One of the nice weekend bike touring options in Michigan is a 2 – 3 day ride at the tip of the Lower Peninsula. The loop, that I’m going to describe here, goes from Petoskey to Mackinaw City, then to Cheboygan, Indian River and back to Petoskey. The total distance on the bike is between 130 to 170 miles. The trip can be easily done in 2 days. However, if you want to enjoy the area and pleasures that it offers – could be stretched to 3 days. That way you can also relax at the beach, go for a swim, check out some local attractions, eat and drink, etc.
If you choose to do a three day, relaxed ride, it might be a good idea to arrive in Petoskey on Thursday evening. (Otherwise, I would suggest getting in Petoskey on Friday evening.) If you do – great camping choice is Petoskey State Park. If you choose to stay in motel/hotel – Petoskey, being a tourist town, offers many choices. However, if you decide to camp – Petoskey S.P. is a beautiful park with a fairly big sandy beach along Lake Michigan. If you go in late July or in August, you can take advantage of warm water and go for a swim. It beats swimming in most inland lakes. Water in Lake Michigan is so clean and clear, that playing in it, as long as it is warm, is a pure pleasure.
Friday (distance ~ 60 miles)
If you stay in the state park’s campground, it is a good idea to get up early in the morning, by 7:00 or earlier, to beat the crowds in the shower and bathrooms.
After you pack all your camping equipment, you can move your car to the overflow lot, which is located towards the end of the Tannery Creek Campground.
Once you leave the campground, get on the Little Traverse Wheelway immediately on the left. The trail goes all the way to, pretty much, downtown of Harbor Springs. However, I would, after about half-mile on the trail, veer off to the left on Beach Rd. This way you are following more or less the shoreline, which provides for a lot more interesting scenery. Once you get closer to Harbor Springs, continue on Pennsylvania Ave, E Bay St, Traverse St, 3rd St, 4th St, till finally you get on M-119 (Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route) on the west side of downtown of Harbor Springs. Of course, Harbor Springs would be a great spot to stop and have breakfast, or, at least, coffee.
Generally, M-119 is not very busy, and you only have to deal with a car or two from time to time. Biking the Tunnel of Trees is fun. Even though the tree coverage is not continuous, and, at times, you bike under the open sky, in full sun, there is still plenty of shade.
The road is beautiful at any time of the year. If you go in the spring, you will be able to enjoy amazing views of woods covered by endless blooms of wild flowers. The route, at any time, being high above the water level, offers some amazing views of Lake Michigan. If you pay attention, and notice the little drive, on the left, down the bluff, called S Lamkin Road, you will have a chance to get closer to the lake and also see an old church, cemetery and some old building in the Middle Village. Eventually, in the area of Good Hart, you have to make it up back to the M-119. Otherwise you end up on one of the dead-end streets and you have to turn around.
Continuing on M-119 north, you eventually arrive at Cross Village with its popular Polish restaurant – Legs Inn. While I think the food there is overrated, the portions are small and prices high – you don’t have much choice, if you want to relax and stop for lunch. There won’t be anything else before Mackinaw City. At Leg’s Inn expect a line to be seated. The place is very popular with tourists and motorcycle “bikers”.
After the lunch stop, continue north on the main road – N. Lake Shore Dr. After a while, you get to the stretch of N. Lake Shore Dr. going through the Wilderness State Park. This area has some nice sand dunes and many spots where you can stop and relax on the beach or go for a swim in Lake Michigan. You will see a lot of cars parked along the road here, indicating the spot where people went to the beach. Finally, when it’s time to turn, the road naturally turns into W Lakeview Rd, which takes you east and eventually turns into E. Gill Rd. When you arrive at the intersection with Cecil Bay Rd, you need to turn left and follow the road till you get to Wilderness Park Dr., on which you turn right and follow it till it makes a quick right turn and the quick left turn to keep going north. This is a tricky section, and it is good to see in on the map. Finally, when you get to W Central Ave, you turn right on it and follow it to Farley St (or any other short street that takes you towards the water) and shortly later you turn right on Lakeside Dr. You follow the Lakeside Dr., till you get under the Mackinac Bridge and enter the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Park through the parking lot immediately past the bridge. The park is a nice place to stop and enjoy the view of the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, meeting under the Mackinac Bridge.
After a break, continue to the other end of the park, where the trail will take you to the N. Huron Ave.
Again, as far as accommodations, Mackinaw City, being a tourist town, offers many choices. You can also camp, and there are some campgrounds on the eastern side of town.
Otherwise, the N. Huron Ave will take you to S Huron Ave and also to Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry dock. If you decide, you want to go visit and ride on the Mackinac Island, you can board the ferry. The ferry ride to the island takes about 15 minutes. The round trip ticket for one person + bike is about $33.
There is one more ferry service that goes to the island, further down the S Huron Ave, Star Line.
If you don’t want to tour the island today, continue down the S Huron Ave.
If you want to continue on the N Central State Trail towards Indian River, go to Mackinaw Ave/Rte. 23, which you cross and find the trail access on the other side.
You could continue on the trail to campgrounds, but it is difficult to see where they are through the woods. Therefore, a short ride down a fairly busy road is not that bad.
Out of the two campgrounds, the Tee Pee might be better for a bike-tourer. The Mackinaw Mill Creek is very nice, but being bigger, there is more traffic there, big RV’s and campers.
If you decide to camp here in Mackinaw City, you always have another chance to tour Mackinac Island next day in the morning.
Saturday (distance ~ 50 miles including Mackinac Island)
This is what I did when I rode the loop… You can spent few hours on the island, first riding the trail following the shoreline, which I think, adds up to 10 miles. There are few attractions worth checking out, like the Arch Rock (along the trail), the beautiful houses along some of the island roads, Grand Hotel (which unfortunately, you will not be able to visit, unless you book a room in it), the Fort Mackinac…
You probably will want to stop at one of the restaurants, or other food stops to eat, and definitely, if it is your first visit, try the Mackinac Island fudge at one of the many fudge shops along the main street.
Some of the ferries go under the bridge allowing you to check it out at relatively close distance. The island is usually crowded.
You don’t have to bring your own bike to the island. Right outside ferry docks, there are bike rentals.
If you camped and did not go to the island, from the campground cross the road (Mackinaw Ave/Rte.23) and follow it south. Shortly after, you should find a trail access. The trail follows the road all the way to Cheboygan, but is hidden in the woods. The trail is gravel or limestone covered. Unfortunately, the gravel is loose and makes riding on it hard, especially, if your bike has narrow tires. Fortunately, there is not a lot of it. Big stretches of the trail are simply packed dirt which is hard when dry and a lot easier to ride on. It is under 20 miles to Cheboygan. If you want to make a stop in town, the trail passes very close to downtown.
If you continue, soon you come to the nice city park. It’s a great spot to rest in the shade under shelter roof at a picnic table. There is also a water fountain here and restrooms. The trail splits here and of you go left, you go towards Alpena. And if you go right, you go towards Indian River and Gaylord. The trail continues to go through the woods. And after about 4 – 5 miles begins to follow the shoreline of Mullett Lake. Right when you first see the lake, there is a very small public park on the left, where you can stop, rest and cool off in the water. When you continue to go south, follow the lake for quite a while. And when the lakes ends, you are almost in Indian River. Indian River is a pretty sleepy town, with very small, one street, downtown. You have to be careful here, and get of the trail before it veers off away from Straits Hwy. Otherwise you will be going towards Gaylord.
So when you pass the river, you need to get over on Straits Hwy, and follow it for less than a mile to Burt Lake State Park, if you are camping in the state park. (Again, there are other limited accommodations available in Indian River.)
Burt Lake is another beautiful Michigan state park. However, it is quite busy and full of big RV’s, campers and big tents. Again, if it’s warm, you might want to take advantage of having a lake, and go for a swim.
Sunday (bike distance ~ 60 miles including ride to and back from Charlevoix)
If you planning just on riding back to Petoskey State Park, you do not need to hurry. It’s only a 20 mile ride. However, it is a good idea to get up early to avoid the lines to the showers and bathrooms.
When you leave the campground, you need to go right on the S Straits Hwy and ride for a quarter-mile till you get to the intersection with Sturgeon St/Rte.68. Here, you turn right and follow Sturgeon St/Rte.68 for about 7 – 8 miles till you get to Alanson. In Alanson, shortly after crossing the river, there will be a slight jog to the left on Burr Ave and immediate right on Chicago St, and right there you will see the Petoskey to Mackinaw Trail. Turn left on the trail and follow it along the Crooked Lake through Conway, then by the Round Lake. When you get to Harbor-Petoskey Road/M-119 you cross it and turn right on the Little Traverse Wheelway. After riding about a mile on the trail, you reach the Petoskey State Park.
In the park you can enjoy the availability of facilities and take a shower. And if it’s hot, go to the beach for a swim.
If you need more time on the bike, because the mere 20 miles from Indian River to Petoskey wasn’t worth getting on it – you can follow the Little Traverse Wheelway south all the way to Charlevoix, which is 21 miles away. Therefore, if you ride all the way to Charlevoix and back you get an additional 42 miles. This will bring the total for the day over 60 miles.
The Little Traverse Wheelway is a beautiful paved trail going through picturesque towns of Petoskey and Charlevoix. It offers many incredible views of Lake Michigan. There are many places on the way to take break at, or stop to eat and drink.
Another option would be to go from Indian River south on the trail towards Gaylord, to maybe Wolverine or Vanderbilt. Then cut across to Boyne City. From there you could follow the southern shore of Lake Charlevoix on Lake Shore Rd which eventually turns into Ferry Rd. At the end of Ferry Rd, you guess, there will be a ferry to take you across the lake. Then you would follow 66 to Charlevoix. And from town you would take Little Traverse Wheelway all the way to Petoskey.
This loop is one of the most picturesque weekend bike rides in the Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. And the only reason, that I said “one of” and not “the most”, is that there is contender. The Traverse City – Mission Peninsula – Leelanau Peninsula – Sleeping Bear Dunes ride is also very scenic… I cannot decide which one is nicer.
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To read more articles about bike touring in Michigan, check out my other post about: Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Tip of the Thumb.