The Four Faces of Egypt Valley

Knapp St.

The gentle hill on Knapp St. NE, west of the Grand River.

You have to figure, any place that’s called Grand Rapids has to have some hills, right? A search of routes on MapMyRide revealed that Roselle Park in Ada Township is a good place to start. From there, you can go up the hills east and west of the Grand River on Knapp St. and connect to even steeper hills on Egypt Valley Rd.

Since this route goes four directions from the summit of Egypt Valley Rd. at Knapp St., I’ve named it the Four Faces of Egypt Valley, in honor of my hometown’s Five Faces of Mt. Soledad. (I never did that route, having the legs for only the easiest face!)

The route starts from Roselle Park on Grand River Dr. NE in Grand Rapids (just east of Meijer Gardens). The park has porta-potties and two old concrete silos. One has been converted to a rock climbing wall, and the other has stairs leading to a viewpoint at the top. Just what you’ll need after completing several loops of this course!

From the park, we begin with an easy warmup of a couple of miles on Grand River Dr. heading north. You’ll notice a paved sidewalk on the east side of the road. That’s the Ada Township Non-Motorized Trail. When I rode here on a Saturday, the trail was clogged with joggers, while cyclists were rightly sticking to the road. Later, I saw some casual cyclists on the trail.*

Catamount Trail

Where you’re not wanted:
Catamount Trail at Grand River Dr.

After one mile on Grand River, you’ll see Catamount Trail on the left. This is a private road, so not recommended unless you’re a resident or guest of folks living in the Ridges community. I’m a bit of an anarchist, so I rode in anyway. The gate was open, so I figured why not? I was eager to try those hills! They were satisfyingly steep, but I found the gate closed on Knapp Court at the top and had to walk around through the landscaping (being careful not to step on any of the flowers). The official route continues another mile up Grand River Dr. to Knapp St NE.

Turning left on Knapp St., you’ll begin a climb of 140 feet in 1.3 miles. It’s gentle – around a 2% grade. The climb flattens out when you reach the Knapp Reformed Church on the right. Just beyond the church, turn left on Knapp Ct. for even more, and steeper, hills. This road curves back eastward and gives you a couple of good dips (some of which aren’t shown on the MapMyRide elevation profile) before you reach the upper entrance to the Ridges at Catamount Trail. Turn around in the circle here; this is also a good spot for a break.

Return to Knapp St. NE and head back down the hill eastward, the way you came. You’ll cross Grand River Dr. and then go across the Grand River itself. (There were construction delays when I rode here in early July 2013.) Crossing Pettis Ave., the route begins climbing again. This hill offers 240 feet of climbing in 1.75 miles. If you’re looking for consistent climbing, you might be disappointed by the dip where Knapp crosses Egypt Valley Rd. Turn around when you reach Woodrick Hill NE – beyond this point, Knapp St. rolls more gently.

Returning to Egypt Valley Rd., you have a number of options: add more out-and-backs on Knapp St. and Knapp Ct. (as I did when I rode this route), turn one way or the other on Egypt Valley, or grab some refreshment at Grams General Store.

To follow our route, turn right, north, on Egypt Valley Rd., descending steeply into bucolic Egypt Valley. Across the valley, you’ll start the steepest climb on the route, up to 4-Mile Road. MapMyRide says it’s only 3% but I’d swear it’s steeper, more like 6 or 7 percent in spots. You’ll climb 180 feet in a little under a mile. Turn around at 4-Mile Rd. and return the way you came, climbing steeply back up to Knapp St. (Now maybe you should take that break at Grams General Store!)

Egypt Valley Road near Grand Rapids

Egypt Valley Rd. offers some nice scenery
to go with the suffering.

Continue across Knapp on Egypt Valley, carrying your speed for the sharp roller ahead of you. After this dip, a long descent puts you in another beautiful but unnamed valley, part natural wetland, part estate homes. After one more short hill, it’s all easy pedalling on Egypt Valley to Pettis Avenue. If you’re feeling like you’ve had enough hills at this point, turn right on Pettis, which will curve around on level terrain back to the bottom of the hill on Knapp St.  But to complete the Four Faces of Egypt Valley, you’ll need to turn around here and head back up Egypt Valley Rd. to Knapp.

Whichever way you choose to return, turn left on Knapp St. and re-cross the Grand River. Turn left immediately on Grand River Dr. for an easy cool-down back to Roselle Park and a bit of bouldering (siloing?).

Climbing wall in Roselle Park

Climbing wall in Roselle Park

This route gives you 650 feet of climbing. If you add another out and back on Knapp St. and Knapp Ct. that should put you at nearly 1,000. Gluttons for suffering can add more laps as they please.

Grand Rapids cyclists, what are some of your favorite hilly routes. Leave your suggestion in the comments below!

*Tangential Comment #1: Riding around Lansing and environs, I’ve noticed that drivers will almost always go way over in the other lane to give you lots of room, and will slow down behind you if there’s a blind curve or hill. In contrast, more of the drivers on Grand River and Knapp St. in Grand Rapids either passed close or moved dangerously into the other lane, even when they couldn’t see on-coming traffic. I don’t think this is because Lansing drivers are better or more friendly. I think it’s because drivers in Grand Rapids see the non-motorized trail and think, “Why the hell isn’t the cyclist over on the bike path?” But given the dangers of joggers, blind corners, and blind intersections with driveways, I’d say any cyclist who’s riding faster than 10 mph should be in the road. Ada Township should consider completing its streets with car lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks, accommodating all three types of road users. Or, at the least, put up some “share the road” signs.


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