Lake Michigan Circle Tour – The Great Bike Touring Adventure (part 4)

This is part 4 of the series of posts about my Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle. In this section I write about riding from Mackinaw City, MI to Silver Lake, MI.

If you have not read previous parts of my post, the first part is available here.

Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle – From Mackinaw City, MI to Silver Lake, MI

Mackinaw City to Petoskey (60 miles/96 kilometers)

The plan for my way south was to ride along the western shoreline of upper Lower Peninsula, on the M-119, a.k.a. Tunnel of Trees, Harbor Springs to Petoskey State Park.

The morning was cold for a change. It appeared that it was going to be a cold and windy day. The wind was coming from the north at about 20 mph (32 km/h). Therefore going on US 23 towards Mackinaw City was tough. Luckily, it was only two miles.

I stopped at Mackinaw Bakery to get some breakfast. It was around 9 o’clock and the place was busy. I got a bagel and cream cheese, and also wanted an apple fritter. The woman behind the counter said that they were out of apple fritters. Really?! At 9 in the morning, they already ran out! The bagel was not good either…

From there I went along the shoreline towards the bridge to get some morning shots of it.

Then I got on the road.

Camping in Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground during my Lake Michigan tour by bicycle
Camping in Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground.
I crossed under the I-75 overpass, and got on W Straits Ave and almost immediately had to turn left (south) on Louvingny St. After riding two blocks I turned west (right) on W Sinclair St and followed it till it ran into Lakeside Dr. I followed it to N Nokomis St, which I took south (left) to W Central Ave. I got on W Central Ave/C-81 and followed it west till it ran into Wilderness Park Dr/C-81. I turned south (left) onto Wilderness Park Rd. After about a mile it runs into road running west called Wilderness Park Dr/C-81, which soon, by the shore, runs into a road named E Wilderness Park Dr/C-81, which I followed south.  This is a quite scenic road following some dune landscape along Lake Michigan. I followed the road till C-81 turns away from the Wilderness Park Dr, goes south on Cecil Bay Rd/C-81. I had to get around Wilderness State Park, since there is no road going through it.
Cecil Bay Rd runs into E Gill Rd, which I took west (right). When it splits I followed E Lakeview Rd. It took me to the shore again and N Lake Shore Dr. Again the road went through some scenic dune landscape along Lake Michigan. I followed N Lake Shore Dr to Cross Village.
Customers waiting in line at Legs Inn restaurant
Customers waiting in line at Legs Inn restaurant.

In Cross Village I was thinking of stopping for an early lunch at the “famous” Michigan restaurant – Legs Inn. However, when I got there, there was already a long line of people outside waiting to get in. I decided that it wasn’t worth waiting and continued to ride south.

Cross Village is the official northern end or start, depending how you look at it, of the scenic route M-119, the so-called Tunnel of Trees. Most of the time it runs through the woods. However, occasionally you get quite amazing glimpses of the lake from the high bluffs. There are also some beautiful houses along the road. M-119 doesn’t have a shoulder, and it is quite narrow road. However, it frequented by cyclists and riding on it is for most part fairly safe. There are quite few steep hills there to climb. So far, the steepest of the trip. So be prepared!

Another place along the road where I could get something to eat was a little store in Good Hart – Good Hart General Store.

After the break, I kept going south on M-119. It took me all the way to Harbor Springs. In the city it is also called E Main St and Harbor-Petoskey Rd. The road has some shoulder, but if you are not comfortable, you can ride the sidewalk, which at Park Ln (east of the city) turns into the official Little Traverse Wheelway. The trail follows M-119 till Peasantview Rd by the city airport. This is where the trail crosses M-119 and goes between the airport buildings and the airstrip. Then it follows again Harbor-Petoskey Rd/M-119 south. From there it is only about a mile to the entrance to Petoskey State Park where I was staying overnight.
A typical dinner during my Lake Michigan tour by bicycle
Quick dinner – store bought chicken and quickly made fresh vegetable salad.

When I got to the state park, I booked a site and setup my tent. Then I went to the store to get some food. There was a store pretty much just outside the park.

This was a harder day, mainly because some headwind and also the climbs on M-119. It was also the coldest day of my tour so far. The temperature was in the 50’s deg F (10’s deg. C). This was the first day when I rode in long biking pants and long sleeve shirt.

I ate and ate and ate, since I bought a lot of food. Then I waxed my chains. I brought two for the tour, so I could swap them. But it was also time to wax them, since I had already used both of them. (I don’t grease my chains anymore, but instead I wax them.) To do this I brought a can with small amount of chain wax and had to heat it up to melt it. Of course before I waxed the chains I had to clean them by removing the old dirty wax with hot water. The whole process didn’t take that long. After about an hour the chains were ready for another hundreds of miles.

Petoskey to Traverse City (75 miles/120 kilometers)

Today I wanted to push  all the way to Traverse City since there won’t be much camping opportunity along the way before it. It would be a longer ride.

I got up around 7, but did not leave the campground till 9. Breakfast preparation, eating and packing took time.

Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle - my loaded bike
Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle – my loaded bike.
Out of the campground, I got back on the Little Traverse Wheelway going south. This is a nice paved trail. But as soon as I started riding, I got hit by a strong headwind. Later I checked and found out it was between 15 – 25 mph (24 – 40 km/h). The trail took me through the city of Petoskey.
Then, just south of it, there was one detour on the trail at Magnus Park. I had to get of the trail and ride on US-31 instead. But soon, I was on the trail again. It took me to the vicinity of Charlevoix.

Little Traverse Wheelway is another beautiful scenic trail, that provides some great views of Lake Michigan. There are many parks along, where you can stop and rest.

When the trail  ended, I got on Waller Rd. I followed it till it ran into McSauba Rd, which I followed south (left). Then I got on Division St going west (right turn) and it almost immediately turns into Michigan Ave. It soon joins with US-31. This is the only way over the water channel connecting Round Lake with Lake Michigan. The area is always very congested, and the road is always busy. Luckily, the speed limit is low. I followed the US-31 south. I followed it through Atwood, Eastport, Torch Lake.

The road (US-31) has a nice 7 foot (2 m) shoulder. Unfortunately, the shoulder is not constant. After some miles, it goes down to 2 feet (60 cm).

The drivers in the Lower Peninsula are not as patient and considerate, and most pass you only inches away. Too close for comfort! I would say that only about 10% of them are careful and slow down or move towards the opposite edge of the lane. Semi drivers are the worst. On average about 2 out of 10 will try to give you some room. The other 8 don’t care.

Anyway, in the process of avoiding narrow shoulder on US-31, I switched to local roads, and rode on Cairns Hwy, Ames St, and Bates Rd.

Roads in northern Michigan
Roads in northern Michigan are never flat!
So, I rode first on Cairns Hwy. I got on it by Odett Rd In Milton Twp. It took me through Kewadin and Elk Rapids Twp. Then it became Ames St, which took me to Elk Rapids. There it turns into Dexter St. Once Dexter runs into River St (after the Elk River crossing) I turned left on River St, only to almost immediately turn south (right) on S Bridge St. It took me to W 4th St, from where I had to get on US-31 again.  I followed it to Bates Rd, and got on it, and off the highway. I follow it for a while, then it jogs and continues south. It got me all the way to M-72. Almost right across M-72, on its south side the Traverse Area Recreational Trail begins. The trail took me to Lautner Rd, where I turned left onto, following it south to Bunker Hill Rd, which I followed west (right turn). The road took me west and eventually got me back on the Traverse Area Recreational Trail. Soon it follows Five Mile Rd and parallels US-31. It took me all the way to the back entrance (directly from the trail) to the Traverse City State Park campground.

Early, during the ride I met two young women from Ann Arbor touring from Wilderness State Park to South Haven…

It surprises me how few touring cyclists I saw. I know there are a lot of people touring all over, but I guess the Great Lakes states are not very bike touring friendly.

When I got to Traverse City State Park, I immediately set up my lent, and then went to get some food. There was a rain in the forecast in the evening.

Today was a tough day – a lot of ups and downs and a steady headwind most of the day.

In the evening it did began to rain and it rained throughout most of the night.

Traverse City to Interlochen (21 miles/34 kilometers)

It  was still sprinkling in the morning when I got up. So, I took my time.  I didn’t want to pack the wet tent, and i was waiting till it dries. Therefore, I made coffee and breakfast and did not leave the campground till 11.

I was still tired from yesterday and decided to only go as far as Interlochen State Park today. (You can read more about it in my post: Camping in the Popular Interlochen State Park.)

The park is only 20 mile ride from Traverse City. I could have taken a day off and stay in TC and next day ride much longer distance. However, I wanted to ride everyday, even if only a short distance. The only break that I have taken in my ride around the lake was a day used for sightseeing in Chicago.

At first I rode west on TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trail) west. At Woodmere Ave the trail turns north, and I needed to go south, so turned south on Woodmere Ave, and rode it only for one block to Hannah Ave which I took west to almost immediately get on the Boardman Lake Trail. The Boardman Lake Trail is a nice shaded by surrounding woods trail following the eastern side, you guessed it …, of Boardman Lake. At S Airport Rd, I took the road east to Park Dr, and then Park Dr south to Keystone Rd. In about four miles, Keystone Rd turns into Beitner Rd. I followed Beitner Rd to the intersection of US-31 and M-37. From there I continued to ride west, and followed US-31. This is very busy intersection. For about 300 – 400 feet (300 – 400 m), there is no shoulder on US-31. Then after, the shoulder is quite wide (maybe for about 2 miles). Then it shrinks down to 1.5 feet (50 cm).

I should have gotten of US-31 and on some local roads, because the riding on it was crazy. The cars were passing me only inches away at 55 mph (88 km/h). When the shoulder got narrow, there was still four miles to go.

Finally, I got to the intersection with M-137, and got of the US-31. 

The route was suggested by Google maps. Therefore, the lesson here, and also in many other cases, is – never trust Google maps to find you the best, and safest cycling route!!!

I followed the M-137 to the Interlochen State Park campground. I got to the campground quite early, around 2:30. On the way I stopped at grocery store and bought a lot of food. Once I set up the camp, I ate, relaxed and plan my next few days.

Surprisingly, the always very busy park was half empty. I had a nice lakefront campsite.

The day’s ride was short today, but I still had to fight against the ever-present headwind. It is amazing how many days I had with headwind. It seems that it is following me around.

Interlochen to Manistee (58 miles/93 kilometers)

Today I was going to Orchard Beach State Park, just north of Manistee, some 50 miles away.

At first I had to get to Diamond Park Rd. I could have gone north on M-137 to the intersection with the road and get on it, but I decided to ride through the Performing Art campus to see it. So, I rode on some paths and local roads of the campus, and got on Dimond Park Rd just north of Green Lake. I followed Diamond Park Rd west. Eventually, it turns into Rhodes Rd. After Rhodes Rd turns north, it changes the name to Bendon Rd. At that point I turned southwest (left) on Cinder Rd. I followed it for a while, and eventually turned south (left) on S Pioneer Rd, which I rode on briefly till Homestead Rd, which I took west (right). I took it all the way to Benzonia Twp. There I got on the Betsie Valley Trail, right after intersection with Case Rd. I took the trail north (right turn). Shortly, after riding on it, I entered town of Beulah, right on the eastern end of Crystal Lake.
Betsie Valley Trail in Beulah - part of my Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle route
Betsie Valley Trail in Beulah.

Betsie Valley River Trail section from Beulah to Frankfort is one of the most scenic trails that I have ridden on in Michigan. (read more in the post I wrote about it here: Betsie Valley Trail – One of the Most Scenic Trails in Michigan.)

From Beulah, I kept following Betsie River Valley Trail west. The trail is following the lake shoreline. At first it goes through the area with a lot of lake homes and cottages. After that there is a section of woods and the lake (between Sunkissed Dr and Mottineaux Rd). At one point, there is bench right at the lake’s edge. This is my favorite spot to stop and cool off in the lake.

Crystal Lake and Betsie Valley Trail
My favorite spot on the shore of Crystal Lake.
I kept riding on the trail till Elberta. When the trail crosses Betsie Lake, I took Frankfort Ave south. Soon  it turns into M-22/S Scenic Hwy. I kept following it south for quite a while. In Acadia it is also called Northwood Hwy. Then later also 6th St,  But it is still M-22 – one of Michigan’s scenic highways. I followed it through Arcadia, Onekama. South of Portage Lake, I got off on Crescent Beach Rd.

I prefer scenic roads, and wanted to follow Lakeshore Dr along Lake Michigan.

I followed Crescent Beach Rd west, and after Lakeshore Dr south. It took me all the way to Orchard Beach State Park.

Great part of today’s ride was on roads, but many of them had wide shoulder, and the traffic was light on all of them. The only hardship were some serious hills, mainly on M-22, but also some smaller ones on Lakeshore Dr. There was also some strong headwind again.

Orchard Beach State Park is a small, simple park with a small campground, without any extra frills found at some other state parks.

Downtown Manistee
Downtown Manistee.

Manistee to Silver Lake (60 miles/96 kilometers)

It rained most of the night. There was also some lightning, but it must have been far away because the thunder wasn’t very loud. Again, in the morning I spent some time drying the tent. I don’t like to pack it wet, if I don’t have to. So, I did not leave the campground till 9.

After riding few miles I was already in Manistee, a cool town with a lot of old houses and buildings.

U.S. Bicycle Route 20 & 35 - part of my Lake Michigan tour by bicycle route
U.S. Bicycle Route 20 & 35. Somewhere south of Manistee.
From the campground I continued south on Lakeshore Dr. Before it ends, I turned south (right) on Veterans Oak Grove Dr, and soon turned south (left) on Washington St, which at the river passing changes name to Maple St. At the intersection with 12th St, Maple St changes name to Maple Rd, which I kept following south. If finally ends at W County Line Rd, which I took west (right turn), only to quickly turn south (left) on Quarterline Rd. I followed it to W Townline Rd, which I took west (right turn), and then quickly south (left) on N Stiles Rd. I followed N Stiles Rd to W Fountain Rd, which I took west (right turn). The road changes name at the gradual turn south to N Angling Rd. I followed it till it runs into N Jebavy Rd, which I followed south (left turn). I continued on N Jebavy Rd to W Decker Rd, which I took west (right turn). Then I turned south (left turn) on N Lincoln Rd, which runs into W Jagger Rd, which I followed west (right turn). When it ends, I turned on south (left) on N Lakeshore Dr/M-116.

I was already in the neighborhoods of Ludington. My routing took me through the city on low traffic residential streets. I never even saw downtown, nor had to deal with much traffic.

Soon, I turned east (left) on W Fitch St, only to, after riding a block, turn south on N Park St. Then I turned east again on W Haight St, and I followed it to N Rath Ave. Then I turned south (right) on N Rath Ave, and followed it till it ends, where I turned east (left) in W Dowland St. I rode on E Dowland St to S Washington Ave, which I took south (right turn). At the end of it, the road turns east and becomes 6th St, which I followed to S Pere Marquette Hwy, which I took south (right turn). In about a mile, I got off it on Iris Rd going southwest (right turn). I followed it till it ends at S Lakeshore Dr, on which I turned south (left turn). It ends at Business US-31, just south of Bass Lake. There, I turned south (right) on Business US-31 and followed it all the way to Pentwater, which in town is called Hancock St.

I stopped in Pentwater for lunch. Pentwater is a small bustling all summer with tourists town. It has a beautiful beach and many very busy restaurants.

Pentwater, MI
Always busy in the summer town of Pentwater.
Then, when Hancock St ends, I turned east (left) on Madison Rd, which is still Business US-31. I followed it till is splits, and Business US-31 turns south (right) on W Monroe Rd, which I followed, as it follows the Pentwater Lake shoreline. Finally, I turned left on W Longbridge Rd to get to the other side of the lake. I followed the road to Ridge Rd, which I took south (left turn). I followed it all the way to Silver Lake.

Silver Lake is a town well known to people of Michigan. There are beautiful inland lake – Silver Lake, and extensive sand dunes, and the only area in Michigan where you can drive vehicles over the dunes. You can bring your own, or rent dune buggies, jeeps, four-wheelers, or just go on organized dune rides. (You can read more about Sliver Lake in my post here: Silver Lake – Michigan Recreation Hot Spot.)

Silver Lake at sunset
Sun setting over Silver Lake.
At the end of Ridge Rd, I turned west (tight) on W Taylor Rd, which took me to Lake Michigan shoreline, where I tuned south (left) on N Shore Dr. Soon I turned east (left) on W Hazel Rd, and at the traffic circle (or roundabout) went south (right) on N Scenic Dr, which took me to busy Silver Lake State Park campground.

Silver Lake is a small tourist town. I was disappointed to find out that there are no grocery stores nearby, only few convenience stores. No way to get any decent food.

The ride was easy today with no hills, no headwind and relatively cool weather with temperature in 70’s (low 20’s C). Even though it was all on roads, they were either low-traffic or had a wide shoulder.

To be continued…

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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