Activities

Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Rochester to Algonac and Back

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The Idea

The inspiration for this kind of trip came from Alastair Humphries Microadventures book (which I highly recommend). The idea was to ride from home somewhere within a day’s range, then camp overnight, and return home the next day. Weekend local bike touring in Michigan, in as simple form as possible…

I had to look for a place where we could camp, as wild camping is difficult in southeastern Michigan, as there is very little public land. So, looking at the map, I decided that the Algonac State Park was one of the very few destinations that met my criteria. One – most riding can be done on the trails, with relatively few miles on busy roads. Two – a campground, providing a spot to spend the night.

Since I posted a trip just two days before, I found only one companion. This was actually good for two reasons. One, it’s nice to have a company. Otherwise, the riding feels long. Two, on the other hand, I did not want a big group, as this was kind of a test how such a local tours goes.

 

Local Bike Touring in Michigan - Rochester to Algonac State Park

Ready to leave the house.

 

Macomb Orchard Trail Section

As we (myself and my riding companion) live in different cities, I had to pick a point where we would meet. Since we were going to take Macomb Orchard Trail, I thought that the trailhead at Onyx Ice Arena was a perfect spot to start. We would meet there at noon.

Riding from home was uneventful, and in a little over an hour I was at the Onyx. My biking companion was already waiting for me. We immediately began our ride on Macomb Orchard Trail.

For those of you who don’t know, the MOT is a beautiful, paved bike path leading from border of Rochester Hills and Shelby Township to city of Richmond. The trail is 24 mile long. It passes first through some suburban landscape, to only later switch to rural area of open fields and woods. It is fairly popular with cyclists and walkers, especially the first 10 miles and last 2 -3 miles from Richmond.

The trail ride went smoothly and fairly fast, even though we were riding against the steady headwind from the east. The wind was not that strong at this point.

 

Algonac State Park campground

Algonac State Park campground.

 

Richmond and Beyond

When you get to the end of the trail in Richmond, you are about a mile north of downtown. Since we were not hungry, we did not stop to eat, but only made a stop at Dairy Queen for some ice-cream. It was along our way down the Main Street towards downtown.

In downtown we did a little jog along Gratiot Ave and 31 Mile Rd to County Line Road. We took the road south for 3 miles. I was glad it was only such a short distance because we found out that the road was quite busy with very narrow shoulder at first, and no shoulder later.

So, next time I ride this route, I will try going further east on 31 Mile Rd/St. Clair Hwy and maybe take Palms Rd south. It might be better.

You would say, we didn’t you use the MDOT Biking Maps to figure out which road has the smallest amount of traffic. And we did, and County Lane Rd has medium traffic. So does Palms Rd. There are few dirt roads in between that probably would have been pretty much empty. But it’s a lot easier to ride on paved surface. So, there is some choice there.

Anyway, let’s get back to the route… We were glad, when we finally got to Meisner Road, which we were taking east. It was quiet. Maybe it was because it was being repaved. The construction crew let us ride on the new pavement, that was still blocked for car traffic.

The riding was very slow though because by now we had quite strong headwind from the east. So, the 12 mile stretch along Meisner Rd took forever.

 

Bridge-To-Bay Trail

We took Meisner Rd. to East China Township and there we got on Bridge-To-Bay Trail going south. The trail is not a continuous stretch from Port Huron to Algonac. It is in sections, and I wonder if it ever be completely connected. So, when you get in Marine City to Ward St, do NOT follow the trail west. It will end soon and add 2 extra miles to your route. Instead, turn left and go the S Parker St/29, and take it south. It has some sidewalks, and wide shoulder. In about 3 miles, when you get to Roberts Rd, you can take it and almost immediately turn on the trail going south. And after half mile on it, you will get to the Algonac State Park campground.

 

Algonac State Park campground

Algonac State Park campground.

 

Algonac State Park

The campground office is located at the south end. So, you need to go along the whole campground to get to it. Once you register, you can take the trail or campground road to get back to your campsite.

Algonac State Park campground has some nice grassy campsites. Some of them are partially shaded. It is a busy, family campground. Even though it is by the Saint Clair River, it is not directly on it. You can get to the river though, by crossing the fairly busy M-29. There is no beach there, but rather a narrow shoreline, which allows you to watch the freighters and recreational boats going by. Actually, the big freighters are partially visible from most of the campground.

The campground has restrooms and showers, so you can take a shower after a sweaty or dusty ride.

When we got to the campground around 5 pm there was a strong and steady breeze blowing from the east that kept bugs away. However, much later in the evening, when the wind died, there were few mosquitos here and there. By the trail, though, there was some standing water in the low spots, the mosquitos were plentiful. If you were on the moving bike, you were fine. However, as soon as you stopped, they would began landing on your body all over.

 

Local bike touring in Michigan

Camping in Algonac State Park.

 

Bike Camping in Michigan State Parks

Michigan state parks are cyclist friendly. What I mean by that is that they have a rule that if you are arriving by bike, they will not turn you away, even if you don’t have a reservation and they are full. I have recently confirmed it with DNR by an email. However, I wanted to check if the park staff is aware of it, and asked. They reassured me that if I did not have a reservation, they would indeed still accommodate us since we arrived on bikes.

However, the rules vary by state. So, if your trip goes to other state, check its rules. For example, I have recently sent an email to Wisconsin DNR regarding bike tourer’s treatment at Wisconsin State Park and did not receive any reply… Therefore, you need to start planning early, because it make take a while to get an answer.

 

Anyway, after registering, we found our campsite and setup the tents. Then, for a while we just relaxed.

Around 7:00, it was time to go a get something to eat. There are no restaurants immediately outside the park. While, I know that most people arrive by car, it would be still pretty nice to just walk to dinner instead of driving…

The downtown Algonac is about 3 – 4 miles away. We just rode south out of the park on the trail, shoulder or sidewalk till we got to downtown Algonac. There we stopped at the Harbor Club Bar & Grill. The place was crowded even though when you check their reviews on Yelp they are low (only two stars). We could not complain about our experience there. We got seated pretty fast. Our drinks came pretty fast, too. Food was good and portions were big.

We returned back to the campground just before it began getting dark.

 

Saint Clair River

View of St. Clair River from the campground.

 

Return Ride

Next morning, we packed slowly and left the campground around 9 o’clock. Since there is no place to eat around the campground, we decided to ride to Marine City and get breakfast there. We stopped at Marine Diner on the south side of Marine City. This is a typical small town diner with a typical American breakfast food. The service was fast, the food plentiful, to the point that I could not finish my dish, and that rarely happens.

Soon, we were on the trail again retracing our route from yesterday. The riding was a lot easier today because we had tail or side wind most of the time. We followed Meisner Rd west and again rode on the freshly laid asphalt and then followed very busy County Rd to Richmond. There, after resting for few minutes at the trailhead, we got on the Macomb Orchard Trail.

When we got on the trail is began to sprinkle. And it continued most of the way. Luckily, it never turned into rain.

We stopped at the Verellen Orchards & Cider Mill (right of the trail, just north of 29 Mile Rd) for some cider slushy.

Later, we continued south and soon arrived at the western trailhead at Onyx Ice Arena. There are ways parted, and each of us continued riding to our homes.

 

Marine  City

Diner in Marine City

 

CAMPING

Besides the Algonac State Park campground, there is no other camping on the U.S. side available. There are few campgrounds on the Canadian side. There are two on and around Walpole Island and two north of Sombra.

 

DINING

There are not a lot of choices, but enough that you don’t have to worry about not finding a place to eat. They are sparse outside of towns, so you need to plan ahead.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This was a great local exploratory tour. Never, before have I thought of local riding beyond day trips. This was new and nice experience.

When we were relaxing in the campground, we talked about making it a three day trip with extension to Harsens Island, or Canada through Marine City ferry. Only later did I found that the Marine City ferry is indefinitely out of business. However, it appears that there is another one, from Algonac to Walpole Island. So, there are other interesting possibilities.

I also begin looking for other options and directions as far as overnight touring with riding from home.

Local touring straight out of the house is a nice option when you don’t have time for a longer trip. I will, definitely, do more of those in the future.

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If you are interested in weekend bike touring in southeast Michigan, you might want to read my post about touring the tip of the Thumb: Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Tip of the Thumb

 

 

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.