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.
I moved back to the Traverse City area almost ten years ago (giant gulp at how time flies). I quickly realized that the things that once occupied my time in Chicago would need to change. Over those ten years, I have lost, on average, a pair of high heels every year and picked up a new outdoor activity in their place. Four years ago it was cross-country skis (this year I think I actually skied faster than walking). Two years ago, it was the road bike. Last year, the clip-on pedals for the road bike (SCARY addition that deserved its own year and that luckily only resulted in one near-death experience). And this year, after borrowing everyone else’s kayak way too much, I purchased my very own. We picked up a few of these Michigan-made recreational kayaks on sale at K-Mart, of all places, for $180 apiece. “K-Mart is still open?” you ask, followed by, “Does it float?”. The answer to both questions is yes.
Mind you, I am no expert and far from a gear snob (goes without saying after mentioning K-Mart, huh?), but I have been really pleased with the boat. It is steady enough for my totally ungraceful launches, paddles smoothly, and, most importantly, lets me get out on all the Northern Michigan fresh water we are so lucky to live near.
For this weekend’s outing, we headed west from the Coast Guard Station at Glen Haven, on the forecast of 0-2 mph winds. Given my assessment of Michigan weather forecasts’ accuracy at 50%, seems about right that we had 0-2 mph winds for half the trip and a bit of choppy waves for the other half. Spring paddles have the amazing benefit of crystal clear waters but come with the added risk of a hypothermia-inducing tip! We stayed as close to shore as we could, while still avoiding the gnats, and cut our original plans short as soon as the waves picked up.
Turns out blue light specials do alright maneuvering around a sleeping bear. I’m forecasting plenty of return trips to paddle this route and I can guarantee my forecast will have an accuracy well-above the Weather Channel’s.
For those who follow this blog, it’s apparent…I am a Leelanau County girl. I require serious navigational help to get most anywhere beyond county lines in Northern Michigan. But I’ve been introduced to a new spot in Antrim County, Grass River Natural Area. This little gem, outside of Bellaire, is well worth expanding one’s boundaries, especially this time of year!
I first visited Grass River late last October, when the area was covered in a golden carpet of downed Tamarack needles. There was a magical feel to it, more intimate than most of the wide-open dunescapes I frequent in Leelanau County. The 1,443 acres of protected land offer sedges, bogs, boardwalks, and opportunity aplenty to encounter nature up close and personal. Below is one of the many viewing platforms you’ll find.
Since going last fall, I have returned twice. In the spring, I witnessed all kinds of green wonders emerging to showcase the results of 40 years plus of preservation. And this last weekend, our crew visited just in time to witness the orange and gold hues of autumn ablaze in the setting sun’s rays. The Sedge Meadow trail is a must see, with several viewing platforms and a chance to take in some of the flora and fauna the area along the section of the Grass River near Clam Lake offers. The loop is less than a mile and offers boardwalks that make for a fun running track for children. If you have more time, add on the Fern and Woodland Trail, for a nice 2.5-mile hike that takes you through both wetlands and uplands.
The next couple weeks will make for prime times to visit Grass River. The fall color there is like nowhere else. Suffice it to say, my Siri will be hearing the request, “Please show me directions to Grass River Natural Area” almost as much as she hears “Hey Siri, please show me pictures of cute baby owls,” from my 9-year-old. With 147 species of birds, I have a lot more to see!
Check in here for a schedule of events and classes offered and plan your hike with the map at the end of this post! Enjoy!
At over 70,000 acres, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers plenty of room to roam. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the Lakeshore is in a kayak, and with 35 miles of pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, it’s pretty easy to find a quiet place to explore.
Last month when the weather forecast called for calm winds, blue skies, and warm temperatures on a Saturday morning, a sight-seeing tour of the world’s largest freshwater sand dunes by kayak seemed like a great idea. I talked fellow Northern Swag contributor Kim Schwaiger into joining me with promises of stunning views and – given the 6 am departure – plenty of coffee.
We had the beach and lake to ourselves as we unloaded the boats and paddled into the Big Lake toward Sleeping Bear in the pre-dawn light, taking in the views both behind and in front of us.
The sun began to rise as we made our way up the lake, and finally emerged from behind the hills and dunes as we passed the outlet at North Bar Lake, illuminating the landscape as we paddled north.
The view from the overlook atop Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is one of
my favorite views in Michigan, but seeing the 450-foot face of Sleeping Bear Dunes up close from a kayak wasn’t too shabby either.
As we passed in front of the dunes, the light breeze from the east disappeared, turning the surface of Lake Michigan to glass, which doesn’t happen often, creating plenty of photo-ops.
As we continued on, the sun rose above the dunes, highlighting the crystal-clear water and the ridges of sand below.
Rounding Sleeping Bear Point, conditions were pretty much perfect. We couldn’t help but stop to soak up the sun and take in the surroundings before continuing on to our destination at Glen Haven.
I’ve paddled on Lake Michigan along various sections of the Lakeshore a half-dozen times or so, and there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
- Respect the “big water.” Lake Michigan is a massive body of water and can turn from calm to surly in a matter of minutes. Even if you’re an experienced paddler, don’t take unnecessary risks. We stayed pretty close to shore for the duration of our route.
- Wear a life jacket. You never know what might happen, and your safety is worth it.
- Bring plenty of water and a snack to provide an energy boost mid-paddle.
- Get a dry bag. We used these for our cameras and cell phones.
This latest paddle along the shoreline of Sleeping Bear was an amazing experience. Our window of favorable conditions is closing quickly for this year, but if you live in the area or are planning a visit next summer, a kayak offers a unique point of view of this beautiful landscape.
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!