and worth a look as well. Wander slowly up Leelanau Ave until you reach M-22 and turn left. Follow this a couple of blocks (mile 1.2) and turn right onto 7th Ave. There’s a park on your right. Stay on this road as it swings north to become Bellows Ave.

The next mile climbs about 170’ up. There’s nothing gradual here. You’ll know it’s a climb. If someone talked you into going this way, don’t blame them. I did this to you. This is the “Main” Option and most people take the first option, don’t they?

betsie point lighthouse

Round the top of Bellows Ave at about mile 2.3, breathe the thinner air, and head forth on the well-deserved downhill coast as the magnificent blues of Crystal Lake draw nearer. This is an even steeper descent than the ascent you just rode up. It drops 180’ in a little over 1/2 mile. Zoom.

Hit the brakes as you approach E South Shore Road. Crystal Lake will come up fast. Take a left onto E South Shore Road and take this to mile 3.7, where it meets back up with M-22, and the other route options. Turn right onto M-22 and pedal northward.

Or…

Option 2 – At mile 0.6, continue left up Michigan Ave. The forewarned climb is apparent right off. It rises about 100 feet in a 1/4 mile, then levels off. It’s a leg warmer, but it’s relatively short. Once over the top, ride along this greensward, with most houses set a back off the road, to mile 2.2, where it meets up with M-22. Turn left and continue north.

Option 3 – If neither of these options sounds interesting, take M-22 north. It climbs, but it’s more gradual, though the traffic is busier and it feels more exposed. They all meet up at the southwest edge of Crystal Lake. There’s always another option as well. Take the route in the reverse direction. Though it’s not all downhill, it does avoid these early uphills, unless you decide on the Bellows Avenue route, which climbs steeply in either direction.

yellow chairsIn any case, all options reconnect at South Shore Rd and M-22 at mile 3.7. From here on for a good many miles the famous rich blues and greens of Crystal Lake will be on your right. On gray, cloudy days, the lake will reflect back that gray. Be thankful either way, you’re still riding alongside beautiful Crystal Lake.

Be aware that M-22 is a main north-south route through the region. It has a popular cachet due to the eponymously named company that markets M-22 wares. Traffic volumes can be higher than on other roadways in the area, but it’s still relatively light, especially compared to US-31 to the east.

Though it’s not readily apparent from the roadside to the west, beginning at about mile 4.3 is the Betsie Dunes Nature Preserve, a 92 acre parcel of land along Lake Michigan set aside for, of all things, nature to take its course.

Detour 1 – At mile 5.5 is Point Betsie Road to the left that leads to the Point Betsie Lighthouse. It’s 0.7 miles back from M-22 and well worth a detour for those interested in Lake Michigan shoreline history, or if you simply like to look at lighthouses. A laudable hobby.

Detour 2 – If you’ve done this loop a few times and you’re looking for new distractions, here’s one for you. In between these two features, at mile 4.7 is Old State Road (not shown on map) to the left. It’s  a short 0.7 mile detour up a short biting climb and over rolling terrain. It returns to M-22 where Point Betsie Road connects.

sailboat

Follow M-22 north as it wraps around the northwest edge of Crystal Lake. Even with the large number of homes built in that tight strip between the water and the roadway, the views are steadily magnificent. The barrier dune rising to the left also lends a pleasant sense of enclosure along the way. At around mile 8.4 known as Winetka Point, the views open unhindered. The massive scale of the lake is in full view and the colors sparkle forth unencumbered.

A short way up, at mile 8.6, M-22 veers left and Crystal Drive arcs to the right. Take the right onto Crystal Drive. The roadway narrows and traffic lightens somewhat. This ride along the north side of the lake continues to offer great views of the water, though the volume of residences increases somewhat on both sides of the road. The only real menace might be residents running across the road in their swimsuits, towel in hand, with their attention on the water rather than looking out for cyclists. Watch out for people with other recreational agendas.

At about mile 14.7 the road takes a sharp right, and at mile 15.0, it meets with US-31. Turn right onto this busy roadway. Thankfully there is a wide shoulder. Turn right 0.2 miles up at 4th Street. This leads a half block over to Center Street where you’ll take a left and follow it south toward the downtown area. It’s pleasantly quiet with little traffic.

(If you decide to stay on US-31, 0.4 miles up is Benzie Boulevard on the right. There’s also a gas station/convenience store on the corner for replenishments. Downtown Beulah is just ahead. I mention the convenience store for your convenience if you need to replenish.)

anglers

Center T’s into Clark Street. Take a right and you’ll see Crystal Lake dead ahead. Pedal half a block to Lake Street and turn left (16.0). This is the waterside of the downtown area and often there are other cyclists and pedestrians milling about down here in the warm months of the year. Good chance you’ll catch sight of anglers in boats on the water. There’s a small beachfront here and it’s a nice place to hang out if you brought lunch or if you get take-out from one of the eateries a block over on Benzie Boulevard. Or, circle the block and stop into on of those establishments and enjoy a nice break. Perhaps take a short stroll around town. You’re just beyond the halfway point of your ride.

Once refreshed in this pleasant little village, follow the pathway that leads along Crystal Avenue south out of town. This is now the Betsie Valley Trail. The surface turns to a cinder base a short way up. The reviews on this particular surface are mixed. The challenge with cinder is to create a strong base so that it’s a good solid surface. Parts of this trailway are solid, but there are other parts that get a bit mushy probably because the cinder is on a sand base in some places. The soft surface makes the going squirrely at times. So, stay vigilant. It’s rideable, just not as consistent as it should be. Eventually, the trailway returns as an asphalt surface, but that’s still a few miles ahead. Narrow tired bikes may have some struggles here.

birches

But, those miles along the cinder section are beautiful, so it’s worth the ride. In fact, the Betsie Valley Trail is a gem that should be highly valued, cinder or paved. Michigan is getting more and more fortunate with the number of high-level bike paths available, but this one is up there as one of the better ones, even in a land of plenty.

The first section of the pathway leads between Beulah waterside residents’ houses and their beachfront, but it still feels welcoming and enjoyable to ride through this shared use area. There are moments when the trail narrows considerably, along with a few tight, relatively blind turns, so watch for oncoming riders.

At around mile 17.7, the trailway enters the Railroad Point Natural Area, a 200 acre land protection area maintained by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (the same group that maintains the Betsie Dunes Nature Preserve). It’s a quiet, beautifully natural stretch of the trail that follows around a point along the water for another mile or so with great views over the lake.

Cross Mollineaux Road at mile 19.1 and the path is paved the rest of the way to Frankfort.

brp 3 bikers

Follow the path another 0.2 miles to Frankfort Highway (M-115) and cross with care. This is a major thoroughfare in the region and vehicles move fast. Once over, you’ll feel the embrace of the Betsie River Valley. From here all the way to Elberta there will be filtered views of the Betsie River along a railway ridge that also looks down into fecund marsh areas. And, it’s a tunnel of trees for good stretches along the way. It’s another world all together. At mile 21.0 the pathway crosses River Road. There is a public parking area to the left.

brp marsh

At about mile 22.6 is the Betsie River Camp Site on the south side of the trail that looks out over the Betsie River State Game Refuge that you’ve been bordering for the last few miles. At mile 23.7 the trail crosses a large well-crafted wooden bridge that looks out over the refuge area and up the valley. Give yourself time here to watch and absorb the marshland and the wildlife as it interacts with its natural environment. There are few places where it’s so easy to experience this up close. Look (and listen) for the American Bittern, Mallard, Ruffled Grouse, and Wood Duck, among many other bird species. The river actually got its name, not from a girl named Betsie, but as an English variant of the French words, Bec Scies, or sawbill ducks. Sawbill duck is a common term for mergansers, because of the serrated edges of their long bills. (And you thought we’d mainly focus on bike brands on this site, didn’t you?)

Now, onward to Elberta, straight in front of you. It’s named for the local Elberta peach. It’s on the south side of the Betsie River as it empties into Lake Michigan, across the water from Frankfort. There are a few eateries here, or in Frankfort only a short way ahead.

betsie lake

Detour 3 – For a unique view across the harbor into Frankfort, cross M-22 and take an out and back detour up Frankfort Avenue along the south side of Betsie Lake. Frankfort Ave morphs into Furnace Avenue, to Elberta Waterfront Park. It’s a nice place to watch the boats come and go and scan the Frankfort skyline across the water and the large hill rising up behind the town.

Once across M-22 proceed north on the Betsie Valley Trail as it leads back over the river and into the heart of Frankfort. It parallels M-22 until the road no longer follows the shoreline. The path does, splitting off at mile 24.7 toward town. At this point, be aware of traffic entering and leaving the many driveways along the way. The onus is on you to watch for them, as signified by the many stop signs for the cyclists along the pathway.

brp sign

Soon, you’re dockside once more, passing through the parking lot near the water where you began (25.4). Downtown Frankfort is a nice place to grab a bite, take a post-ride stroll, and eventually drift down toward the water at the far west end to the large public beach with views of the zjetty and the lighthouse at the end of it. The jetty itself is another interesting place to stroll. The view of the historic houses along the water is interesting, as are the dramatic views north and south along the Lake Michigan shoreline with the dunes rising dramatically up from the water’s edge.Link to Map

EMPIRE-SLEEPING BEAR-GLEN ARBOR leelanau

heritage trail
This 21.6 mile loop ride leaves from Empire and takes the “big” roads (M-22 & M-109) over to Glen Arbor and circles back on the “big” ones as well, taking a couple of detours along the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail bike path that runs from Glen Arbor to Sleeping Bear Dunes, and a short stretch on some pleasant inland roads. Link to Map

 

Read more ›

Empire

I’m usually a fan of staying off the busier roadways, but this ride is good and the main roads have great views, wide shoulders for the most part, the traffic isn’t usually overly domineering, and often the main roads are even reasonably quiet. The roads pass through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and right past, and through (kind of), the Sleeping Bear Dunes. You can even dismount and climb the dunes if you’d like.

The ride begins at the Village Park on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Village of Empire. Exit the park road and turn right onto Lake Street at mile 0.2. Turn left on Front Street a block up and ride through the heart of downtown Empire. The village was named after a schooner, the Empire, caught nearby in the ice in 1865. (I got that part from Wikipedia, so it has to be true.)

Front Street is a mix of residences, a pub, a grocery, an antiques shop, and other stores intermingled and in use. This helps it retain the mixed nuts quality that makes Leelanau County so interesting. When I rode by in late summer, there was a bakery table along the sidewalk filled with locally made baked goods that could be purchased on the honor system. Nothing big. No major planning project to make it just right. But it was just right.

Roll up to Union Street and take a left. (By the way, if you want to do a neighborhood tour of Empire, circle north and south of Front Street through all the side streets to see some nice homes and residential areas.)

Detour 1 – Head north on Lacore Street, just for fun. You can even get all the way to North Bar Lake by continuing north on Lacore, swinging right on Voice, and then left on N Bar Lake Road, then left on Larahr Road. It’s an out and back on flat paved roads and it’s worth the detour.

Northport PUD600

Detour 2 – From downtown Empire, head east on Front Street across M-22, past the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park Headquarters (good place to get park info), and right at the Y as M-72 swings left. You stay on Front Street, then a quick right onto Erie Street. You’ll enter a fascinating planned development with some very charming homes, particularly those that line the central square. It’s still, as of this writing, in progress, but if you have any interest in new town planning at a good scale for its location this is worth a look.

So, let’s finally get out of Empire. You’ve turned left onto Union Street. Follow it a few blocks north to Salisbury Drive and turn right. Pass the Empire Fire Hall and the Museum, both nicely restored, on the corner of Lacore Street, and a few feet further turn left onto M-22. This is busy at times, so proceed with caution. There is a nice shoulder once you’re out and rolling north.

Heritage Trail Near DunesThis is Leelanau County, hilly nearly everywhere, so you’ll encounter a nice, steady ascent that peaks on a “Scenic” pull-off on the west side of the road. It’s so lined with trees blocking any possible view that the scenic part is shrouded in mystery at this time. Maybe someday they’ll return it to a view point with a view.

Roll downhill to the left turn onto M-109 toward Sleeping Bear Dunes at mile 2.6. There is another gentle ascent at this point that rounds over the top in less than a mile. From here it’s a long descent to a point where the sparkling azure Little Glen Lake comes into view on the right, then the area of the dune climb appears on the left.

Detour 3 – At about mile 3.9 is the access to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. It’s a paved, very popular loop through the dunes. The Dunes. It’s not flat by any means. The National Park Service recommends this for “expert-level cyclists only due to the steep terrain, sharp curves and heavy traffic.” You’ve been warned. Notice I don’t have this mapped out. It’s a 7.4 mile addition to this ride if you’re up for it. The views are stupendous. If you like pain mixed in with your sightseeing, this is the ride for you. (Don’t laugh, many of us do.) If not, come back and drive it. Same views, less pain. 7.4 miles will feel endless if you’re not enjoying yourself.

dune climbOnward. Proceed to the turn into the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb area at mile 6.1. Follow the parking lot around to the northwest corner to where the Heritage Trail begins. There are rumors that this trail will eventually go all the way to Empire to the south and north to Bohemian Road for a total of 27 miles, but for now, enjoy this well-crafted short section. Some riders wouldn’t be caught touching a wheel to a bike path. (If you just don’t like bike paths, stay on M-109 north and roll straight into Glen Haven. The same goes for a section a ways ahead.)

Enter the pathway and enjoy the winding, slightly rolling journey toward Glen Haven. The path is a unique opportunity to ride through a rather dense dune forest, with a wide variety of plant life and marsh and upland areas. The feeling is one of enclosure, in a good way.

Glen Haven appears at mile 8.1 after the trail opens up a bit. This is another one of the wonders of the National Lakeshore. When I was young this was interesting to visit, but it was also rather ramshackle looking and a bit sad. Now, the park service has restored the buildings, there are exhibits and there’s a store that’s open during the warm months. And there are bathrooms. Nice ones. Visit the Cannery Boathouse Museum, once a warehouse and cherry cannery, as well as the Coastguard Station Maritime Museum. Or, just wander down to the waterside and look out at South Manitou Island. The views over the water and up the coast are great. Glen Haven is a great tribute to the history of the area.

glen haven

Detour 4 – The bike path continues on eastward, through the DH Day Campground and on to Glen Arbor. The route laid out here doesn’t go that way, though it’s a nice way to go.

To be contrary, this route heads straight south up the road to the intersection at M-109 at mile 8.9. Keep going south on 109 and up the hill. Go ahead, swear at me now because this hill, though short, is steep. It’s worth it, though. The road passes by the DH Day Farm on the left and just beyond that is Day Farm Road where you’ll take a left (mile 9.7). This is a quiet road that glides between a long line of sugar maple trees with the architecturally dramatic farmstead on the left, built in the 1880s and 90s and still privately owned. The views are free.

dune farmTurn left at the next intersection, Stocking Road (10.2). This passes the parking area for Alligator Hill, a nice set of hiking trails with some great views to consider for another outing. Roll up and over the roadway and enjoy the sweeping fast ride down to M-109. At the bottom, swing a sharp right U-turn onto the Heritage Trail once more. (Or, again, if paths aren’t your thing, go straight east on M-109. Glen Arbor is not too far up the road. Rejoin the route once in town.) This is a very beautiful section of the pathway, with all kinds of turns offering nice, varied views through the forest. Just be aware that this is a popular section of the trail and watch for other users.

trail signGlen Arbor Area
The trail pops out onto Forest Haven Drive and I was a bit confused on which way to turn. I’ve learned since that either way works. Left takes you back to M-109, where you’ll take a short right and be in the heart of Glen Arbor. Right takes you up a dirt road past a parking area for the trail system and then swings left down to M-22 at mile 12.5. Turn left to head into Glen Arbor for a loop around town. Once a relatively sleepy little town, this is rapidly becoming Leelanau County’s tourist central. The recent touting on Good Morning America that gave the Sleeping Bear Dunes a prime ranking of places not to miss has boosted the stock price of this small village. Watch for cars and enjoy your loop around town. Turn right on M-22 at the intersection, and right again at Lake Street, and another right at State Street, to return you back to M-22.

Of course, this is all in the spirit of staying on your bike. Glen Arbor is also a fun place to get off the bike and wander around on foot, where you can check out some shops selling artisan’s wares and get a bite to eat. It’s a great halfway point to take a break if you’re so inclined.

Turn left off State Street onto M-22 heading south. This next section has nearly no shoulder, but in my experience the traffic passes slowly and carefully from here to the narrows at Olson Bridge. You’ll want to savor this. There are houses and trees all along this section as it rims the west side of Big Glen Lake, but they don’t deter from the beauty. Often the houses and cottages have a charm of their own, and the views through to the lake are dazzling, especially on a blue sky day. The colors of Glen Lake are nearly unmatched. At the very least, the colors are on par with other lakes in the region, such as Torch Lake and Crystal Lake. That’s a high standard of beauty. The variations of azure blue to emerald green will give you pause and make you forget your troubles without the use of external stimulants.

Olson Bridge, at mile 15.9, opens you up to the whole panorama: Big Glen, Little Glen, Inspiration Point to the southeast, the Sleeping Bear Dunes to the west. It’s a lot to take in. Stop and saturate for a short spell and let it soak in. It’s something you can bring back to memory when you’re sitting at your desk on a cold day in February. It’s an ahh moment now and it will be an ahh moment then.

kayakersFully absorbed, ride over the bridge and take a right, continuing on M-22 (16.2). Go straight or left and you’ll be in for some of the toughest climbs in the county, not to mention that you’ll no longer be on a return route to Empire. Save those for another day. They’re worth it as well. Even the ride along this section of M-22 is uphill, but it’s gentler. The views are wide open, up wooded slopes and over fields.

At mile 19.1 you’ll return to the fork in the road with M-109. Keep steady on in a southerly direction. I’ve always thought that the ideal ride would include a long downhill run back to the beginning (of course, that also implies a long uphill ride from the start, though my ideal start is about ten miles of flat road…I know it’s out there somewhere). This does include that downhill run. Soar back to Empire. As things level off, take a right onto Niagara Street at mile 20.8. Pedal through the neighborhood and continue straight back to the water and Village Park.

empire park

Chill on the beach staring over toward Wisconsin, or wander into town for some refreshments. Excellent options either way.Link to Map

NORTHPORT leelanau

Northport Kilcherman Mail_600Northport Loop
38.5 miles

This route begins and ends in the village of Northport, a charming town near the tip of the Leelanau peninsula in northwest Michigan. Northport has a character all its own, probably because it’s the most geographically remote of all the villages in the county. It has a locals feel with a touch of the tourist influx. There’s an active scene during the warmer months of the year. It’s a nice place to hang around when the weather’s good for cycling (and these days, with the popularity of fat-tire bikes, that’s becoming a year-round adventure). And when you’ve saturated yourself in town, there are some nice places to explore, not least of which is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse out at the very tip.Link to Map

Read more ›

Cherry GrowerCinnamonTwistThere are some nice places to eat in town, some good ice cream, a charming bakery with infamous cinnamon rolls, and a small Tom’s Food Market for the essentials. You can even picnic at Bay Front Park at their port that looks out onto Northport Bay and further to Grand Traverse Bay. If your eyes are good you can see Eastport way across to the other shore.

Northport was originally named Waukazooville for one of its founders back in the late 1840s. A few years later someone changed the name to Northport. I have mixed feelings about that. I like the name Waukazooville, though I would have gone with just Waukazoo.

Grab a cinnamon twist and a cup of coffee, chow them down, then let’s roll out. The first part of this ride is on gently rolling roads. It’s a nice contrast to much of the county and its spiky hills. Leave the park and ride west up Nagonaba Street to Mill Street (M-201). Turn right.

Northport B&BRide north out of town past the nicely restored homes, the bed & breakfasts, then further into the light industrial area and past that on to a tree-lined roadway with fruit farms all around. Though it is a main road and there is occasional fast moving vehicle, traffic is relatively light. In the late summer, early fall, there’s an extra treat at the intersection of M-201/County Road 640 and Kilcherman Road at mile 1.7, the Kilcherman Antique Apple Farm. They specialize in heirloom apples and those taste mighty good as a bike ride snack.

The road swings right and downhill with views leading over the multi-colored (on the weather cooperative days) Northport Bay. It’s quite a dramatic scene. Swoop down, nearly shore side, and then up a rise past Northpoint Point Road on the right and continue on Woolsey Lake Road, or what is now County Road 629. It rises to a forested line of mixed deciduous and evergreens for the next mile or so. It emerges in an opening of Woolsey Memorial Airport at mile 3.5. On the left is one of the more interesting terminal buildings you’ll ever come across. It looks like it’s out of a Dr. Seuss tale, a spunky piece of architecture made of fieldstone with a circular back and yellow roof. The building is actually a converted creamery/milk transfer station. The field was once a farm. It’s worth a stop to check it out.

Northport Area Woolsey AirportThe story of the airfield is actually quite tragic, as it was set aside as a memorial to Clinton Woolsey by his family and the township. Clinton was  a Northport native and a test pilot back in the early days of flight. He died in a plane crash in 1927, a young, talented man full of promise gone in an instant. But if there ever was a charming place to honor someone’s memory, this is it. It makes me smile every time I ride past. For more of the story, see the Traverse City Record Eagle article dated August 5, 2010, “Clinton Woolsey was a heroic Army pilot,” by Loraine Anderson: Woolsey Airport.

At the northern edge of the airfield is Densmore Road (mile 4.1). This leads nearly a mile back along the marshlands of Mud Lake to a parking area for a trail system in the Leelanau State Park and out to Cat Head Bay. From the parking lot it’s another mile or so to the beach. These aren’t bike trails, hiking only, but if you’re so inclined to hike back, either parking your bike at the lot (advised) or trudging back with it until reaching the woodland margin of the sand dunes where they’re not allowed, Cat Head Bay beach is magnificent and often relatively quiet, with a view of the Fox Islands. There are further hiking trails worth a wander as well.

Northport Area RedBarn CR629Continue past the airport on 669, first along a wooded area, then opening to farm fields. There’s a particularly interesting assortment of distinctly red farm buildings at a farmstead at a dogleg in the road at mile 6.9. At certain times of day the sun plays on these with stunning brilliance.

The following straightaway leads you to a densely wooded left turn into the park at the point (mile 8.3). This is the location of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, a primitive campground, and a long jutting beach riven by the winds, a mix of sand, marsh, and tall brush. It’s one of the more unique ecosystems on the Lake shoreline.

Of course, the lighthouse is the main feature here. Check the website, www.grandtraverselighthouse.com, for more info. The lighthouse is restored as a lighthouse keepers home from the 1920s and 30s. The lighthouse itself dates back to 1858. This area is a nice place to get off the bike and walk around.

If you’re looking for a nice place to camp and you don’t mind a lack of showers, this is a very pleasant campground. Evenings here during pleasant weather are quite memorable. Between the sky, the lake and the beach you can’t go too wrong. Be aware that it gets quite windy and hard driving in inclement weather.

Northport Area WaterTower CR629The way out is the way in. Return down 669 heading south, past the open fields, the red buildings, the airport, the wooded sections, Northport Bay and back up to Kilcherman Road at mile 14.9. Notice the Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove Antique Apple Farm on the corner. If you ride by during a non-apple season, make note of the location. You’ll want to return when the apples are ripe. These antique apples aren’t a hundred years old, their heritage is, and you’ll want to explore these Paula Reds, Saint Edmond’s Pippins and Esopus Spitzenburgs when the eating is good. See their website at: www.christmascovefarm.com.

Now, for a loop toward the infamous cove itself. Head north up Kilcherman Road past the apple orchards themselves. In a mile, the road turns 90º west and becomes Christmas Cove Road. At mile 16.4, Christmas Cove Road continues straight and the main route, Scott Road, swings left. If you want another look at Lake Michigan, or if you’d like to take a dip, there is a small public beach at the end of Christmas Cove Road 0.63 miles ahead. If not, swing back south on Scott Road. There are some pleasant farmsteads and orchards along this section with a good downhill roll to Peterson Park Road. Turn right. There’s a restored and updated farm on the right and if you’re lucky the sheep will be out grazing.

Roll up and down until you reach mile 18.5 where you can once again take a small detour, if desired, into Peterson Park where there’s a bluff with an observation deck that looks over the lake, a picnic area and restrooms. Otherwise swing south once more onto Foxview Drive. This will take you up a rather steep, but relatively short pitch past some sizeable orchards. Once over the top, the reward is a long downhill stretch through some more beautiful countryside. Pinch yourself. Places to ride don’t get much better than this.

The road sweeps left as it takes you back toward Northport. But first, another option. This ride takes you back into Northport and then back out again, heading southwest. For some, this loop will be all the ride they need for the day, that’s why I’ve redirected it back into town. If you want to cut over to the continued route rather than head back to town, then turn right at mile 20.2 onto Clausen Road. It will T into Johnson Road where you’ll take another route and be on course. If you do that, then minus 2.72 miles from the totals I give past that point for the rest of the ride.

I’ll continue as if you’re headed back through Northport. Ride east on what is now Melkild Road, becoming 3rd Street as it crosses into the residential outskirts of town. 3rd arrives at Mill Street, the main thoroughfare at mile 21.6. Turn right and roll to the T at Nagonaba Street.

Northport Area BenelliTurn right, then left onto Waukazoo Street in the heart of town and follow it up to Main Street. Turn right, then left onto Shabwasung Street. This is all more obvious than I can make it in writing. It’s the main flow in and out of Northport, twists and turns and kind of a fun way to lead back to such an interesting place. Shabawasung south out of town comes to the main intersection with M-22 at mile 22.1. Turn right onto M-22 south. You’ll soon come upon a sign that says Leland 11, Empire 37, Frankfort 60. You’re not going to any of those on this ride. Something to consider for a future day, though.

Parts of M-22 can be busy. The segment from Leland to Lake Ann is quite busy at times and the shoulder is sometimes non-existent. It’s not for the faint of heart around cars. In contrast, from Northport to Leland there’s a sizeable shoulder the whole way. Even if the traffic zooms past it feels like there’s a buffer of some kind. This section is quite beautiful. For now, you won’t be on 22 long. This ride takes a right onto Johnson Road at mile 22.6. Johnson Road is quiet with a healthy uphill climb right away. It passes Clausen Road at mile 23.5. This was the crossover point mentioned previously. It’s still climbing after this, uphill for nearly three miles in all, then a rolling up and down all the way back to M-22 at mile 26.2.

Turn right onto M-22 and ride past open fields, orchards, farmsteads, and copses of trees to Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern at mile 27.6. Fischer’s has been a fixture in the region for quite a while. I remember going there when I was in my late-teens back in the…yeah…back then. It’s the kind of place that conjures up days of old (or perhaps better thought of as days of young). It hasn’t changed much over the years, and in this case that’s a good thing. It just has a good vibe. It can get busy as well. Stop in after the ride, or use it as your mid-ride meal. Then go climb some more hills with a belly full of food.

Northport Antique Apples 1Sally forth to Jelinek Road at mile 27.9 and turn left. Did I mention a climb? Go. Up. At mile 29.5 the road swings left onto Omena Road, while Jelinek continues straight. Turn onto Omena Road. You may have noticed that this climb takes you as close to the clouds as any on this ride in a little under 2-1/2 miles. At mile 30 you’ll have reached the apex, with Christianson Road on the left. Continue going straight on what is now Omena Road (though the temptation to sweep down Christianson is drawing you back toward the Happy Hour, isn’t it?). At mile 30.9, the road joins forces with Jacobson Road for a short stretch. Then Omena takes a left at mile 31.2. Turn and stay on Omena Road heading east.

Let me digress for a moment and say that you can take most of these other roads (Christianson, Jacobson, Kovarik, and so on) and have a perfectly wonderful ride. The options are numerous in Leelanau County and there’s hardly a klunker making any choice. I’ll be setting forth other options in other route descriptions, but keep in mind that if your legs can take all the topography and long hours in the saddle not much will disappoint out here. However, be aware that it’s easy to get spun around in this county as well, so carry a good map and/or a GPS device to stay on some kind of course that will work for you.

Omena DowntownContinue to the T at Overlook Road (mile 33.1) and take a left. (If you’re thinking that you’d love to and drop in on the sweet little village of Omena, then take a right, swing left on Tatch Road and plummet down to the small village of Omena. It’s a few miles farther on the ride, but Omena is worth seeing, situated on the bay as it is. The Tamarack Craftsman Gallery is also worth wandering through. It’s one of the highlights of the county, as are the post office and the adjacent buildings. Once you’re ready to move on, ride north on M-22 to Cracker Road. Turn left and climb away from the lowlands. It’s a 3.0 mile detour if you’re up for it.)

Otherwise, after turning left onto Overlook Road, ride up and down past orchards on either side of the road to a high point at mile 34.6, and there’s the view over Northport Bay. Drop rapidly down to M-22 (mile 35.6) and turn left. Traffic is relatively heavier here at times, so take care. There is a narrow shoulder. The ride here is flat to gently rolling.

Pedal to the intersection where M-22 swings back south, only you go straight, returning to Northport. At the intersection with Main Street at mile 38.0 take a right and drop down, riding past Waukazoo Street and straight into the residential neighborhood to the swing left at Bay Street. A block up is the harbor and the place where this ride began.Link to Map