Michigan and Minnesota Have All the Fun!
Updated: Mar 9
This was maybe my favorite camping vacation ever. We spent mid-August to mid-September touring Michigan, the Upper Peninsula and Minnesota. The camping and biking were spectacular. We would like to do this trip every year - maybe a little later in the fall so that we can experience more fall color - but keeping the camping and biking pretty much the same. One of the really fun aspects of this trip were the abundance of craft breweries. The brewers we met were so into their craft and excited to share it with their customers.
This is a trip that could be copied, with a couple of minor changes, and enjoyed by anyone who likes to camp and bike ride.
Kal-Haven Outpost, South Haven, Michigan
This was our second time camping at the Kal-Haven Outpost. The very best thing about this campground is that it is right on the Kal-Haven Trail, only five miles or so from South Haven. This campground is new(er) and while the owners have planted trees they are far from being able to provide shade yet. The full hook-up sites are out in the open so can be warm when it is hot and the sun is shining. The primitive sites are near the tree line of the woods so seemed to be a bit more inviting in terms of shade. The bathhouse is very nice and the little store had a good selection of merchandise, snacks and food.
Kal-Haven Trail and Lunch at Bell's Brewery
The Kal-Haven Bike Trail consists of 34 miles of crushed limestone trail linking the towns of South Haven and Kalamazoo. The trail runs through several small towns and across woods and fields of southwestern Michigan. It is possible to ride road bikes on the trail if conditions are just so, however, it is more suited to gravel, hybrid or mountain bikes.
We drove to Gobles and then rode on the Kal-Haven Trail to Kalamazoo to have lunch at Bell's. No trip to this area is complete without a stop at Bell's Brewery. It was 38 miles roundtrip. The beer and food at Bell's are exceptional.
Leelanau Pines Campground, Cedar, MI
Leelanau Pines was a really nice campground. We camped in site 50 and had a view of the lake and could carry our kayaks down to the lake from our campground. The campground had a nice playground and a swimming area. There were lots of trees, full hook-ups and a laundry facility. The sites were a little tight for larger RVs but perfectly fine for our 20-footer. We had a lot of fun kayaking on the lake, riding bikes on the area trails and exploring all the small towns on the Leelanau Peninsula.
This lovely, well-maintained trail runs 17 miles between Sutton's Bay and Traverse City. We began in Sutton's Bay and rode the trail to Traverse City and back. It was paved and in great shape. We were riding on a Sunday so it was fairly busy, but there was plenty of room to pass or get passed. We rode past apple orchards, sunflower fields, forests, and vineyards. There were benches along the route in Traverse City to sit and take in the sailboats on the Grand Traverse Bay.
Hop Lot, Sutton's Bay, MI
Stopped in at Hop Lot for a late lunch after riding the Leelanau Trail. What a great place. The outdoor patio set in the woods was amazing! Good beer and good food! had the Highway Robbery Blonde Ale, Pat had Paper Pete's Pilsner and The Dale, a west coast IPA. I had a smoked turkey salad and Pat had the pulled pork burrito bowl, both were delicious.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail
This trail runs 22 miles from the northern most trailhead at Good Harbor Bay to the Empire. What a fantastic bike trail with so much fantastic scenery and landscapes. You ride through the woods, dunes, by lakes, small towns and orchards. It was absolutely gorgeous! One of my favorite bike paths ever. The trail is paved except for a section of about two miles that goes through a wetland area. You also ride on the road a bit through Glen Arbor and through the DH Day campground, but it is very easy to follow.
The first time we rode on the trail we rode the entire way from Good Harbor Bay to Empire and back. Since this trail is not a rail trail it is hillier than where we normally ride. There was a huge hill as we neared Empire and then a fairly significant downhill into Empire, which of course we had to go back up when we headed back! We did pause in Empire for a bit and had an ice cream cone at the Shipwreck Cafe. They also had sandwiches, soup and salad that looked really good.
The second time we rode from Good Harbor Bay to the Dune Climb. It was a 31-mile roundtrip ride. When we got back to Good Harbor Bay we took a dip in Lake Michigan to cool off. So great. If I could do that every day in the summer, I would be a happy camper.
Things to See and Do on the Leelanau Peninsula
Kayaking in Lake Michigan - we put in our kayaks at Good Harbor Bay on a calm water day. We went about two miles down the coastline and back. Clear water and a peaceful day.
Northport, MI - This was the northernmost town on the peninsula overlooking Grand Traverse Bay. There are several small stores and galleries in the town. We had lunch at the Mitten Brewing Company. The Brewing Company doesn't serve food, but there is a regularly scheduled pizza truck at the brewery. The pizza was really good or we were just really hungry! I had the Sessions IPA called Sabrometrics and Pat had the New England IPA Fogout. Both were good, but mine was better.
Buntings Cedar Market - Buntings is a small market near the campground. It has an excellent selection of wine, beer and smoked meats. Also a little bit of everything else.
Leland - Leland is a cute little town with some gift and food shops. It is also where the ferry port to Manitou Island is located. We bought some delicious cheese at the cheese shop.
Sutton's Bay - I already mentioned Hop Lots and the start of the Leelanau Trail, but Sutton's Bay has lots more to offer. Beaches, shopping, breweries, wineries and art galleries. There is something for everyone!
The Petoskey KOA campground was very nice. It had a good laundry room, large pool, shaded sites and across the road from two different bike trails - the Little Traverse Wheelway and the NorthWestern State Trail. It was also conveniently located near the town of Petoskey.
Little Traverse Wheelway
This trail is 23 miles long although some of the southernmost portion of the trail has been closed due to erosion. On the day we arrived we rode miles roundtrip from our campground to Harbor Springs. The trail was okay, not terribly scenic until we got closer to Harbor Springs. The houses in Harbor Springs were enormous and fun to look at. Very pretty little town.
NorthWestern State Trail
This 32-mile trail runs from Petoskey to Mackinaw. The trail is paved from Petoskey to Alonson and uses crushed gravel after that. The route is flat and pleasant enough, although not terribly scenic. It follows US 31 most of the time. We rode from the campground to Pellston which was 30 miles roundtrip.
We took the ferry, with our bikes in tow, from Mackinaw City to the Island. We rode eight miles around the Island and then through the Island on bike trails and roads. Very fun! I would suggest that riding bikes is the only way to really see the Island. The water is a gorgeous shade of turquoise and once you got away from the downtown area, it wasn't terribly crowded.
Things to Do In and Around Petoskey
Tunnel of Trees - On one of our only rainy days we drove north of Good Harbor on Highway M-119 through the Tunnel of Trees. The drive which is about 20 miles long features amazing tree canopies, houses built on the side of the cliff overlooking Lake Michigan, small charming towns and some amazing food. We stopped in Good Hart at the General Store and bought a couple pieces of their famous cherry pie, as well as, some cookies.
Pond Hill Farm - On the way back to our campground from theTunnel of Trees we stopped in at the Pond Hill Farm for some wine tasting. It wasn't the best wine I've ever had, but the farm and vineyard were really fun!
Petoskey - We spent an enjoyable afternoon touring the downtown area of Petoskey. There are some amazing Victorian homes to check out and some very nice shops. Also several restaurants, breweries and gorgeous views of the Little Traverse Bay. We had a very good dinner at the Petoskey Brewing Company. Great burgers with a nice sampling of their beer including the Nubs Pale Ale, the Mindseyepa and the Wanderlust IPA.
I wanted to give a mention about the Upper Peninsula before sharing our camping and biking experiences there. I loved it! We had not spent much time in the UP prior to this trip so I didn't really have a good frame of reference, but it was amazing! I always know when I like a place because I shoot lots of photographs. I took more photographs of the UP than maybe all the other places combined. The drive from lower Michigan to Marquette was extremely scenic - lots of Lake Michigan views. We had lunch at Moofinfries in Naubinway. It took me a minute to figure out the name, but it made sense when I saw their menu. They specialize in local beef burgers (moo), fish sandwiches (fin) and hand-cut french fries (fries). Best fish sandwich and hand cut fries ever. The owner was very friendly. He came out to chat with us a couple times.
We stayed only four nights in the UP, but the next time we will add several more nights as we didn't get to do all the things we wanted to do.
Rippling River Resort, Marquette, MI
We really liked Rippling River Resort campground directly on the Carp River. The sites were spacious and many were shaded. Ours was not but the weather was temperate so it wasn't a big deal. There is a bar with beer, wine and pizza and entertainment some nights. We went down the last night we were there to sit by the outdoor fire pit and listen to the music. There is a very nice little path along the river and the campground is built in/around a huge mountain bike park. We discovered a nice access road across from the campground that led to the Morgan Creek Falls trail and enjoyed running on the access road a couple of different days.The falls were gorgeous and we had them to ourselves the day we were there.
Marquette Multi-Use Trail
We rode 25 miles on the Marquette Multi-Use trail (part of the North Country Trail) beginning and ending at the Marquette Welcome Center. The trail goes along the lake to Presque Isle where we rode around the Isle and then around the rest of Marquette back to the Welcome Center. The best part of the trail is along Lake Superior from the Welcome Center to Preque Isle. The road through Presque Isle is closed to traffic on certain days at certain times, but we didn't know this. There wasn't a ton of traffic but the road was very narrow and would have been more enjoyable without cars.
We stopped at Ore Dock Brewery on the way back. Loved it! Marquette is a cool place. It has a laid back and independent vibe about it. The people were reserved, but friendly and accepting. There are lots of local restaurants and shops, and scenic views everywhere.
Iron Ore Heritage Trail
The Iron Ore Heritage Trail spans 47 miles across the Marquette Iron Range. The trail shares interpretive signage celebrating the area's mining history. There are many relics from the past including mining shafts, forges, furnaces and other historical structures. We rode 30 miles roundtrip from Marquette to Ishpeming. The trail is developed from Ishpeming east, but follows an unimproved dirt trail west from Ishpeming. We enjoyed the history and the scenery along this trail.
On the way back we stopped in Nauganee for some Irontown Pasties. Yum!
Once we arrived back in Marquette, we stopped at the Barrel and Beam Brewery. They brew and serve farmhouse ales aged in barrels. It wasn't our favorite beer, but we loved the bartenders and the funky building. The bartender loved his job and took the time to tell us about each of their offerings and wouldn't let Pat order the same beer twice - he so wanted him to try another kind! These were definitely sipping beers for us, and a super fun experience.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
This was such a unique area. Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes, forests and wild shorelines make up this special area. We hiked ten miles through the forest and along the lake shore. The trail passes by two beaches, beautiful soaring views of the sandstone cliffs and Lake Superior.
We stopped at the By George Brewery, co-located with the Driftwood Deli in Munising after our hike. Really good beer - we tried the Elephant Disco, a dark IPA, the Maize n Grace, a light lager, the Nighthawk, a dry Irish Stout and the Perro Muerto IP, an American IPA. The sandwiches from the Deli were awesome!
We loved this area and the Gitchi Gami bike trail along the north shore of Lake Superior, but did not love the campground. This is the one campground on this trip that I would not return to. I may be reacting to a couple particular situations which may not be typical, but nevertheless I did not enjoy our stay here. We were camped on a tiny site right across from the playground. The children playing in the playground were all pre-teens where screaming and fighting were the constant theme. Our neighbors had a dog (friendly) but they had him on a long lead and he pooped on our site. The neighbor did clean it up once it was brought to his attention but didn't shorten his dog's lead.
Next time I would camp at the Jay Cook State Park (pictures below) - beautiful! - or one of several state parks on the North Shore.
Gitchi Gami State Trail
Eventually the Gitchi Gami will be 88 miles long between the cities of Two Harbors and Grand Marais on Lake Superior's northern shore. We rode 31 miles roundtrip from Gooseberry Falls State Park and Beaver Bay which was advertised as the longest open segment. It appears as though the trail may have been expanded to Silver Bay which would be a 40 mile roundtrip ride. This was a great trail! Very beautiful, with a couple very long hills both directions. We took our time, stopped to enjoy the views and didn't have any problems with the hills. Probably one of my favorite rides ever.
We fueled up at the Cedar Coffee Company in Two Harbors before our ride. Great coffee and sandwiches. The seating was set back in the woods in an absolutely lovely location. We fueled up after our ride at the Castle Danger Brewery. We noticed that they canned their beer and it was sold throughout the area. There was a good reason for this as the beer was really good. We enjoyed the Castle Cream Ale, White Pine Project IPA, the 17-7 Pale Ale and the Spaceman Spiff Hazy IPA. 17-7 and the Spaceman Spiff were the favorites.
Willard Munger Trail
The Willard Munger collection of trail spans 70 miles from Hinckley to Duluth. We rode from Carlton to Moose Lake. It was a 49 miles roundtrip ride with a stop at the Moose Lake Brewery midway. This part of the route is very flat, but bumpy and not too scenic. If we were to ride the Munger again we would ride from Carlton to Duluth which reportedly is more scenic.
Sherwood Forest Campground, Gilbert, MN
We loved the Sherwood Forest Campground. We had a pull through, full hook-up site right on the lake. The campground was right on the Mesabi Trail and within walking distance of downtown Gilbert. The mangers were friendly and brought firewood around every evening. It was such a peaceful and beautiful campground.
The Mesabi Trail is 135 miles long currently. Once completed it will be 155 miles and stretch from the Mississippi River (Grand Rapids) to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Ely). The trail seems to me to be a well kept secret. We hardly saw any other riders or walkers. It is paved and 10 feet wide passing through some of the most beautiful scenery in Minnesota. We rode several sections of the trail during our stay at Sherwood Forest Campground in Gilbert, Minnesota.
Gilbert to Evelyth - 12 miles round trip. We did this scenic ride on the day we moved into our campground. Perfect length for a quick late afternoon ride. And a bonus - we got to see the world's largest hockey stick.
Biwabik to Embarrass - We met a couple at the campground who told us this was a do not miss ride. They were right. One of my favorite rides of the entire trip. We rode through forests, through a wetland via a floating bridge, passed by Giant Ridge Ski Recreation Area and across The Narrows. The route was very hilly, but so scenic.
Gilbert to Virginia - Wow! This was only 11 miles roundtrip but so scenic. As you get into the town of Virginia you cross a bridge that allows for views of an iron pit that is three miles long and one half mile wide. It is one of the deepest iron mines in Minnesota. There are a couple of other overlooks along the way. Beautiful ride through the woods.
Trails RV Campground, Walker, MN
The Trails RV campground is very nice. The sites are large and level. It's located on the Heartland and Paul Bunyan bike trails. Walker is a cute little town with shopping, restaurants and breweries and only a short bike ride from the campground. We enjoyed the Portage Brewery's American IPA and West Coast IPA and the Village Square Cafe's pizza and Greek salad. There is a very nice swimming pool, laundry facilities and the Mustang Sally Supper Club is right next door. Very peaceful campground.
Heartland, Paul Bunyan and Shingobee Connector Trail
I'm lumping these all together because they intersect and connect with each other so often it's sometimes difficult to know which trail you are riding on. The Heartland State Trail is 49 miles long and connects Park Rapids and Cass Lake. The trail runs past a number of lakes, rivers, streams and skirts the edge of both the Paul Bunyan State Forest and Chippewa National Forest. The Paul Bunyan State Trail stretches 119 miles from Bemidji to Brainerd and is one of the longest rail-trails in the country. The trail passes through forests, traverses along more than 20 lakes and 10 rivers and among meadows. The Shingobee Connector Trail offers a key link between the Heartland and Paul Bunyan Trails. The Connector makes it possible to travel more than 175 continuous paved miles through Minnesota. It is a very scenic (and hilly) trail that travels through the Chippewa National Park.
On our first day in Walker we rode what is known as the Walker Loop. From the campground we rode to Akeley. We made a quick stop to take a picture of the Akeley Paul Bunyan. On the way back we turned off on the Paul Bunyan segment through the Chippewa National Forest. This segment through the woods is jokingly called the Pyrenees because of the very rolling hills and curves. It was absolutely breathtaking! Luckily by this time I had started to really enjoy riding up hills. After the Paul Bunyan segment we connected with the Shingobee Trail and headed back towards Walker. This part of the trail was also very hilly and scenic. The total miles for the Walker Loop from our campground was 38.
We drove north to the Steamboat Lake parking area on the Heartland Trail and rode on the Heartland to the Migizi. The Migizi is an awesome trail that traverses around Pike Bay through the Chippewa Forest. It is only nine miles long, but is very pretty. Our total ride that day was 30 miles.
We rode to Hackensack on the Paul Bunyan Trail from our Campground - 36 miles roundtrip. Hackensack is the home of the statue of Lucette - Paul's sweetheart. It was a nice ride and a hot day so we really enjoyed the Rendevouz Brewery in Hackensack. I had the lite Pale Ale and Pat had an IPA - both were good. It's always so surprising to find such fine breweries in these tiny towns. We met two other biking couples - one from Minnesota and one from Iowa and compared notes on bike trails in the Midwest.
Our last ride in the area took us 40 miles on the Heartland Trail from our campground to Nevis, home of the world's largest Muskie. Very exciting! This trail was nice and flat, very wooded. We did ride by some lakes, one of which housed a family of swans.
Old Barn Resort and Campground, Preston, MN
The Old Barn Resort and Campground was nice and very convenient. It is right on the Root River Trail System which was awesome. It has an indoor/outdoor heated pool, a big barn with restaurant and bar. Clean restroom and shower facilities, although there is a charge for the showers. The sites weren't huge and we had a bit of trouble backing in, but they were full hook-ups.
Root River State Trail
What a great trail system! The 42 mile-long trail winds through the small towns of Fountain, Lensboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford and Houston. It was fun seeing limestone bluffs, thick woods of maples and birch and the very scenic Root River. There is a spur trail called the Preston-Harmony Trail that extends the bike riding opportunities in the area by 17 miles or so.
We rode from the campground to Fountain, the southern-most point of the Root Trail, back past the campground to Peterson and back. The total ride was 50 miles. It was a really nice ride, along the river, by some farms and limestone bluffs and through some small towns. We stopped in Lanesboro on the way back at Loubelle's for some ice cream. Very good!
We rode 35 miles roundtrip from the campground to Harmony. This was actually on the Preston-Harmony Trail. The last mile or so into Harmony is uphill, but there is good ice cream waiting for you at a little shop called Breakers. The trail winds through woodlands and farmlands, along the south branch of the Root River and Camp Creek. We enjoyed this ride a lot.
For our last ride in the area we drove to Peterson and rode to Houston - 35 miles roundtrip. It was a nice shady ride along the Root River. We stopped in Rushford to read about the founding of the small town. On the way back to the campground we stopped in Lanesboro to grab a beer at the Sylvan Brewery. The brewery is located in an old grain elevator. The beer was good and the bartenders were friendly.
Sylvan means "consisting of or associated with woods. Pleasantly rural or pastoral." I would say this describes the Root River area to a T.