For years, West Michigan has been a travel destination for residents of the northern burbs of Chicago.
Now, active vacationers have even more reason to visit with the region’s growing number of interconnected, non-motorized trails. Michigan is now number one in the nation in the number of rail trails.
Cycling and hiking on the trails can easily be combined with your stay at a cottage, the sugary sand beaches and the many festivals in West Michigan. As a long time resident of West Michigan I’ve biked most of these trails. With so many trails to pick from, it’s hard to pick which one. But here are some recommendations I would give to my three siblings and their families who live in Chicagoland.
City with most extensive set of trails and paths – Holland
The greater Holland area boasts one of the most extensive network of trails in Michigan. With more than 100 miles of paved trails it is possible to travel from Holland State Park along Lake Macatawa to the Saugatuck Dunes State Park on one continuous bike route. Holland’s paved network includes several routes incorporating some of the area’s most popular parks including Holland State Park, Winstrom Park and Kollen Park on Lake Macatawa.
Americana, rural experience – Musketawa Trail
The 26-mile Musketawa Trail from Muskegon to Marne is a slice of pure Americana. Originally the Central Michigan Railroad, it’s a peaceful, comfortable ride past quintessential farms with plenty of birds, butterflies and natural beauty. There’s wide expanses of cornfields, marshes and shady woodlands. The trial features 13 wooden trestles plus a large observation deck overlooking Crockery Creek near Ravenna.
Non-asphalt trail –Kal-Haven Trail State Park
The 34.5-mile Kal-Haven trail runs from South Haven to Kalamazoo. All bikes, except those with the skinniest of road tires, are suitable for the trail of crushed screened limestone. Towns like Gobles, Bloomingdale and Grand Junction, which popped up when the railroads prospered in the 1870s, now provide food and amenities for trail users who have replaced rail passengers along this historic route.
Cyclists and hikers will enjoy a relaxing journey past blueberry fields, cool canopies of trees, wildflowers and six bridges including a covered bridge near South Haven. Other trail highlights include the ghost town of Mentha — a historic mint growing area and the Bloomingdale Depot Museum.
Backbone of West Michigan trail system — Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park
The 92-mile Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park runs from Comstock Park on the southern end north to Cadillac. Some recommended, paved trail sections include the 24-miles from Comstock Park to Sand Lake – exceptionally scenic and easily accessible at several convenient parks and staging areas along the way. The paved section from Big Rapids north to Reed City is a very popular day trip featuring Big Rapids’ historic train depot, a towering bridge over the Muskegon River and the Reed City Depot with tourist information, restrooms and a picnic pavilion.
Oldest rail trail – Hart-Montague Trail State Park
The 22-mile Hart-Montague Trail State Park is Michigan’s first rail trail. Located mostly in Oceana County, this linear park travels through cherry and apple orchards, picture-postcard farms, woodlands and beautiful waterways. The trail connects John Gurney Park in Hart to the cities of Whitehall and Montague. In Whitehall the trail connects to the newly paved White Lake Pathway.
About the author: Karen Gentry is a writer and reporter based in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area and author of two books on cycling in Michigan. She is the major contributor to the new 84-page West Michigan Trails magazine, available at Michigan visitor information centers or by sending $5 for postage and handling to West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition, PO Box 325, Comstock Park, MI 49321.