Ask a Michigander, especially a Lower Peninsula resident, where they live and they will point to a spot on their hand. Those living on what corresponds to the tip of the ring finger reside near some of the best cycling in the Midwest.
Lakes such as Charlevoix, Walloon and Torch are considered among the most beautiful in the world, and the cities of Petoskey and Charlevoix are home to a population that swells during vacation times. As we have found on all our northern Michigan rides, the state highways are busy, but the secondary roads have little traffic. In the fall and spring we often encounter few motor vehicles.
Using the Bicycle Map of Northwest Michigan, published by the Cherry Capital Cycling Club (available at cherrycapitalcyclingclub.org), my wife and I have ridden a half-dozen 25- to 45-mile tours over this often hilly but always scenic area.
Harbor Springs to Cross Village Loop (36 miles)
We became familiar with this area as participants in the Harbor Springs Cycling Classic, a tour held annually in June and September. Selecting the longest of the 20-, 42- and 61-mile options, we started just north of the village of Harbor Springs, following County Road 81 to the southern boundary of Wilderness State Park before swinging south down the Lake Michigan shoreline, through Cross Village and Good Hart on the way back to Harbor Springs.
On a return trip a few weeks later, we shortened the route to 36 miles, taking a more scenic interior tour passing by fields, forests and a horse farm as we pedaled along Five Mile Creek, Church and Robinson Roads. We returned parallel to the Lake Michigan shoreline on M22 beneath the renowned "tunnel of trees," This 22-mile stretch of narrow road is barely two lanes wide, but often features overhead tree cover alternating with high bluff views over Lake Michigan.
Joy Valley Loop (27 miles)
Listed as "Tour 17" on the Cherry Capital Cycling map, this loop should be ridden counterclockwise to take advantage of some long winding descents on Evergreen and Country Club roads. The loop lies just southwest of Petoskey's city limits, and essentially never stops changing altitude. Luckily there aren't many hard climbs and overall it seems like there are more downhills than uphills.
Boyne City Wall Loop (24 miles)
Every year hundreds show up the first weekend in August to ride "the Charx" which is considered to be one of the must do tours in this part of the state. The centerpiece of the ride is "the Wall," a 0.45-mile climb that, according to the highway sign on the road shoulder, reaches an 18 percent grade. Our cycling group was determined to see if we could climb "the Wall" by pedaling rather than walking.
Starting in Boyne City, we began with five miles along Lake Charlevoix following "Tour 16," then turned inland following Peninsula Drive, a rolling road passing orchards and farms. After cutting through the town of East Jordan, we turned north. Just after seeing the painted word "Wall" with a arrow on the pavement, we began the climb and reached the top, all of us still pedaling.
Off the top, we caught four or five coaster hills taking us down to Pleasant Road, which continued the descent into Boyne City. If we had wanted more mileage, we could have headed north and incorporated part of the Walloon Lake loop.
Walloon Lake Loop (41 miles)
Leaving the village of Walloon Lake on North Shore Road, we immediately encountered a series of steep stair-step hills, one after another. This was a precursor to what would be the hilliest route we would ride in this part of the state.
Because many roads in the area are gravel, finding pavement meant heading inland away from the lake several times. Along Walloon's north shore, we followed Indian Garden and Lake Grove roads. Both are designated as "Natural Beauty" roads, a deserving label as we viewed giant pine trees and magnificent lake vistas on this November day. The road itself was a treat to ride as it was a series of alternating drops and climbs, some close enough that a swift downhill glide often created enough momentum to carry you back most of the way up the next descent.
On the backside of the lake we encountered Camp Daggett Road, 5.5 miles of straight road filled with hills. Turning onto Wildwood Harbor Road, we caught some of the longest downhills ever, taking us to the Shadow Trail, a roadway that snakes through a dense woodland. We emerged at state road, just a few miles from our car. The Red Mesa Grill in East Jordan, known for making incredible burritos, helped us replenish the calories depleted during the day's ride.
Bellaire, Torch, Intermediate Lakes Loop (43 miles)
Starting from the village of Bellaire we swing around the end of Intermediate Lake and head north along the west side of Intermediate, Hanley, Benway, Wilson and Ellsworth lakes. It's a level ride until reaching the village of Ellsworth. Turning and heading south on Ellsworth Road, the hills arrive and continue after the turn onto Youngdike Road.
Near the high point, look for the elk farm. The herd is often grazing near the road.
From there it is just a short distance to King Orchards Market, a great place to take a break and buy fresh fruit. Continuing on, the road rolls up and down, affording some great views of Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay as you descend to East Torch Lake Drive. It is 11 flat lakeshore miles until a final batch of hills brings you back to Bellaire.
Bellaire Spine Loop (42 miles)
A variation of the Bellaire Lakes loop, this route leaves from Bellaire and follows the roads along the west shore of Lake Bellaire. It then swings down the north shore of Clam Lake and follows Torch Lake's east shore for 14 miles.
Approaching Eastport, turn right onto M88 and begin the 16 hilly miles down the inland spine between Torch Lake and the Chain of Lakes. Riding next to orchards, take a moment to stop on Kiessel Road to view a panoramic view of Torch Lake and West Traverse Bay. After a short stretch on M88, the turn onto Eckhardt Road begins a 0.75-mile climb with a swooping twisting downhill payoff on Honey Hollow and Orchard Hill roads ending in Bellaire at Short's Brewery for post ride festivities.
Dave Foley, who used to run marathons and ultras, wonders why it took him so long to discover how much easier it is to rack up mileage on a bicycle.
- Meeting a need for singletrack in metro Milwaukee
- Can't stop ... too often
- Beware the lever
- A stout St. Patrick's Day Ride
- The difference a fat bike can make
- Cycling trainers
- Two cheers (per bike) for the Midwest Tandem Rally
- Midwest mountain bikers unite!
- Moby Hill
- Standing on the pedals vs. sitting on the saddle