By Jim DuFresne
The eternal question some of us ponder isn’t, “What is the meaning of life?” but rather, “Do I eat to ride or ride to eat?”
Is there anything more satisfying than stopping to refuel at a delightful café while pedaling a scenic rail-trail? Or picking up homemade treats at a farmer’s market and staging a two-wheel picnic? Which is more enjoyable — burning the calories or consuming them?
I’m still pondering that question, but following are five trails where you’re likely to discover the answer.
Pere Marquette Trail. Reed City fancies itself as the Rail-Trail Capitol of Michigan because the popular White Pine and Pere Marquette Trails intersect at the town’s railroad depot. The Pere Marquette Trail spans 55 miles from Baldwin to Midland and the paved 13-mile section from Reed City to Evart is particularly scenic as it follows the Hersey and Muskegon Rivers. Then you arrive at the Evart Farmers’ Market, where every Saturday you can fill your panniers with local produce, freshly baked breads and homemade jams and enjoy a farmer’s feast at the village’s beautifully restored train station (reedcity.org/trailinformation.php).
Polly Ann Trail. This 14.2-mile long trail of crushed aggregate begins in Orion Township and winds through the rural landscape of northern Oakland County, passing through the villages of Oxford and Leonard. Historic Oxford is the halfway point and a handful of cafes within blocks of the trail make it ideal for a refueling break. Grab a table at Victoria’s Delights, a bistro that still retains the original vault and tin ceiling of the 1875 bank it occupies. Or head across the street to the Sweet & Savory Bake Shop for a bag full of sinful pastries and enjoy them on the steps of the village’s band shelter next door (pollyanntrailway.org).
Iron Ore Heritage Trail. Stretching between 47 miles from Marquette to Republic, the Iron Ore Heritage Trail is a journey through the 160-year mining history of this rugged slice of the Upper Peninsula. The best stretch, most of it paved, begins at the Michigan Iron Ore Museum and extends west 9 miles to Ishpeming. Pick up pasties at Irontown Pasties in Negaunee, check out the trailside Miners Double Jacking Sculpture and the Cleveland Pit Mine and then lunch at Ishpeming’s Lake Bancroft Park surrounded by ore carts. If there is time on the way back stop at the Cliff Shaft Mine Museum (ironoreheritage.com).
Leelanau Trail. Departing Traverse City’s TART Trail and heading north 17 miles is Leelanau Trail. The paved trail rolls past orchards, farms and lakes before arriving at the quaint village of Sutton’s Bay where you can get an outdoor table at 45th Parallel Café. Or grab some pecan sticky rolls from Chimoski Bakery and enjoy them while watching sailboats glide into at the town’s marina. Too tired to ride back? You’re in luck. The Bay Area Transportation Authority (bata.net) offers a summer service where cyclists can return by bus with their bikes on board (traversetrails.org).
Little Traverse Wheelway. The paved Wheelway connects Charlevoix to Harbor Springs with most of its 23 miles in view of Little Traverse Bay. Start with a stop at the Esperance Wine Shop near the Charlevoix trailhead for a delicious selection of prepared items and then head north. It’s 3 miles to a rest area especially designed for cyclists and 16 miles to East Park. Either would allow you to munch lunch in full view of the shimmering waters of Little Traverse Bay (trailscouncil.org). Ride on! ≈
BLUE “Top 5”columnist Jim DuFresne is a Clarkston-based travel writer and a frequent contributor to michigantrailmaps.com.