Lake Michigan Circle Tour – The Great Bike Touring Adventure (part 1)

Expanding my bike touring experience, I decided go on a longer – one month – tour, to ride around Lake Michigan. I began my Lake Michigan tour by bicycle straight from home, in northeastern Detroit suburbs. So, first I had to get to the west side of Michigan. However, the section across the state to Lake Michigan shoreline in South Haven will be part of another post about the Lake to Lake Trail Route #1.

Since I would be biking through some highly populated areas, that I have nor biked in before, and I had no idea what to expect, I decided to plan the route in detail. I spent days studying maps of roads and trails, looking at satellite images to find out if there is a shoulder along the particular road. I read other cyclists blogs about riding around the lake.

When I was done, I had a detailed route with turn-by-turn navigation. I loaded it all into my Garmin Edge Explore. It was a great decision. If I had to navigate with paper maps, or Google maps on the phone, or written notes (as I have done before), it would have taken a lot more time on some days. I probably would have gone wrong way few times here and there, during some complicated ride days… So, having it all on my Garmin helped a lot. Even though, there were few times, when my Garmin lost satellite signal, and I had to use a phone to navigate.

So, my tour around the lake began in South Haven, a beach town in southwestern Michigan, of course, on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Kal-Haven Trail - the starting point of my Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle
South Haven trailhead of Kal-Haven Trail

Sometime around the middle of June I began riding south, and so my Lake Michigan tour by bicycle had begun.

I followed the lake shoreline, in a clockwise direction, riding through Benton Harbor, New Buffalo, and soon after I crossed the border with Indiana. I went through Michigan City, and later rode on great long trails – Prairie Duneland Trail, Oak Savannah Trail and Erie Lackawanna Trail – through most of Indiana and to the vicinity of Illinois. Not much later, I was already in Chicago.

From Chicago I kept following the shoreline riding on some trails but also on roads through North Chicago, Waukegan, Il.  Then I crossed the Illinois-Wisconsin border, and rode through Kenosha, Racine and later – Milwaukee. I kept following the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, going through Port Washington, Sheboygan and Manitowoc.

I skipped the Door Peninsula and went straight to Green Bay. From there I followed the western shoreline of Green Bay, going through Marinette, after which I crossed back into Michigan. Then I went to Escanaba, and later followed US-2 through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

When I got to Saint Ignace, I crossed back to Lower Peninsula via Mackinac Island. From there I kept riding along the western shoreline of Lower Peninsula through Petoskey, Charlevoix to Traverse City.

Then, again, I skipped some shoreline along Leelanau Peninsula and went directly to Frankfort. And from there I again followed the Lake Michigan shoreline through Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Saugatuck and to close to loop – back to South Haven.

Since the whole story ended up being quite long, I decided to break it into few sections:

  • The first part covers the ride from South Haven, MI to Chicago, IL.
  • The next one – from Chicago to Manitowoc, WI.
  • The third – from Manitowoc, WI to Mackinaw City, MI.
  • The forth – from Mackinaw City, MI to Sliver Lake, MI.
  • The final one – from Silver Lake, MI back to South Haven, MI.
U.S. Bicycle Route 35.
U.S. Bicycle Route 35. No shoulder!


The route, obviously, consisted of trails and roads. The total ride around the lake amounted to around 1,100 miles. More details about the route is provided in the daily segments. I am actually providing very detailed description or my route hoping that it will help other people with planning their trip. I, myself, while planning my ride, was looking for information like that. However, if you just want to read about my daily experiences, but are not interested in detailed trip routing skip the segments in italics.


It took 20 days for me to circle Lake Michigan. I began going around the lake in the middle of June and finished in early July.

The bike is ready ofr my Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle
The bike packed for the ride.

Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle – From South Haven to Chicago

South Haven to Sawyer (46 miles/69 km)

On the first day I went from South Haven to Sawyer, MI. Originally, I was planning on going all the way to Michigan City, IN. However, when I got to South Haven, the temperature rose into the 90’s (33 deg. C). And it was suppose stay in the 90’s for the next few days. Therefore, I adjusted down my daily distances for next two days.

From South Haven I took local streets to get to the paved Van Buren Trail and rode it towards the Van Buren State Park. The trail was not busy. Before the park, right where the trail crosses Blue Star Memorial Hwy, I had to switch to the road, and continued south on Blue Star Highway/A-2, and later M-63. It took me through Benton Harbor and to St. Joseph.

The traffic was moderate, and the road had for most part – pretty wide shoulder (up to 5 – 6 ft (1.5 – 1.8 m)). Of course, there were very short, sections, where it narrowed down to almost nothing. Shortly before I got to Benton Harbor, the shoulder disappeared completely. However, there was a rough sidewalk and trail that you could ride on, if you wanted to get off the smooth road.

I skirted center of St. Joseph – by riding on local streets close to the shore.

When I got to St. Joseph , I turned west (right) on Port St, and soon south (left) on Lake Blvd. It eventually merges with Lakeshore Dr/Business Local I-94, which I followed south.
South of St. Joseph, the Lakeshore Dr/Red Star Highway is also the I-94 Emergency. Often it doesn’t have any shoulder. Therefore, as soon, as I had a chance to get off it, I took it. I turned west (right) on Glenford Rd and followed it to Ridge Rd, then Ridge Rd to go south, then W Marquette Wood Rd – west again, and Notre Dame Ave to go south. I continued on Notre Dame Ave, which eventually turns into Thornton Dr. I followed Thornton Dr for few miles till a little jog at Willow Dr and continued south. Then I crossed over I-94 by taking Livingston Rd and then I got again on Red Arrow Highway going south (right turn). Here the highway still didn’t have any shoulder, but it was 4-lane road, so in moderate traffic, there was room for cars to shift to the inside lane and give me a wide pass.
I followed the Red Arrow Highway till I got to Sawyer.

Originally, I was planning camping in Warren Dunes State Park (Read more about it in my post: Small but Beautiful Warren State Park in Michigan). Then I found out that it would cost me $46 for a campsite for one night. When I considered that, the fact that it was over 90 F, and the rumor that black flies were really bad in the park, I decided to pay a little bit more and stay in a hotel.

Today it was not an easy riding. It was very hot and pretty much the whole day I had a strong headwind. So, when I got to Sawyer I was tired. However, my Lake Michigan tour has begun. This was my fifth day of riding since I left home, but my first of Lake Michigan circle tour.

Lake Michigan Circle Tour
The Indiana road sign at the Michigan-Indiana border.

Sawyer to Michigan City (45 miles/72 km)

It was going to be another hot day. But I was riding only 35 miles to Beverly Shores, IN, just south of Michigan City, IN, where I was staying with Warmshowers hosts.

The ride from Sawyer to Michigan City was all on roads. At first, for few miles, I was again on Red Arrow Highway. For most part, it had no shoulder, but there are two lanes for each direction of traffic, allowing for safe passing. I was still glad, to get off the highway on Lakeshore Dr and follow it trough communities of Lakeside, Lakeview  and Union Pier. Before Lakeshore Dr reconnected with Red Arrow Highway, I turned on Marquette Dr (right turn) and followed it all the way to New Buffalo. When it ended, I turned east (left) on N Whittaker St and followed it for short time, then I turned south (right) on E Mechanic St, and followed it to N Willard St. I turned southeast (left) on N Willard St, and followed it for five blocks. Then I turned southwest on W Detroit St. Eventually, after the turn it continues as Lubke Rd. Next, I turned south (left) on Sand Rd. It runs into Stromer Rd, which I took south (right turn). I followed Stromer Rd to Wilson Rd, which I took west (right turn). I followed it all the way to US Hwy 12. I turn south (left) onto the highway. I followed US Hwy 12 till I could get off it. In few hundred feet, I cross the railroad, and got onto Grand Beach Rd, which runs parallel to US Hwy 12. The road was pretty empty. Soon, I crossed the Michigan-Indiana border. Eventually, the road changes the name to Old Grand Beach Rd. And it ends at Duneland Beach Rd, where I turned north onto (right) and almost immediately southwest (left) on an unnamed street, to get to Moore Rd. I turned north (right) on Moore Rd., and followed it to Lake Shore Dr, which I took southwest (left turn). I followed Lake Shore Dr all the way to Michigan City, IN.

A lot of expensive, beautiful homes there to enjoy passing by along the shoreline.

Since I was staying in Beverly Shores, south of Michigan City, I continued south.
When Lake Shore Dr gets to the marina, I turned south (left) on Franklin St to cross the Trail Creek, and then turned southwest (right) on W 2nd St and followed it to Wabash St, which I turned onto (left) and followed to W Michigan Blvd/US Hwy 12. Right there I took the sidewalk (right turn) and followed it for a block to an unnamed trail that took me south (on Google map it is called for a while Francisco St). It is a paved trail. It took me to County Line Rd/US Hwy 12.  I took the highway south (left turn) and followed it southwest when it turns into W Dunes Hwy. Soon, I turned northwest (right) on Central Ave, which took me to Beverly Dr. I followed Beverly Dr south. It is a local road, and it was almost completely empty.

I wanted to explore the Indiana Dunes State Park, to which I have never been before. To get to it, I had to ride on the Calumet Trail. The trail was recommended route south by one of the bloggers that rode around the lake. To my surprise, I found the Calumet Trail to be a horrible substitute for a trail! The section that I rode on, by the state park, was often flooded so badly, that I could not get through on my loaded bike and had to walk it. When I eventually got to some dry ground, I found the trail to be covered by loose gravel that was difficult to ride on Michigan my 37 mm tires. If you were on a mountain bike, the trail could be rideable.

Calumet Trail, Indiana
Calumet Trail – loose gravel, deep puddles.

Calumet Trail: If you are touring through, avoid the Calumet Trail. A lot of loose gravel, and after a rain, a lot of big and deep puddles.

This was a good reconnaissance, because tomorrow I was suppose to ride the trail further south.

So, when Beverly Rd ended at E State Park Boundary Rd, I took it south (left turn) and followed it to Calumet Trail, which I took west. I had to follow it for about 2 miles, since there was no way to get off. But once I could, I immediately did. So, I turned south (left) on State Park Rd, which took me to W Dunes Hwy/US Hwy 12, which I took southwest. The highway doesn’t have any shoulder in this area, and it is quite busy, but at least I was able to move forward. I followed it to N CR-25 E, or actually I followed the trail paralleling the road into the park.

The park was really busy, and the temperature was quite high, in the mid 90’s (mid 30 C). I relaxed in a shade and had something cold to drink to cool off. After a while, I got back on the bike to ride back to Beverly Shores towards the area where my Warmshowers hosts’ house was located.

I rode back on W Dunes Hwy/US Hwy 12. Later I found out from my hosts, who are avid road cyclists, that US Hwy 12 is quite dangerous, and every year a cyclist dies on it hit by a vehicle.

My Warmshowers hosts were wonderful. Since it was very hot, as soon as I arrived in their house I was given an ice-cold bottle of Gatorade, and offered to take shower to get the sweat and grime off my body. Later we had a dinner and a beer and a nice conversation, mostly about biking and local biking options.

One of the hosts told me, as I have already mentioned about, US Hwy 12 was not safe, and offered to lead me out of town tomorrow morning and get me safely to the trailhead of Prairie Duneland Trail in Chesterton.

Today, even though, the day was really hot, and I had some headwind, the ride wasn’t really hard. This is why I went the additional miles to state park.

Chicago panorama
Approaching Chicago, riding on the Lakefront Trail.

Michigan City to Chicago (70 miles/112 km)

When I was thinking about the trip, this section was giving me the most stress. I have talked to few friends who bike tour too. They were saying that they would like to go touring around Lake Michigan, but because of the section from Indiana to Chicago, which in their view would be crazy dangerous for many reasons, they will not do it.

It was not the case. And it just shows you, that you should not rely on other people’s opinion. Especially, coming from people who have not done it, or been there. It’s just their opinion, based on who knows what.

The section, while quite long (70 miles) was mostly on trails, and then in Chicago, on quiet roads with bike lanes. It was one of the least stressful days of my journey!

On the other hand, it is good to listen to local riders. They often know more than you can find on the Internet. Since I was staying with the Warmshowers host last night, one of them offered to guide me on local roads to the trailhead of Prairie Duneland Trail in Chesterton, and thus avoiding the horrible Calumet Trail and busy US Hwy 12.

From Beverly Shores, I went, guided by my host, on many local loads, going mostly south, till we got directly east of Chesterton. We left early – at 7 AM.

We started on State Park Boundary Rd, took it south across US Hwy 12 (it changes to N CR 300 E/Kamil Rd) and to Furnessville Rd, where we turned west (right). We only followed it for short time, to get to School House Rd, which we took south (left turn). It has few different names further down – N 275 E/N Brummitt Rd. We followed it for a while till it merges with E County Road 1225 N/N Cr-250 E which we took south (right turn). We followed it to E CR 1200 N, which we took west (right). Then road changes the name to E Porter Ave. We followed it to S Calumet Rd. We turned north (right) on Calumet Rd and after few blocks turned west (left) on W Indiana Ave. We followed it to N 15th St, which we took north (right), which took us right to the Prairie Duneland Trail trailhead (on the left).
From there I would follow, on my own, my original route.
Eventually, the Prairie Duneland Trail turns into Oak Savannah Trail (at County Line Rd in Hobart), as it continues southwest. Past Hobart, the trail turns directly west. In Hobart there are few local streets to ride to get across the railroad and then the trail continues. Then, after few miles, it gets to parking lot east of Griffith. This is the Oak Savannah Trailhead. From  there I followed Municipal Dr west, and later Colfax St and later S Arbogast Ave south to get to Erie-Lackawanna Trail. The trail crosses the road, and there is also a parking lot there. I took the trail west (right turn).
You have to be careful here, as the trail splits into two legs at Grand Blvd in Highland. You have to turn left and follow the leg going west and later northwest towards Hammond.
The trail eventually ends at Sibley St in Hammond. From there I took Sibley west (left) to Hohman Ave, and followed it north to 142 St, which I followed east (right) to Baltimore Ave, which I followed north (left). It has a sidewalk/bike trail, which at 139 St turns into Marquette Greenway, which I rode north till Wolf Lake. Then I rode on the east side of the lake on Wolf Lake Trail. When I got to the Casino Center Dr, I ditched the trail and took Casino Center Dr to cross over the US-41. Once I was over the highway, I followed the trail on the other side of the parking lots. Eventually, it ends and I kept going north along the empty, unnamed road. Later it is called S Access Rd. Then I followed S Ave G Dr to E 100th Dr, and then went through Calumet Park (west side of the park), and then I took E 95th St/S Crilly Dr to US-41 north and crossed the Calumet River by the Ewing Ave Bridge.
This is already South Chicago.
 I turned east (right) on S Lake Shore Dr. Then I followed the pretty empty S Lake Shore Dr/US-41. Then I followed it to 71st St, where the Lakefront Trail starts. From there it was all Lakefront Trail till I got to the center of Chicago at Buckingham Fountain.
U.S. Hwy 41 south of Chicago
U.S. Hwy 41, just south of Chicago.

While the route sounds pretty complicated, when you program it into your GPS, it is easy to follow. During the day I rode about 70 miles, which included a little site seeing and wondering along the Lakefront Trail since I arrived in the city more than an hour before I could check into the hotel.

By the way, the Lakefront Trail, while very busy, is a beautiful trail following the city’s lake front, and wondering through many parks along. It offers many spectacular views of the lake and Chicago’s downtown. You can read more about it in my post here: Bike Ride on the Chicago’s Lakefront Trail.

Lakefront Trail in Chicago - part of Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle route.
Lakefront Trail in Chicago.

It was a log ride and when I finally got to a hotel I was tired. This was another really hot day. When I got to downtown Chicago, the temperature was 94 F (34 C).

Today I went form Michigan, through Indiana to Illinois…

Here I should talk about the hotel a little bit. I made my reservation through, and I reserved a room in Travelodge by Wyndham in downtown. The reason for that was that I wanted to stay close to the trail, so I wouldn’t have to ride on busy Chicago streets. When I got to my room, I was shocked! This was probably the biggest dump, the dingiest room that I ever stayed in. The total accommodation including bathroom was probably less than half the area that it was supposed to be according to description. There were no window curtains. The windows had cheap plastic shades. The bathroom was so small, that you could barely turn around.

I went down to the reception desk and told them that they gave me the wrong room, that it was not what I reserved. The answer was: no, the room is correct. Take it or leave it!… All this for a small price of $217/night!… So, stay away from Travelodge in downtown Chicago!…

Travelodge room in Chicago
My dingy Travelodge room in Chicago
Travelodge in Chicago
The tiny bathroom in my $220/night room in Travelodge!

To be continued…

One of the major destinations on my Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle
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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