Activities

Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Tip of the Thumb

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In the early fall, I decided to bike tour the tip of the thumb of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. While the area does not have any bike trails, the roads are usually not too busy and shoulders are wide to allow for relatively safe bike touring.

Expecting cooler weather, since it was already second half of September, I planned a little longer distances. Since the tour was self-contained without any outside help, it required a loop with the same starting and ending point. Therefore, the route was following:

  • Friday – drive up to Port Sanilac. Park cars and cycle west to vicinity of Bay City. Camp overnight.
  • Saturday – cycle to Port Austin area. Camp overnight.
  • Sunday – cycle back to Port Sanilac. Drive home.

The daily cycling mileage assumed 70+ miles on Friday, 50+ on Saturday and 65+ on Sunday.

 

Friday

Port Sanilac to Sandusky

Maybe because of relatively long daily distance, or just one week advance notice, I did not get many people to join me. There was only one person that decided to ride with me.

We drove to Port Sanilac in the morning. I decided to park there on the street, right by the town’s public marina.

The usual problem is that there are no signs telling you whether you can leave the car overnight. I experience this issue almost every time I bike tour in Michigan.

We could not find anybody in the marina, to find the answer. Therefore, we decided to go to the nearby police station. There we learned out, that there is overnight parking directly behind the station, and we can safely leave the car there.

Once I moved the car, we got on our bikes and begin heading west on Main Street/46. There was a little bit more traffic on the road that I expected, but overall it was not bad. The landscape was typical for Midwest rural area – occasional homes, farms, small business and farm fields… The first little town that we reached in about half hour of cycling, was Carsonville. Located only seven miles from Port Sanilac, small, sleepy town, did not have much to offer, so we did not stop and kept riding west. The next town, located 18 miles west from Port Sanilac, was Sandusky. That was another ten miles, so it took us close to an hour.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

On the Sanilac Rd/46 somewhere west of Port Sanilac.

 

While the morning was cool, the temperature was rising quickly, and it did not feel any more like a mild autumn day, but instead it appeared that the mid-summer heat came back.

Even though it was still relatively early, we decided to stop for lunch in Sandusky. Looking at the map, we realized, that after Sandusky, there, most likely, will not be a place to eat till almost the end of our route. We did stop at McDonald’s, so we could eat and quickly get back on the road.

 

Sandusky to Bay City

In Sandusky, we made a jog north on N Sandusky Road, about 3 miles, till we got to Snover Road, where we continued westward. The road took us to the town of Snover.

Like Carsonville and Sandusky, it was another sleepy town that we rode through. From Snover, we continued west on Snover Road, which eventually turned into Bevens Rd.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Landscape along the way across the peninsula

 

By now, the riding was uncomfortable because of the unexpected high temperatures reaching almost 100 degrees (38 deg C). The monotonous and visually uninteresting landscape of never-ending farms and sugar beets or soy farm fields did not help the situation. The ride dragged and seemed like we will never reach our destination.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Few minutes after I took this picture the temperature reached 97 degrees.

 

When we finally got close to the town of Caro, we took the Dayton Rd northwest. It led us to the town. In town, Dayton Rd continued west as Frank Street. We took it till we got to Hooper Street, which we took north till we got to West Gilford Road, which we followed west. Soon, we turned north on Unionville Road and took it till Highway 24, which we rode north till Akron Rd/138. Then we took Akron Rd, through the town of Akron.

We stopped in town at the gas station to get something cold to drink. Shortly after leaving the station, we passed by the bank, which had a display showing the temperature. It was 97 degrees. No wonder, it was difficult to ride. We had a steady breeze during the day, so the sweat wasn’t dripping of us, and therefore, we did not realize, till now, how hot it was.

We continued west on Akron Road all the way till Quanicassee Road, which we took north all they way to Bay City Forestville Rd/25.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Vanderbilt Country Park & Campground

 

The plan was to camp in Vanderbilt County Park & Campground, just few miles west of Bay City. (I like to camp, when the weather allows it, instead of motels and busy cities.) However, we knew that there will be no place to get anything to eat around the campground, so the plan was to stop in the restaurant that was just a mile west on Bay City Forestville Rd. The name of the place is Bayshore Bar & Grill. It has high ratings on Yelp, and there wasn’t much other choice in the area anyway.

It was pretty late already, so we had only about an hour to eat. I wanted to get to the campground before 8PM, so we could set up our tents before dark.

The restaurant was packed. You could tell that it is popular with the local crowd, which is always a good sign. It was Friday, so it was a fish day. The dinner was fried perch. The food was good, the portions big.

We ate, drank a lot of fluids and relaxed a little bit in the cool, air-conditioned room.

 

Vanderbilt Campground

The ride to the park and campground was short. I did not know what to expect of the campground, but did not have high expectations since it was a county park. The campground area was pretty nice, wooded and peaceful. The campsites are fairly big. The campground had very few occupants. We had a choice of campsites. The campground is a primitive one, with hand water pump and not so great outhouse.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Vanderbilt County Park & Campground

 

We quickly set up our tents, as it was quickly getting dark. When we finished, the mosquitoes came out and were biting so bad that we decided to call it a night. Going into the tent wasn’t easy, it was still very hot outside. I laid down on top of my sleeping pad, just in my underwear and I was sweating all over. I thought that it’s going to be a long night. Soon however, the strong breeze came from nowhere and the temperature dropped down enough to make sleeping comfortable.

 

Saturday

Bay City to Port Austin

Saturday morning was sunny with clear skies, suggesting another gorgeous day. Hopefully, not as hot.

We quickly packed and left the campground. Since we did not cook, we just ate some snacks, and planned to stop for breakfast once we get to town somewhere along the way.

Today, we were riding north towards Port Austin. We took the back road out of campground to Gilmore Rd, and then Gilmore and Bradford to get to Bay City Forestville Rd/25 and took it north. There was pretty generous shoulder and since it was early Saturday, the traffic was light. Soon we were in Unionville. Another small, quiet town. We continued through, as we have not seen anything open for breakfast yet. It was still only around 8:30AM. We continued north on 25, which in town followed Center Rd. Soon, we reached another town – Sebewaing.

This one was a little bigger. Located on the shore of Lake Huron, with the Sebewaing River flowing through, the town had much bigger downtown with number of different stores and few restaurants. We stopped at the first choice along the way. It was a small diner in a strip mall. The Lampligther offered a typical breakfast fare. There were few customers inside. We had our omelets, hash browns, toasts and coffee.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

The Lamplighter Restaurant in Sebewaing.

 

After hearty breakfast, we continued north on 25. The terrain was flat with slight occasional incline. The shoulder was wide. The traffic – light. Riding was uneventful and easy. Today, it wasn’t as hot as yesterday and we had a steady cool breeze of the lake.

I would hope that there was a route that would follow a shoreline to provide more interesting landscape, but that wasn’t the case. We would get some occasional views of the lake when the road passed by Wild Fowl Bay.

When we were getting close to 40 miles on the road, we got to Caseville. I wanted to stop at the county park there for a break. I remembered stopping there few years ago, to check it out. Today, however, the park was completely packed. I guess that the nice weather brought many people north for possibly last nice weekend. So we just rode by and continued north.

The section of the road, north of Caseville to Port Crescent State Park, just west of Port Austin, is the nicest part of the route. You often get close enough to the lake to enjoy the scenery. There are many nice homes lining up the shoreline. From time to time there is a small park that allows you access to the beach and lake. We did not stop though. At this point we were close to Port Crescent, where we were camping, that it was not worth stopping.

 

Port Crescent State Park Campground

We passed by Albert Sleeper State Park, which is another camping option worth consideration. The only reason why I prefer Port Crescent is the fact that it is much closer to Port Austin.

Today, we rolled into the campground much earlier. It was only 3PM. Therefore we had a lot of time left in the day. After setting up camp, I went to the lake for a swim. The water was still warm. I filled refreshed when I came out.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Port Crescent State Park campground

 

In the early evening, we rode to Port Austin for dinner. We had about 5 miles to ride one way, so we left early enough to allow us time to eat and still return to the campground before dark.

 

Port Austin

I was planning on eating at The Stock Pot. However, my biking partner has been in town many times before and she suggested The Bank 1884 Food & Spirits. While the place is a little more expensive than typical local restaurants, it is a more upscale and the food is worth the extra money.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

The 1884 Food & Spirits in Port Austin

 

With the distance including the ride to dinner, the total for the day was over 60 miles.

The night was cooler and allowed for some restful sleep.

 

Sunday

Port Austin to Lighthouse Park

In the morning, we packed and quickly left the campground, knowing that we got a long ride and then two-hour drive home.

We stopped for breakfast in town at Lighthouse Café. The town was still quiet, even though the campground was pretty full.

After breakfast we continued through town on the Pointe Aux Barques Rd east towards the lake and then followed the road around Grindstone City and then continued south on route 25.

 

Grindestone City School

Grindestone City School

 

Riding wasn’t easy today. Even though it was not hot, we had a steady breeze from the south that kept us from sweating, but also hampered our forward progress. We followed the road, and unfortunately, again is far enough from the shoreline that you don’t see the lake. Instead, you mostly are surrounded by sugar beets and soy bean fields.

 

Lighthouse Park

We rode non-stop south till we got to the Lighthouse Park. The park is off the route 25, and you need to take Lighthouse Road to it. It is about a mile from the main road.

You can visit a lighthouse and the light keeper house, which was turned into a little museum showing you how the life was back at the time when the first light keepers resided there.

There is a campground right next to the lighthouse park.

 

Lighthouse Park to Port Sanilac

After an hour break at the park, we got back on the road, and continued south.

At the 25 mile mark on our bike computers, we got to Port Hope, another small town along the Lake Huron shoreline. The weather was great today again, and it was getting hot.

We continued south and took a break when we got to next town – Harbor Beach. A lot bigger town… The biggest, between Port Austin and Port Huron.

After resting for about half hour, we continued our trek south. It was now pretty hot and the steady head breeze from south made the forward progress exhausting.

The road had steady, but fairly light traffic. The shoulder was wide, and therefore allowed for a fairly comfortable riding.

However, as it is with shoulders, they often collect all kinds of debris from the road, including glass.

While we tried to avoid it as best as possible, my riding partner finally got a flat. When we examined the tire, we found a tiny shred of glass in it.

Soon we were on the way again. The going was slow and uneventful. We passed through some small towns. Some of them so small, that if not for a sign along the road, we would have not noticed them.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Quick break somewhere along the way.

 

Finally, in Forester, we stopped again. It was quite hot and we needed a break to drink and eat something too. It was food from the local store with “the best pizza in town”. We assumed it was the best, since it was, most likely, the ONLY store in town.

From there it was only a few mile shot to Port Sanilac, where we got around 4PM.

After quick cleanup and cloth change in the bathrooms of the marina, we packed and began our ride home in my air-conditioned car.

*         *         *

Considering my different weekend bike tours around Michigan, this one was the least scenic and interesting. The route, especially the part across the peninsula, was quite monotonous and boring. There are only small sections, mainly between Caseville and Port Austin that are really nice.

However, it is still a nice weekend route, and it is relatively close, especially if you live in Detroit area.

While the distances are probably a little too long for a cyclist new to touring, the route is fairly flat, and does not offer the hills that you encounter in Michigan’s northwest area.

It was still great weekend biking, so I am sure, I will be back there in the future.

 

Tip of the Thumb Bike Tour

Beautiful Victorian house in Port Hope

 

 

 

Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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