Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

The Hills of Yankee Springs

Hall Lake
Picturesque Hall Lake with its two islands.

I thought I had found the biggest climb so far in my hunt for hills in mid-Michigan, until I actually started riding on Gun Lake Road. What looked like a three-mile hill at a two percent grade, getting steeper toward the end, proved in reality to be a series of shorter, steeper climbs punctuated by short descents or flats. So instead of a long, steady hill workout, I got an interval workout. Not bad, but not what I was expecting. Still, with shady forests and the beautiful Gun, Long, and Hall lakes reflecting the blue skies of a warm summer day, I wasn’t about to complain.

The Gun Lake unit of Yankee Springs Recreation Area, just off Gun Lake Rd. in Yankee Springs Township, is a convenient place to begin your ride, as long as you arrive after the opening time of 8 a.m. Parking far down the park road near the boat launch ramp allows for an easy warm-up as you pedal back to Gun Lake Rd. Turn right on Gun Lake Rd. to head for the hills.

The climbing begins after about two miles, just after you pass Long Lake on the left. In this first section, from Long Lake up to Yankee Springs Rd., the climbs are as steep as five percent, with shorter descents on the back side. The road has a decent shoulder to keep you out of the way of the many vehicles hauling boat trailers.

At 2.75 miles, Hall Lake comes into view on the left. This picturesque lake with its two islands is certainly worth a stop (on the way back) for a photo or two. A boat launch site provides an easy place to get off the road and get a good view.

Gun Lake Rd. east
Heading east on Gun Lake Rd. past Yankee Springs Rd.

Continuing uphill, the road rolls up to Yankee Springs Rd. Stay on Gun Lake to continue climbing on a now shoulderless road. Traffic was light here on a weekday, but I imagine it gets busy with lake traffic on weekends. Keep your eye on your mirror and make sure drivers see you as they approach from behind.

After a short flat past Yankee Springs Rd., the climbing begins again. The climbs are a bit longer here, with flats instead of descents in between. You’ll top out at 1,050 feet, 300 feet higher than your starting point. The road rolls along this high point for a short distance, then begins a steady descent. I chose to turn around at Shaw Road (at the Rutland Township sign), but if you want to get the most climbing, continue to the next safe turnaround point at Otis Lake Rd.

Gun Lake Rd. west
The steadiest climb in the Yankee Springs Hills: Gun Lake Rd. westbound from Shaw Rd.

Returning the way you came, you’ll face the steadiest uphill stretch on this westbound portion of Gun Lake Rd., climbing 170 feet in one mile. You’ll be rewarded at the top with a nice long descent back to Yankee Springs Rd. Only one of the rollers in this westbound direction feels like much of a hill at all.

Arriving back at Long Lake, you will have completed one lap with about 460 feet of climbing. You can turn around at any convenient point here to do the hills again. Each lap from this point will be 10 miles roundtrip. Sam’s Store and Country Restaurant is probably the safest turnaround spot, and the store has the usual Gatorade and snacks (as well as hardware!).

There are many loop options if you don’t like the idea of doing out-and-backs. For instance, instead of crossing Yankee Springs Rd. as you’re returning on westbound Gun Lake Rd., you could turn left on Yankee Springs for a circumnavigation of Gun Lake. Or, turning right on Yankee Springs, then left on Chief Noonday Rd. (Highway 179), then left on Briggs will return you to the start at Yankee Springs Recreation Area. Other loop option look possible on the map, but close inspection with satellite view shows you’ll need a mountain or cyclocross bike to handle the dirt roads.

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