There are a few things I’ve been wanting to check out recently, the Little Traverse Wheelway, the tunnel of trees on M-119, and Legs Inn in Cross Village. Why not tick off all 3 in one go? That’s what I decided to do during a recent camping weekend at Fisherman’s Island.
I spend most of my time in the three-county region of Grand Traverse (where I live), Antrim (where I work), and Leelanau (where I play), but there’s plenty of scenic offerings and adventures to be had a little farther north. Fisherman’s Island is just a few miles south of Charlevoix, so about a 55 minute drive north up US 31 from Traverse City. The Little Traverse Wheelway is a paved trail that starts on the north side of Charlevoix and runs approximately 26 miles along the coast through Petoskey to Harbor Springs. From the start in Charlevoix to Petoskey it’s about 20 miles, and then another 6 to the end in Harbor Springs.
For the first dozen or so miles it runs along US 31, but as it nears Petoskey there are numerous overlooks to stop and soak in the view. The trail is well marked, even on the part that runs on the road and through a parking lot in Petoskey. It’s a great opportunity for beginner cyclists to get some miles under their belts as there are no big climbs and no vehicles to contend with. The long-term plan is to eventually connect the TART that ends in Acme to this trail in Charlevoix via Elk Rapids, but that’s likely a few years away. And by few I mean 10.
The trail currently ends in Harbor Springs, but that’s the part I was really looking forward to as I’d heard the tunnel of trees on M-119 is a great cycling route. The overlooks and scenery did not disappoint and this route is definitely on my to-do list during the fall when the colors start to turn. The road does not have any shoulder and is winding and narrow, but all the vehicles (mostly motorcycles) that passed me were driving leisurely and I felt totally safe the entire ride. From Harbor Springs to Cross Village is a little under 20 miles with some gently rolling hills (don’t be fooled by the course profile below, there weren’t any steep or sustained climbs).
If you need a mid-ride re-supply, stop at the quaint Good Hart General Store. I was in a bit of a rush to make sure I arrived timely for dinner, but I did stop for a quick photo.
The thought of homemade Polish food (& beer) at Legs Inn kept me going through the last few miles on what was a very hot summer day. The rest of the family was driving up from our campsite and everything was timed perfectly as we rolled into the parking lot a few minutes apart (they took a wrong turn and skipped the tunnel of trees, but it ended up working out timing wise). It also gave me the victory!
Legs Inn is located on a bluff facing west over Lake Michigan. Despite our voracious hunger, we decided to wait a half hour for a table outside in the garden. There’s a large lawn next to the garden where kids were running around as the sun started to dip and the temps dropped. A few cold beers and a giant plate of Polish food had everybody extremely satisfied. We’ve already scheduled our return trip!
Ultimately a pretty amazing summer day. Getting back to camp and roasting marshmallows over the fire capped it all off. I typically spend my bike rides in Leelanau County, but will be back up north as soon as I can.
If you haven’t noticed, we get pretty excited about exploring northern Michigan on our bicycles. It’s just incredibly fun. For one of our latest rides, we hopped on the bikes at Old Settlers Park on the southeast side of Big Glen Lake. From there, if you hug the coastline of Big & Little Glen, it’s just shy of 20 miles (19.6 to be exact) around the lakes.
You start off by heading southwest along Big Glen and climbing up the steep side of Inspiration Point, which will definitely get the heart pumping. Then you’re along the coastline for the majority of the ride. There’s some great overlooks of the lakes from the tops of Inspiration Point and Dunns Farm Road so I recommend climbing off the bike a couple times and taking in the view.
The ride ends with a modest climb up Dunns Hill Climb before you roll back into Old Settlers Park. Post-ride sustenance abounds with our favorites being Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor and Joe’s in Empire. We’re of the opinion that this ride earns you at least 10,000 calories worth of veggie burgers, fries, and beer!
If you haven’t checked out the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail there’s even more reason to head out and enjoy a walk or bike ride (or ski in the winter). The trail now runs all the way from Glen Arbor to Empire, with an addition of approximately 5 miles opening last weekend (this new section starts at about mile 4.5 on the route map below). Until this newest section opened, the trail coursed 4.5 miles through the woods & dunes from Glen Arbor to the Dune Climb. The length of the entire trail now is a shade over 9.5 miles (editor’s note: the trail does stop about a mile or so before Empire, but it ends at Lacore Road which runs right into town).
The newly opened trail to Empire feels hillier than the original section (& appears that way based on the elevation profile below), but there were plenty of casual riders out on their cruiser bikes chugging up the hills. Maybe my legs were constricted by all the spandex I was sporting. Next time out I’m going with tube socks and cargo shorts. The trail also crosses North Bar Road so you can bike to North Bar Lake without having to deal with the tiny parking lot full of tourist type folks.
Additionally, BATA is again offering their Bike and Ride program this summer. For the normal fare of $3 you can pack your bike on the bus and take it up to Empire and Glen Arbor, ride the trail one way (or both), and then hop back on the bus afterwards (stay tuned to this blog for more info on that program soon).
I can’t say enough about how beautiful it is along the trail. It changes between the backwoods of the National Lakeshore; grassy, flower-covered hills; and sandy, rolling dunes. And to be able to get a solid cycle in (19 miles for an out and back) without putting your wheels on a road is pretty sweet. For our ride last weekend we started in Glen Arbor and rode the entire length to Empire before turning back. On the return we hopped off the trail at the Dune Climb (at mile 15 on the route map above) and hugged Little and Big Glen Lakes before cruising into Glen Arbor. Post ride chow at Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire and then a bonfire at Empire Beach made for a pretty great northern Michigan day.
Unfortunately it took me a couple decades to learn that I live in an area that has amazing cycling routes to explore. I spent my youth running around and banging heads with other helmeted individuals instead of enjoying the blissful feel of the wind on my face as I cruised along on my bike with my drive-train humming beneath me. It wasn’t until I’d accumulated a number of injuries & could barely walk until I looked to the bicycle, the world’s greatest invention, as an activity. And now I’m obsessed. Granted, I spend more of my time on the wooded trails, but it’s tough to beat a nice ride along one of our beautiful lakeside roads.
There’s always going to be a debate as to which peninsula is the better ride, Old Mission or Leelanau, not to mention the roads around Torch Lake in Antrim County and countless other routes. All of these areas are worth your time to head out and explore. Bluff Road in particular on the east side of Old Mission Peninsula has some amazing views of East Bay that are tough to beat. Rides on OMP are as easy or difficult as you want to make them. An out and back cruise along either bay is relatively flat or criss-cross back and forth between bays to add some challenging elevation changes. If you’re up for a longer ride, the roads towards the north end of OMP are more remote and offer some great scenery.
After a long winter the weather has finally turned the corner so I definitely recommend taking advantage of it with a cruise out OMP. It’ll be 20 degrees and snowing before you know it!