Ann Arbor Tour

Sculling on Argo Pond

Sculling on Argo Pond

It’s fall! Time for football (American or English, take your pick), apple cider, and of course, classic bike rides. The days are just the right temperature but without the stickiness of summer, the trees are turning, and the slanting autumn light is gorgeous. To add some hills to the equation, I headed for Ann Arbor.

This quintessential mid-western college town offers a glut of recreational opportunities that can make us mid-Michiganders green with envy (not to mention Spartan Fever). Parking in Bandemer Park, on Long Shore Dr. just off main street, I found myself surrounded by members of the Ann Arbor Rowing Club hitting Argo Pond in their sculls. Further downstream, beyond the Argo Dam, the “Argo Cascades” offer a tame bypass for canoeists around the dam. I even saw a woman in a kayak playing in the riffles at the mouth of one of the chutes.

But you’re here for a bike ride, so head north on the Border to Border bike path adjacent to the parking lot. From this point along the Huron River, the hills are easy to find. In half a mile, the pleasant, tree-lined path takes you beneath the Highway 14 overpass and then across Argo Pond on a narrow bridge. Just beyond, turn left onto Barton Dr./Whitmore Lake Rd.

Country Club Dr.

The steep part of Country Club Dr. in Barton Hills Village

Your first set of hills is in the picturesque Barton Hills Village, so make an immediate left onto Barton Shores Dr. You can ignore the No Trespassing and Private Road signs. According to the Barton Hills Village association and the Ann Arbor Velo Club, the village welcomes cyclists as long as they ride single file and as far to the right as practicable.

As you roll along Barton Pond, take time to enjoy the scenic nature of this unique community. Barton Hills Village was designed by the famed Olmsted Engineering firm, whose design principles included making the best use of the landscape’s naturally occurring features. For the homeowners, this means every home has a view of Barton Pond. The views are equally good for cyclists, and there’s an added benefit: the hills have been left intact, instead of being cut-and-filled to a bland gradient. Even as it contours around Barton Pond, Barton Shores Dr. offers a few little bumps with scenic views of the lake.

The real climbing starts where the road veers to the right and becomes Spring Valley Rd. You’ll climb 175 feet in 0.6 mile, with some of the steepest climbing coming at the end. About half way up the climb, turn left at the T-intersection. This road is signed Barton North Dr., but you’ll actually be on Country Club Dr., where you’ll find the steepest climbing. Just over the top, past the golf course, veer left onto Forest Rd. and then left again onto Oakdale for a steep descent and then another steep, but short, climb. To stay on Oakdale, turn right at the street signed as Colliston Rd. Oakdale continues rolling back to Spring Valley Rd. Turn right here, returning the way you came along Spring Valley and Barton Shores to Whitmore Lake Rd.

Turn left on Whitmore Lake, to begin a completely different type of climb. Whereas Barton Hills offered short, steep hills, Whitmore Lake is a long, mostly steady grind, climbing 180 feet in 1.5 miles. The road can be busy, but the shoulders are relatively wide. Toward the top of the climb you’ll pass the upper entrance to Barton Hills, and continue climbing gently past a cemetery on the left and farmland on the right. Stein Rd makes a convenient turnaround point.

Now it’s time for some urban riding. Descend back the way you came on Whitmore Lake Rd., then curve left under the freeway onto Barton Dr. I chose to stay on this narrow street, but you could take the bike path that parallels it, picking it up before crossing under the freeway. The bike path will return you to Barton Dr. where that road intersects Longshore Dr. A block beyond that, take the first right onto Chandler Ave. Reaching Argo Dr., go straight ahead onto the bike path through Beckley Park. Beyond the park, go straight/left onto Wight. Crossing yet another Longshore Dr. and a set of railroad tracks, then curve left onto Swift St.

Two downhill blocks bring you to Broadway, where you’ll turn right onto a bridge over the Huron River, the railroad tracks, and Depot St. The right lane is wide enough for sharing, and the only other cyclist I saw on the bridge used the lane. If traffic seems heavy, the sidewalks on either side of the bridge are wide.

Across the bridge, turn right onto East Summit St. In one block, cross 5th and jog slightly left to get onto a bike path/sidewalk crossing Wheeler Park. On the other side of the park, return to street riding, again on Summit St. In one more block, you’ll cross Main St.

Summit St. Hill

The beginning of the climb on Summit St.

Now you’ll find out why it’s called Summit St., as the road climbs into the Water Hill neighborhood of Ann Arbor. The climbing begins with a short, sharp kick up to a level railroad crossing, and then another sharp kick before reaching a more gentle grade. Continue straight, now on W. Summit to a T-intersection with Brooks St.

The climbing continues as you take the first left onto Mixtwood and then the first right onto Red Oak. If you have the breath, take time to notice the nice houses in this older neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Turning right on Pomona, the climbing is nearly done as you approach a water pumping plant. At the top, you will have climbed a net of 210 feet in 1.25 miles.

Turn right onto Sunset for an easy descent back to the bottom of the hill. You’ll need to squeeze the brakes hard on the last block of the descent as you approach a sharp right-hand curve onto Wildt. In another block, turn left onto W. Summit to return the way you came.

The route as described will give you about 550 feet of climbing. If you’d like to add more, you could do more loops in Barton Hills or more out-and-backs on Whitmore Lake Rd. Or you could just wander around the Water Hill and Upper Water Hill neighborhoods and get lots of climbing in.

Zingerman's Deli

Zingerman’s Deli

Of course, no bike ride in Ann Arbor would be complete without a trip to Zingerman’s Deli. From Summit St. at Wheeler Park, head right on N. 4th Ave. Turn left on Kingsley and in two short blocks this Ann Arbor landmark will be on your right. And the best thing is, you won’t need to fight for a parking spot for your car.

You have a number of options to return to your car at Bandemer Park. Those who like to ride in traffic could return to Main Street, heading north to Long Shore Dr.  But this is a highway-like road with narrow lanes, so a better option is to return to the bridge on Broadway by heading northwest on Detroit Street from Zingerman’s. You can even pretend you’re doing the Paris-Roubaix bike race on this street’s brick paving. Turn left on N. Division St., which will take you to the bridge.

Once over the bridge, you’ll need to access the bike path on the Huron River’s north shore. If you don’t mind carrying your bike down steps, cross Broadway at Swift Street, then walk back to the bridge, finding steps leading down to the bike path on the bridge’s west side. But if you want to stay on your bike, continue past Swift to Moore St., where you’ll turn left, then left again in one block onto Pontiac Trail.

Border to Border Bike Path and Argo Cascades

The Border to Border bike path passes Argo Cascades

One more block takes you back to State St. Looking slightly to the right across this intersection, find the bike path next to the sign for Argo Park. A hundred yards down this path, you’ll find the Border to Border bike path along the river. Turning right here leads you past the aforementioned Argo Cascades to Argo Dam. You’ll need to practice your straight-line riding skills to cross the narrow causeway that crosses the dam. From the dam’s west side, it’s a scant half mile north to return to your car.


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