Lake Michigan Circle Tour – The Great Bike Touring Adventure (part 5)

This is the last post talking about my Lake Michigan Tour by bicycle. In it I write about my final stretch from Silver Lake to South Haven, MI to complete my ride around the lake. I also talk in general about the trip, about some major attractions along the way, and finish with some thoughts about the tour and learnings.

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

Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle – Silver Lake, MI to South Haven, MI

Mac Wood's Dune Rides
Mac Wood’s in Silver Lake provides organized dune rides.

Silver Lake to Grand Haven (74 miles/118 kilometers)

Some of Michigan state parks campgrounds are party campgrounds, where people like to have fun till early morning hours. Silver Lake is one of them. The loud partying lasted at least till 1:00 am. Unfortunately for me, I am a very light sleeper, so I was falling asleep and waking up over and over. Earplugs only help so much…

Even though, I did not sleep much, I still got up at 7, and left the campground around 9.

I was going today to PJ Hoffmaster State Park, about 6 -7 miles (10 km) north of Grand Haven. At first I was following relatively low-traffic local roads to Muskegon. In the city, I rode mostly on trails along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Later I was again on roads, but they either had a wide shoulder or low-traffic. However, as I was going south the traffic was definitely increasing, especially around Montague/Whitehall and Grand Haven area.

From the Silver Lake campground I took N Scenic Dr west, and soon turned south (left) on N 18th Ave. I followed the N 18th Ave, which turns into S 18th Ave, to W Buchnan Rd, which I took west (right) to S 16th Ave. I followed S 16th Ave south (left turn). It eventually turns into Scenic Dr, as it continues south. When it ends it turns into W Webster Rd, which I followed to S 48th Ave, which I took south (right turn). I followed it to W Skeels Rd, and took it east, when it turns into Chase Rd going south. I rode on Chase Rd to Eilers Rd, which I took east (left). I followed it to Cook St, which I took south (right). Then I turned east (left) on Stanton Blvd. I took it all the way to the end, where it intersects with White Lake Pathway, a trail which I took south (right turn) which allowed me to bypass some busy sections of Montague and Whitehall. Since the trail soon would divert eastward, I got off it and onto S Lake St. Soon, S Lake St turns into Shore Dr, which I kept following south.
You have to be careful with S Shore Dr, because even though it doesn’t change the name, it turns onto different streets few times.
Eventually it ends, and there I turned south (left) on Scenic Dr. When I got close to Muskegon (just north of Muskegon State Park) I turned east (left) on W Fenner Rd and followed it to Horton Rd, which I took north (left) for a short while. Then I turned east (right) on Dykstra Rd, and followed it till it ends at Whitehall Rd. There along Whitehall Rd runs the Muskegon Lakeshore Trail, which I took south (left). I followed it along the shoreline through Muskegon till it ends at Mc Cracken St. There I got on Lakeshore Dr and followed it as it continued along the shoreline of Muskegon Lake. Then, close to Lake Michigan, I took Beach St south (left) to W Sherman Blvd. I turned east (left) on it, and followed it to Mc Cracken St, where I turned south (right) on it. (You can save few miles if you follow Mc Cracken St, directly, when you exit the trail.) I followed Mc Cracken St to Seminole Rd, which I took east (left turn). Then I turned south (right) on Lake Harbor Rd. The road took me all the way to PJ Hoffmaster State Park campground.

I got to the state park around 4:00 PM. The ride was pretty nice today. There were many scenic areas, beaches, lakes and rivers and towns along it. Some areas were busy, but riding was ok.

When I got to the campground, it was full. Luckily, Michigan State Parks have this rule, that if you travel on the bike, they cannot turn you away. They need to find a campsite for you. Therefore, I got one.

When I arrived in the campground I did not have any food left. Researching the area on Google maps showed me that the closest grocery store – Meijer – is 6 miles away. Again, Michigan is trying to promote bike touring, but the state is not bike tourer friendly. Since I did not have any food left, I had to ride 12 miles round trip to buy groceries. And, if you are looking for a restaurant, it is the same story, about 6 mile away.

With the grocery store run, it turned to be one of the longer rides with 74 miles. So, I was tired in the evening.

Old trucks at Fox Barn Winery
Old trucks at Fox Barn Winery.

Grand Haven to South Haven (79 miles/126 kilometers)

My tour around Lake Michigan was getting close to the end. Today I would complete my ride around it by riding to South Haven. It was going to be a long day. I could have broken it up into two days and camp in Holland State Park, but that would make two days of short rides. So, I decided to push and go all the way to South Haven, or actually even further south – to Van Buren State Park, where I would camp.

I left the campground around 9:00. I rode south on Lake Harbor Rd and continued when it turned into W Pontaluna Rd. At Black Lake Rd I veered south (right) and continued on it when it turned into Hickory St. Then I turned south (right) on 180th Ave, which eventually turns into Dogwood Dr. I continued on it to 174th Ave, which I followed south (right). It turns into 3rd St, which I took to the end, where it intersects with Pine St and a trail running along it. There I took the trail south (right). When I crossed over the first section of Grand River, I did the loop and got onto Harbor Island Dr, went under the US-31 overpass, and followed the drive to Coho Dr, on which I rode west (right). Then Coho Dr turns into N 3rd St which I followed across the river to trail (which doesn’t seem to have a name on Google map). I got on the trail at Jackson Ave and followed it along the shoreline. It ends at Grand Haven State Park. From there I got back on the road – S Harbor Dr. When it ends, I continued on Grand Ave east to Sheldon Rd. I turned south (right) on Sheldon Rd. Soon it turned into Lakeshore Ave. At that point there is a trail on east side of the road. It is Lakeshore Connector Path (Grand Haven to Holland). I took the trail and followed it south. 
The path splits just south of Port Sheldon. If you want to follow the shoreline, you need to take the western leg of it (right). However, the alternate leg following the Butternur Dr is shorter, more direct route to Holland.
The trail took me all the way to Holland. It ends at S 168th Ave, just north of Holland State Park campground. There I took S 168th Ave south to Ottawa Beach Rd, which I followed east. Soon, there is a trail along the road, so I switched to the trail. Eventually, Ottawa Beach Rd turns into Douglas Ave. The trail still follows the road. I took it all the way to N River Ave. Then I turned on the trail along N River Ave running south (right turn). And I followed it along Pine Ave.
Since I stopped in town for lunch, I went east on W 8th St, and then I followed Central Ave south. At 17th St I turned west on it, and followed it all the way to S Shore Dr. If you are not stopping in downtown, you can follow more direct route to S Shore Dr.
I followed S Shore Dr to Myrtle Ave , which I took south (left turn). It soon (after a jog) turns into 62nd St. At 144th St, it changes the name to Beeline Rd, which I kept following south. There is a trail that follows the road, so you have an option of riding on it too, if the road gets busy. I kept switching back and fort. Eventually, the road turns west (right) where it is called 138th Ave. The trail follows it. Then both turn south (left) and the road now it 64th St. I kept following it till it ends at A-2/Blue Star Hwy. I road on Blue Star Hwy south till Holland St (right turn), which I followed to Lucy St. I turned west (right) on Lucy St, and soon after south (left) on Butler St. I followed Butler St to Culver St which I followed east. Culver St turns into Lake St. I followed Lake St till it took me to the trail along Blue Star Hwy.A-2. Then I followed the trail and soon Blue Star Hwy southwest (because the trail ends). I took it all the way to M-89. There I took M-89 west (right) to get to the other side of US-31 and onto Lakeshore Dr going south (left turn).  After a while Lakeshore Dr joins  Blue Start Hwy/A-2 again (in town of Glenn), and I followed it south. Finally, just north of South Haven, when I got to North Shore Dr, I took it west (right turn). I followed N Shore Dr to Dyckman Ave which I took east (left). When I crossed over Black River, I turned south (right) on Broadway St. I followed it to Chambers St, which I took west(right) to Center St. I followed it south (left turn) to South Haven St. I took it west to Kalamazoo St, which I followed south. Then I turned west (right) on Elkenburg St, which took me to Van Buren Trail, going south to state park.
You have to be careful, as at one point the trail splits and the right leg (western) goes to Van Buren State Park, the left (eastern) continues to town of Hartford.
At, the split keep going right. Van Buren State Park is about 5 – 6 miles south of South Haven.

When I got to Van Buren State Park, since it was the 4th of July holiday weekend, the campground was full, and I had to take the advantage of the rule of being a bike traveler. They did not have even one campsite available, and they put me in the group campground that was completely empty, which was nice. The bad part was that there were not bathrooms nor showers there, and I had to ride to the main campground to use them.

My Lake Michigan tour was completed earlier, as soon as I got to downtown South Haven. This was the longest ride of the tour at 79 miles. It was a hard day because it got hot again today and it was a lot of riding in the open.

Some of the roads were busy because of the holiday weekend, but most of them had some shoulder. The Blue Star Highway has a shoulder of about 3 ft (1 m) which is ok.

I passed a lot of scenic areas again – some nice beaches, towns, parks.  They were all very busy today.

I was tired, and the mosquitos were bad in the campground, so I retired to the tent early, without any celebration for completing the circle tour.

Stony Lake, Michigan - along my Lake Michigan Tour by bicycle route
Stony Lake, Michigan.

Accommodations – Hotels and Campgrounds availability

There are plenty of hotels and motels around the lake. Generally, there is no problem getting room, even with only one day advance. Chicago, Milwaukee, Traverse City might be exceptions in July and August. However, summer is the high season for them, and therefore, the prices are high. I mostly had to pay above $100, even for the dingy ones. In Chicago the cheapest room at a hotel that I saw was probably around $220/night. There also some hostels in big cities like Chicago. They were not that much cheaper.

Campgrounds are not always around. There were many times, when I was looking for a campground and there was none along my path. There are plenty of private campgrounds around the Great Lakes, but often they are out of the way. Often, they are also full. I had few cases, when I wanted to make a reservation a day or two ahead, and found out that the campground was full.

Additionally, sometimes they are not cheap. I was looking to get a campsite in Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan, in the early stages of my tour. The site that I found was $46/night. Since it was a hot day, and I heard that black flies were bad in the park, I decided to pay more and get a hotel room.

And I think that $46 for a spot of land to setup your tent is a little excessive!

Getting back to the subject of busy campground – It gets even worse with state park campgrounds. Only Michigan has the rule, that if you travel by bike they cannot refuse you an overnight accommodation. In Illinois and Wisconsin it is first come first served. In the Great Lakes area the state parks are extremely busy in the warm season.

For these reasons, I only camped while riding in Michigan.

For cyclist there is also the option of staying with Warmshowers hosts. However, it the Great Lakes states it is to some degree limited, as there are not that many active hosts. I was able to use Warmshowers service twice – once in Michigan and once in Indiana. I tried in Wisconsin few times, and every time I found out that the host was busy or there was somebody already staying with them on the days I wanted.

Whitehall/Montague trailhead of Hart-Montague Trail
Whitehall/Montague trailhead of Hart-Montague Trail.


Surprisingly, there is difficulty to find a grocery stores in many of the small or tourist towns. I had that problem quite often. Sometimes, I could probably buy food along the way. But with the hot weather, and the pounding it would get on the road – I did not want to do it.

It was often much easier to find some convenience store, or fast food places, than grocery store.

Generally, the easiest to find are convenience stores at gas stations. Then – fast food restaurants, followed by regular restaurants. The grocery stores are the hardest.

Duck Lake beach along my Lake Michigan tour by bicycle route
Duck Lake Beach – one of the countless beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan.


I had a luck of having a great weather. There were days that were really oppressively hot (temps in the mid 90’s (mid 30’s C), here and there. Then, I had to adjust my distances. But overall the temperature was mild. Only one day was cold, when I had to ride in long sleeve shirt and long biking pants.

I did not have one day with rain during the day. It rained quite few times at night.

The only negative surprise was the amount of days that I encountered headwind. It appeared that it was following me around. Out of the 20 days that it took to get around the lake, on most of them I experienced headwind, at least during part of the ride.

I was also lucky of not having any days with high humidity, that can occasionally happen around Great Lakes. Maybe it was because I was always riding close to the shoreline where there is almost always some kind of breeze.

Grand Haven lighthouse
Grand Haven lighthouse.


There were a lot of attractions along the way…

 I am not the true cyclist – I consider myself more of an explorer on the bike. Therefore, I don’t like to just bike-sleep-repeat, like some people do in pursuit of distance records. When I tour I like to learn about local area, visit the local attractions, talk to people, etc. I feel that I did not do enough of it, and that I rushed through on my ride around the lake. One issue, is difficulty in finding the accommodations where you need them. That often pushed me further than I wanted. But in retrospective, I should have taken more time, and should have ridden shorter distances. Because often, after riding 70 miles (112 km) in a hot weather I was too tired to go and explore.

However, the are many interesting local attractions along the whole route.

Few that I would recommend are:

  • South Haven, MI – Michigan Maritime Museum, and a boat ride on their replica of an old sail sloop – “Friends of Good Will”. , and not to mention beach and the lighthouse.
  • Warren Dune State Park, MI – with beautiful, extensive dune area with few miles of scenic hiking trails.
  • Indiana Dunes National Park, IN -, another area with beautiful beaches and dunes to explore.
  • Chicago, IL – of course, biking on the Lakefront Trail, walking around Navy Pier, visiting amazing Field Museum, going on the Architecture River Cruise, going for a walk along the Chicago river front, going to top of Willis Tower. Obviously, there are a lot more interesting and fun activities that you can enjoy in Chicago. These are only few that I thought are worth mentioning.
  • Milwaukee, WI – Milwaukee Art Museum.
  • Manitowoc, WI – Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
  • Fayette, MI – Fayette Historic Townsite – once bustling industrial town that operated from mid to late 1800’s.
  • Mackinaw City, MI – Colonial Michilimackinac – a reconstructed 18th century fort and fur trading village
  • Traverse City, MI – visit Mission Point lighthouse, go on a day cruise aboard sailing ship, visit some wineries.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI – another place with sand dunes, this one is quite extensive. Some beautiful scenery and hiking trails.
  • Silver Lake, Mi – go riding on the dunes by either renting a dune buggy, four-wheeler, or by going on an organized dune ride, or go hiking on the dunes.
South Haven lighthouse
South Haven lighthouse.

Final Thoughts

The circle tour around Lake Michigan was an interesting and educational experience for me. This was the longest bike tour that I have done so far.

One definite thing that I learned is that I need to consider shorter daily rides. They need to be in the range of 40 – 50 miles (54 – 80 km), to be able to have more time for exploring.

I also think that I need to start stealth camping while touring, to have more flexibility for planning my routes.

Riding in Illinois and Wisconsin is a lot less stressful, in general, that it is in Michigan. These two states have a lot of connected trails, and cities and towns have bike lines. In Michigan cities rarely have bike lanes, and not many connected trails. Michigan usually designates the road as good for cycling with a sign “Share the road”!

You cannot trust any of the bike routing applications. There are many mistakes on Garmin maps and sometimes they are obsolete.

Google maps bike routing cannot be trusted at all, because sometimes it is good, but sometimes it routes you on roads that have no shoulder, but they have heavy traffic. Google satellite pictures are often from years ago, and hence not up to date.

Therefore, while planning a route you need to combine all the available resources like Garmin Basecamp, Google maps, satellite images, Ride with GPS, etc. Then you have a chance of finding errors with one app or a correct routing.

I planned most of my trip using Ride with GPS and Google maps and satellite images.

The trip was a great experience and I would recommend it to anybody who wants to bike tour in the region of the Great Lakes. I would just take a little bit more time, and change some routes to go on some less busy roads.

If a month long trip was too long for you, there are other options. There are two ship ferries running across Lake Michigan connecting towns in Michigan and Wisconsin. One from Ludington to Manitowoc, and another from Muskegon to Milwaukee.

However, I would not recommend the circle tour for anybody new to bike touring, or somebody who is not comfortable riding on busy roads, and not familiar with how to safely navigate in high vehicle traffic, busy intersections, etc.

Instead, if you are a novice bike tourer, I would recommend the Michigan’s Lake-to-Lake Route #1 (it will be a subject of my next post), which goes from South Haven to Port Huron. While only about 50% of the route is on trails, the roads that are part of it, are mostly local low traffic ones. There are only few relatively short stretches of busy roads included. This is not a loop, but if you must return to the starting point, you can also ride it back…

This trips brings some nice memories. And while I want to move on to touring in other regions and other countries, I am also thinking that it would be nice to tour around other Great Lakes…

Camping in Van Buren State Park during my Lake Michigan Tour by Bicycle
Camping in Van Buren State Park
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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