Destinations

Enjoyable Bike Ride on the Polly Ann Trail

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Polly Ann Trail is one of a few rail-to-trails in the northern Detroit suburbs. The trailhead is located in Orion Township; the trail end –  about 2 miles north of Village of Leonard. The trail is a linear trail 16.9 miles long. So, if you ride the whole distance out and back, you get about 34 miles.

This is one of those trails, that even though it is close to the city, it makes you feel like you are miles away.

Bike Ride on Polly Ann Trail
Polly Ann Trail

Trailheads and Parking Lots

It is one of those trails that, at least initially, was conceived to be used by local communities. I say this because the trail does NOT have parking lots at either end to accommodate users arriving by car. There are, however, number of parking lots along the trail.

The trail begins at Joslyn Rd (south of Waldon Rd), but as I have mentioned before, there is no parking lot there. So, if you are arriving by car, the closest you can park is the parking lot in the Civic Center Park off Joslyn Ct, north of Waldon Rd. This is a huge park with plenty of parking spots. Unfortunately, the park does not have an official path connecting with the trail. While you can go behind one of the soccer fields and get to the trail, the path is not marked and not easy to find, unless you know it is there.

So, the only other option is to ride from the parking lot to Waldon Rd and take a shoulder for about 150 feet to get to the trail. Here, if you go right, you can ride for about 1/3 of a mile to the trailhead. And if you go left, you got over 16 miles of the trail ahead of you.

Polly Ann Trail
The beginning of the trail, just east of Joslyn Rd.

The Trail

The Surface

The trail surface varies from dirt, to gravel covered dirt, to paved. But overall the trail is very smooth and mostly dirt. For those who are familiar with other trails in the area – it is much smoother than Paint Creek Trail or Clinton River Trail. The first section from the trailhead is dirt and then it switches to fine gravel covered dirt. It is like this all the way to Drahner Rd. There starts the section of the trail that is paved for about 2 miles. It turns back to gravel covered dirt in Oxford. It continues like that till the Village of Leonard, where is paved again for a mile, to turn to gravel covered surface all the way to the end of the trail about 2 miles north of Leonard, at Boardman Rd.

The trail actually continues north to Dryden, but is not improved. This means, it is a bumpy single track. If you are on a mountain bike, you can, if you choose, ride another 6 miles to Dryden.

At about 3.5 miles in, the trail stops at Joslyn Rd. There is a break in it and there is a mile and half long section where you need to ride on sidewalk to connect with the section going further north.

After you cross Joslyn, you need to ride east (turn right) and continue on Joslyn for about ¼ mile when it turns north. You take Joslyn north on the sidewalk on the east side of the road. The section of the sidewalk along the golf course was recently repaved, fixing the old, deteriorated and bumpy surface.

When you finally get to Indianwood, you turn left (going west), cross Joslyn and continue on the still narrow section of the sidewalk.  Here, it goes up and down over some steep little hills through nicely wooded area. It is short. In about ¼ mile the path reconnects with the trail on the other side of the road.

This is the only interruption like that along the trail.

Since Polly Ann Trail is a rail-trail, it is pretty flat. Only the sidewalk section has few little hills, and there is a little hill east of Oxford just past the State Street.

Polly Ann Trail
Smooth gravel surface.

The Signage

At the trailhead, end of the trail and at every major road intersections there are permanent maps of the trail. They show the trail with mileage markers, location of parking lots and restrooms, etc.

The only issue I have with the maps is that they do not show your current location of the map. Some of the maps have a name of the cross-road on the post supporting the map, but not all. I know, that in this electronic age, you get out your cell phone and look on the map where you are. But you should not have to do that.

It would be too expensive to replace all the maps. However, MDNR could invest in some weather resistant “You are here” stickers and post them on the maps.

Polly Ann Trail map
The permanent maps like this one are placed at many road intersections and trailheads.

The Environment

The trail goes mostly through wooded areas, occasionally passing by some homes here and there. Often you go by some swamps, ponds and lakes.

The swamps and ponds are great areas to spot some flying wildlife. Occasionally, you might run into a turtle crossing the trail. Beware, that occasionally you can run into some aggressive swans on the trail. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve encountered them once or twice.

When you get close to Leonard, you might, besides pedestrians and cyclists, also encounter riders on horseback. You will also see the remnants of horse presence on the trail.

Horseback riders on Polly Ann Trail
Horseback riders on Polly Ann Trail near Leonard.

Amenities

Besides bathrooms along the trail located in the parking areas, there are three bike repair stations. One located in the Civic Center Park, at about mile one along the trail. Second one is located in Oxford and the third one  – in Village of Leonard. They are also shown on the MDNR map. Beware that often the air pumps at the bike stations are destroyed and not in working order. I do not know the state of the pumps along Polly Ann Trail, however, based on my experience, you cannot relay on them most of the time.

Water, at the trail, is only available at two locations – one, in the parking lot at Clarkston Road, second, in the parking lot in Leonard. However, you could get your water bottle refilled by one of the businesses in Oxford, too.

The trail passes only directly through two towns: Oxford and Leonard.

In Oxford is goes right by an ice cream place. Right next there are few other food businesses.

Ice cream place in Oxford
Ice cream place in Oxford

Leonard is small, but you still have a store at the intersection of two major roads – Rochester and Leonard Rd. It is only about 1/8 mile from the trail.

Additionally, in the beginning of the ride, when you are on Joslyn Road, you are not far from downtown Lake Orion. Just continue on Heights Rd, instead of turning where Joslyn turns, and in about 2 miles you get to S Broadway St, which you take north (left turn). And after another ½ mile you will be in downtown Lake Orion with many restaurants and stores.

The other option is to take Clarkston Rd east for about 1 and ¼ mile till you reach M-24/Lapeer Rd and then follow the sidewalk along it north. To return to the trail, you take the same route back.

Paint Creek Connector Trail

There is an official connecting trail between Paint Creek Trail and Polly Ann Trail. It follows Clarkston Rd. For most part, it is a nice trail. The only questionable short section is the Clarkston Rd narrow sidewalk west of M-24/Lapeer Rd. It is made of bumpy concrete slabs, it is narrow (4 ft), and passes by some businesses where it is difficult to see the cars coming out of their driveways. Otherwise, the rest of it is pretty nice – wide asphalt path and few boardwalk bridges. There is a little hill to climb near the Paint Creek Trail.

Beware, that Google Map (as of 2022) is still showing the old route along Clarkston Rd, instead of the few years old boardwalk and the trail.

Trumpeter Swan
The Trumpeter Swan nest seen from the trail.

Final Thoughts

The Polly Ann Trail is a great trail to ride, especially, considering a new connection with Paint Creek Trail. The trail, generally, does not see much usage, at least not as much as popular Macomb Orchard Trail, Clinton River Trail or Paint Creek Trail.

Polly Ann Trail
The view from the trail.

My Ratings

Scenery (0-boring, 10-breathtaking): 5.0 (going mostly through wooded areas, occasionally, town, residential and commercial areas)

Easy-to-Follow (0-no maps, often broken into section without clear directions, 10-well marked with maps showing current location): 6.0 (many parking areas allowing for fairly easy access, no parking at trail head or trail end; there is one break in the trail in Lake Orion that requires sidewalk riding and paying attention to signs)

Food Access (0-no food facilities at all, 10-food available every few miles): 5.0 (many choices in Oxford, and party store in Leonard)

Restrooms (0-none, 10-moderen restrooms every few miles): 7.0 (most parking areas have restrooms or portas)

Surface Quality: 8.0 (it is a dirt/gravel trail with very smooth surface)

Accessibility: 6.0 (frequent parking areas, but no parking available at trail beginning and end)

Usage (0-not used at all, 10-extremely popular): 3.0 (not a lot of traffic, you will see few more riders in Orion Twp, Lake Orion and then in Oxford, otherwise very few people on the trail)

Hills (0-completely flat, 10-Extremely hilly): 1.0 (one bigger hill in a form of man-made bridge, otherwise few up and downs on the sidewalk section in Lake Orion)

Sun/Shade (0-no shade at all, 10-competely shaded): 6.0 (some open areas, but relatively good amount of shade otherwise)

Trailhead in Leonard
Trailhead in Leonard

Resources

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If you are interested in other bicycle trails in the southeast Michigan, here are my posts about:

Polly Ann Trail Sign

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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