West Michigan trails
Many interconnected paths, countless possibilities
West Michigan's growing network of interconnected trails is one of the reasons Michigan is now No. 1 in miles of rail trails in the nation.
This summer the first phase of the Fred Meijer Berry Junction Trail will be completed. Although this five-mile paved portion of the trail may not seem like such a big deal, it is. The trail is an important connector. When completed the Fred Meijer Berry Junction Trail will connect to the Hart-Montague Trail, one of Michigan's oldest rail trails, and to the Muskegon Lakeshore Trail, which connects to the Laketon Trail, which connects to the Musketawa Trail, which leads to Grand Rapids and points farther north.
What does this mean for those not familiar to the area? It will soon be possible to cycle from Hart, in the midlakeshore region of West Michigan, all the way in to the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. Once in Grand Rapids, cyclists can connect to the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park, the 92-mile backbone of the trail system, from Comstock Park just north of Grand Rapids to Cadillac, the gateway to Michigan's north country. Miles of trails in the Grand Rapids area venture south to the expansive Millennium Park and to Byron Center.
What visitors to West Michigan can expect are trails that offer scenery through wooded tunnels of trees, pristine rural areas, vistas of Lake Michigan and inland lakes - all quiet respites from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
As a longtime resident of West Michigan, I've biked most of these trails. Here are some of my recommendations.
City with most extensive set of trails and paths - Holland
This lakeshore city 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 trail 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.
Best 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.
Best nonasphalt 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 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, Grand Rapids, north to Cadillac. Some recommended paved trail sections include the 24 miles from Comstock Park to Sand Lake, which is 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.
Karen Gentry is a writer and reporter based in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. She is the author of two books on cycling in Michigan and a board member of the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. She is a major contributor to the new 84-page West Michigan Trails magazine, available at Michigan visitor information centers.
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