Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 – A Bike Ride Across Southern Michigan (part 2)

This is the second part of my post about Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 ride.

If you have not read the first part, where I write about the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 in general, and then about riding it from Detroit suburbs to Albion, MI,  it is available here.

Trail following the river in Battle Creek
Trail following the river in Battle Creek.

Albion to Kalamazoo (60 miles/96 km)

In the morning my host made coffee and later breakfast. And I finally left her house shortly before 10. The plan for today was to get to Kalamazoo some 60 miles away.

When I got back to the center of town at the intersection of E Erie St and S Superior St, I met two road cyclists, who told me that I should follow Division Dr to Marshall. Division Dr is the extension of E Erie St.

I cannot remember what was my original route, but it wasn’t following Division Dr. However, I also believe that local riders know better routes, so I followed their advice. The road was hilly, but the traffic was light.

So, from Albion I followed E Erie St west. Out of town it changes the name to Division Dr. I followed it for quite few miles till it ended at Homer St. Then I took Homer St northwest (right turn). Soon, it changes name to E Hughes St. I followed it till 17 Mile Rd/227, which I took north (right). I rode on it probably for about a mile, till I got to W Prospect St, which I took west (left). I followed it briefly, till Verona Rd, and turned northwest (right) on Verona Rd, and followed it to 15 Mile Rd, which I took south (left). I followed 15 Mile Rd till it ended at C Dr N. The I took C Dr N west (right) followed it till it turns into 13 Mile Rd. Then I followed 13 Mi Rd north for a few hundred feet to where C Dr N continues west (left turn). I rode it to 12 Mile Rd, took it north (right) and before the railroad tracks turned northwest (left) on E Dr N. I followed it till it ends at 11 Mile Rd/311. There I turned north (right) and followed 11 Mile Rd/311 to E Michigan Ave/I-94 Emergency/96. I followed it to town. This is quite busy road. It has a wide shoulder, but it often disappears at any intersection.
I think I should have taken F Dr N, which would get me to S Wattles Rd/9 ½ Mile Rd, which would get me to Calhoun County Trail
It is a 5 mile gravel trail, and there are little hills. It wouldn’t be a problem riding on unloaded bike or on a mountain bike, but with the touring bike with relatively narrow tires, it was difficult. So, if you choose this route, you have to put up with few miles of hard riding…
I was looking forward to get of the busy street. So, I was glad when I got to Vernon Ave, which I took north (right). It got me to the Calhoun County Trail, which I followed east (right turn). Soon, the trail forks. Both legs eventually rejoin, but the right one takes you for some additional stretch. So, if you want to follow the shortest route, go left at the fork. It ends at E Emmett St. There I followed E Emmett St west (left turn). I followed it till I got to the Battle Creek Linear Park Trail
I followed the trail south (left). The trail is paved. It follows the Kalamazoo River through downtown of Battle Creek. This is one beautiful trail with some nice sightseeing without dealing with a heavy city road traffic. One of few towns in Michigan that did a great job, as far as providing a safe recreation solution right in the city!
Unfortunately, the pavement is often cracked and bumpy.
The trail ends at N Brady Rd. I took N Brady Rd south to W Dickman Rd.96. I took W Dickman Rd west (right). Eventually, the road turns into E Augusta Dr/96. I kept following it to Augusta. In town it changes the name to E Michigan Ave. I kept following it through town.
Outside of town it changes again to Augusta Dr/96, and later to E Battle Creek St/96.
I followed it to Galesburg. At the end of it, I turned south (left) on 25th St S, which took me to Kalamazoo River Valley Trail
I was happy to be off the road again. Some of the roads through Augusta and Galesburg had nice shoulder, but some did not. They were busy and the cars were flying by at high speeds. So, it was nice to get off.
The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail is quite long and nice paved trail. At times, it goes through some wooded areas, but it also follows some roads.
The trail took me all the way to Kalamazoo.

I stayed in Kalamazoo overnight. However, if you want to continue riding west, you can follow Willard St west and in about a mile you will run into Kalamazoo River Valley Trail continuing northwest towards Kal-Haven trail. 

Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 in Battle Creek
So many trail following the same path in Battle Creek.

Kalamazoo to South Haven (43 miles/69 km)

Today it is going to be a short ride, pretty much all on the trail to South Haven. It is actually good because there is an intense storm with some 70 mph (112 km/h) winds in the forecast for late afternoon. So, I want to get there before it.

I quickly got to the start of the western leg of Kalamazoo River Valley Trail of N Westnedge Ave, between E Kalamazoo Ave and W Willard St. At first the trail winds through neighborhoods of Kalamazoo, but soon (at Douglas Ave) gets on the road – Ravine Rd, and follows it for about ¾ of a mile before again becoming a dedicated trail. It parallels the road for a while, and then it veers off into some wooded area.
When I crossed 10th St N, I got to the Kal-Haven Trail trailhead.    (If you would like to read about Kal-Haven Trail in more detail, here is my post about it: Kal-Haven Trail…  
There is a big parking lot there, restrooms, and information boards. The trail is a dirt trail sparsely covered with some limestone. It is flat as a pancake, and one of the longer trails in Michigan at a span of 33.5 miles (54 km). The trail is fairly smooth. However, there are areas that have loose dirt/sand that require more effort. I think it happens especially after long periods without any rain.
I kept following the trail west.

The day was much warmer than previous days, and it was first time on this trip that I noticed that I am sweating.

I stopped to take a break about half way in town of Bloomingdale. It is a small town and the trail passes right through the center of it. There is another trailhead there with parking lot and a shelter. Few steps away is a grocery store, and there is also a gas station nearby.

After a short break, I kept going and arrived at the South Haven trailhead around 1 P.M.

From there I followed Bailey Ave, Wells St, Dunkley Ave, Dyckman Ave and finally Williams St to get to the downtown waterfront.

There I stopped for lunch.

My original plan was to go down to Van Buren State Park, and camp there. However, after I heard about the storm forecast with tree knocking winds, I decided that it might be better so spend a night in a hotel.

Of course, as it often happens with forecast, South Haven did not get the storm with damaging winds. But in next two days when I rode south through Michigan and Indiana I saw that the storm hit there. I saw few areas where some big mature trees were knocked down, and a lot of areas with big branches on the ground.

Between lunch and late supper, I ate at two different places in South Haven.

One was South Haven Brewpub right on the waterfront. The food and beer was great. The prices reasonable.

The other place was Three Blonds Brewing. I had a burger and chips there for $15. The burger was small and mushy. Anything else, like fries was extra. So, I considered it disappointing. On the scale from 1 to 5, I would give them only 2 stars. However, when you look at their rating on Google, they have over 600 reviews and the rating of 4.5. So, maybe it was only my bad experience. However, when I will be back to South Haven, I will choose to go to South Haven Brewpub, and I will skip Three Blonds Brewing.

This was the end of the Lake-to-Lake Trail Route#1 stretch of my journey. From South Haven I continued south through Indiana, then north to Chicago, then through Wisconsin back to Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. Then I took ferries and through Mackinac Island I got back to the Lower Peninsula. I continued my trip following Lake Michigan shoreline through Petoskey, Traverse City, Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon till I completed the loop by arriving again in South Haven.

From there I went back to Detroit area following the Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 again.

Kal-Haven Trail in Bloomingdale
Kal-Haven Trail in Bloomingdale.

Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 – from South Haven to Detroit suburbs

On the way back I managed to camp in Van Buren State Park. It was the 4th of July weekend and every place was full including the park campground. I arrived there after a long ride of 79 miles (126 km) on a hot day. I was tired. So, I was happy knowing that there is the rule in Michigan that state park campgrounds cannot turn you away when you arrive by bike. When I walked into the campground office, I heard that the campground was full. Only then I mentioned: “… But I am on the bike!”. Then the answer was “We will find you something.” Since they were really full and did not have a single campsite available, they put me in the empty group campground. I was happy with that, even though I had to ride to the main campground to use a shower or restroom…

Next day I rode along the Van Buren Trail to South Haven.    I was planning to stop in town for breakfast, but they were getting ready for a parade.

So, instead I went to South Beach and relaxed there for an hour. Later I took Kal-Haven Trail to Kalamazoo.

Beach in South Haven
Beach in South Haven.

The next day I was planning on staying with the same Warmshowers host in Albion as before. However, she had a message on the app that she was having a family in town. So, I had to look for another accommodation. There are not many campgrounds in Michigan along the Lake-to-Lake Trail. The closest I was able to find was in Hanover – Twin Pine Campground and Canoe. Pretty nice campground, but further than I wanted to go.

I went pretty much the same way back, that I used on the ride from Albion to Kalamazoo. But there were few exceptions.

I did not ride on the busy E Michigan Ave in Battle Creek, but instead took the Calhoun County Trail, and then F Dr N going east. A better route (that I mentioned before.)

Then from Marshall to Albion, I did not take the Division Dr, but instead I took River Rd, B Dr N and finally Austin Ave/199. The route was still hilly, like Division Dr, and also equally empty. The riding wasn’t easy. The day was quite hot (almost 90 (32 deg C)), but also very humid.

From Albion I had to take different roads to the campground in Hanover because it was away from the Lake-to-Lake Trail. I went south on 29 Mile Rd, and then took R Dr S east to Wheeler Rd, where I turned north and there was the campground.

Next day I had to get back to the trail, which meant riding to Concord. Once I got there I followed the original routing to Falling Waters Trail and followed it and later Inter City Bike Trail to Jackson. In the city I followed few different streets till I got to Armory Arts Walk. And then when I got back on the road, I followed the same streets and roads all the way to the trailhead of Mike Levine Lakelands Trail. The trail took me back to Pickney, where I got off on Cedar Lake Rd, which took me to the same campground where I camped a month ago – Hell Creek Ranch Campground.

It was hard riding today. It rained last night and the gravel on Mike Levine Lakelands Trail was soft and  was sticking to tires requiring a lot more effort to move forward. Because of the rain, it was also humid.  The trail was deserted. I was pretty much the only cyclist on it.

Next day – the last day of my month long journey – I went from Hell to my home in the Detroit northern suburbs. The route was almost the same as the one on the first day. However, when I got to the end of Mike Levine Lakelands Trail, I decided to follow Google map suggestion to test it again. So, instead of going north on Fieldcrest Dr, I followed 9 Mile Rd east. I quickly found out that 9 Mile Rd doesn’t have much of a shoulder and that it is quite busy, and not really suitable for bike riding. Drivers who had to slow down because they could not pass me, because of the opposite lane traffic, were getting quite annoyed. Luckily, after riding 3 miles on it, I was in South Lyon where I got on the S Lion City trail that took me to Huron Valley Trail.

So, there was another proof that you cannot trust Google Maps for bike routing!

Form there I followed the original route home.

When I was in West Bloomfield, I ran into a couple on loaded touring bikes going west. They were on their way to Wisconsin to visit their kids. They were riding to Lake Michigan shore and than taking one of the ferries across the lake. And they were from my neighborhood. We live only 3 miles away from each other. I guess there are more bike touring cyclists in my area, than I would expect.

Clinton River Trail in Detroit suburbs
Clinton River Trail in Detroit suburbs.

Final Thoughts

The whole trip was great for so many different reason. One of the most important one was the touring experience.

The learning from the tour related to the Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 were:

  • It is not a trail! It should NOT be called that! It is a route! While a lot of riding is done on different trails, there are sections that you have to ride on some very busy roads. I still would suggested it as a great route to get a touring experience for those who want to start touring. However, you have to be comfortable of riding in traffic on the road, and you have to be careful.
  • While it is a nice way of getting across the southern Lower Peninsula, the area needs more camping options. While there are hotels in bigger and even smaller towns, the touring people often rely on camping. It is difficult to stealth camp in southern Michigan, as all land is private. But there are very few campgrounds close to the route. There are none immediately along the route! In some areas, like around Brighton and Pickney there is a need for bike touring campgrounds only, as the existing ones there are always full in season.
  • There is no way to ride the whole trail and only camp! If you start in Port Huron, by the time you get to the vicinity of Pontiac, you have already ridden 57 miles. You are in the middle of the big metropolitan area and the only available accommodations are hotels!
  • The route is marked along the trails. However, once you get on the road, there are no  markers that confirm that you are following the route.
Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 – A Bike Ride Across Michigan
Sometimes the route is just a gravel road going through the woods.

Richmond to Port Huron

Since I began my journey in the suburbs of Detroit, I did not ride the section to the Lake-to-Lake Trail  from Detroit suburbs to Port Huron. However, I am going to briefly talk about it here. Initially, the official routing went along busy and with narrow shoulder stretch along Gratiot Ave from Richmond to Port Huron. Judging by that, it would be stressful 15 mile ride.

Great Lake-to-Lake Route 1 trail map
The MTGA Great Lake-to-Lake Route 1 trail map from 2018 showing Gratiot Ave as part of the route.

But, as I researched the subject for this post, I found out that the officials must have heard how bad that stretch of Gratiot Ave is for biking, and now there are more than one routes for the Port Huron to Richmond section provided there by the official websites (see the images below).

The original map showing Gratiot Ave as the route was provided by the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance in 2018. The new MTGA map (it links to Ride-with-GPS) shows a route going north out of Richmond on Memphis Ridge Rd/M-19 and then traverses east along some local county roads toward Marine City. I have not ridden on Memphis Ridge Rd, but I would considered it equally busy to Gratiot Ave, as it is main road north out of a busy town. The shoulder is narrow there. Therefore, the riding on it, till you get to a local Weber Rd, would probably not be safe.

Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 map
The latest MTGA Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 map with route following north out of Richmond.

Then there is a routing provided by Great-Lake-to-Lake-Trails dot org website, which shows another version of MTGA map with routing south of Richmond along County Line Rd and then Lindsey Rd east till you get to the shore and follow north on fairly safe Bay-to-Bridge Trail route.

Even this routing is not perfect. I have ridden on the County Line Rd south of Richmond. It has very narrow shoulder and it is quite busy. People driving on it are very aggressive, impatient and outright rude. (Based on my experience, riding on the road few times.) This section is uncomfortable. Later when you get on Lindsay Rd you should encounter very little traffic.

Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 map
And yet another Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Route 1 map with routing south and east out of Richmond.

So, there is still no easy, not stressful, safe route from Richmond to Port Huron. Therefore, be careful, if you plan on riding this section of the Lake-to-Lake “Trail”!

I plan on riding these different routes this Spring, and once I do I will update the post on what I consider the best option.

So, there is a lot of work, and a lot of improvements to the trail route that the State of Michigan needs to do before it can call it a “TRAIL”!

Falling Waters Trail
Falling Waters Trail in Jackson.


Scenic pond along the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail
Rich S.
Rich S.
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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