Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

Jackson Neighborhood Hills

The first summit: the high point on Glen Dr.
The first summit: the high point on Glen Dr.

You would figure a place called Summit Township has to have some hills, right? (Forget about the contrarian who  misnamed Mt. Pleasant for a moment.) And sure enough, scanning the topo map, I found some nicely stacked contour lines in the western suburbs of Jackson. The contour intervals were only ten feet, but still, it looked promising.

The reality was a little less spectacular. The hills are steep, but they’re less than a hundred feet high, which is my benchmark for a decent hill. And one of the steepest turned out to be chewed to gravel by construction at an adjacent house. ┬áTo get the most climbing, you’ll need to link several streets together, making for a lot of turns and directions to follow on the cue sheet. You’ll need to ride a busy, narrow road to link the two sections with hills. This route will challenge your bike handling, navigation, and vehicular cycling skills.

But still, any hill is hard to come by in the center of the state. I’d say you might not want to drive a long way to reach this hilly route, but if you live in or around Jackson, it will give you a good workout.

The Sparks Foundation County Park in Jackson off Kibby Rd. makes an excellent place to start. There’s parking on Denton Rd. just west of Kibby, a port-a-potty, and an ice cream stand for post-ride refueling. The hills begin just across Kibby Rd., so you’ll probably want a warmup first. A paved path circles the park, but it’s crowded with walkers and joggers so it’s not a good choice for cycling. The easiest thing to do is to head west on Denton, turning left on Warren and taking a circuit through the golf course parking lot, then head back east to the intersection of Denton and Kibby. That will give you 2 miles of warmup.

Leaving the park, make a careful left turn onto Kibby Rd., then an immediate right onto Glen Dr., entering the hilly neighborhood where you’ll do your first laps. The climbing begins immediately as you continue uphill on Glen. Reaching the intersection with Broadcrest Rd., you’ll need to turn right, uphill, to stay on Glen. At the top, you will have climbed 60 feet in just 0.2 mile, with gradients of as much as eight percent.

Here’s the disappointing part: Beyond this point, Glen drops even more steeply to the south, and I had hoped to include it as a climb on this route. But I found sections of missing pavement and deep gravel, making it dangerous for anything but a mountain bike. If you’re on a road bike, you should turn around at the summit and head back down the way you came.

Here you have a choice. You could just head to the bottom and turn around to do hill repeats. If you choose this option, be very careful on your descent, as the northbound side of Glen Dr. also has gravelly sections, potholes, and dangerous manhole covers. For more variety, smoother descending, and a few extra feet of climbing, turn right onto N. Grovedale Ave., then right again onto Oakridge Dr. Continue on Oakridge to S. West Ave., and make another right. This road can be busy, but there’s a center turn lane, so cars have space to give you plenty of room. Continue descending to reach Audubon, where you’ll again turn right.

Broadcrest Rd. climbing through Dale and Glen
Broadcrest Rd. climbing through Dale and Glen

Now you’ll begin the best climb in the neighborhood, but you’ll need to link several streets together to complete it. Turn right at the T-intersection with Parkwood Way, then left on the next street, Broadcrest Rd., where the steepest climbing begins. The start of this street is a bit potholed and gravelly, but it’s not too bad when going uphill. (You might be tempted to descend this way, but it was a bit scary on my road bike.) Continue on Broadcrest, curving left where another street, also named Broadcrest, comes in from the right. Continue straight ahead to return to Glen Dr., where you’ll turn left to climb to the same summit you reached earlier.

That gives you 80 feet of climbing in 0.5 miles (or, since we’re scraping for every foot and degree of gradient here, 84 feet in 0.46 miles, with a grade of 5 to 8 percent for 0.2 mi). The loop is about a mile long, so if you have the patience to do 10 laps, you’ll get 800 feet of climbing in 8 miles.

When you get bored with this neighborhood, or just want a break from the climbing, continue south on S. West Ave. to the intersection with the Inter City Bike Trail. Turn right here for a pleasant, flat mile or so along this well paved bike path. Cross Park Rd., then turn right on Weatherwax Dr. Using your best vehicular cycling skills, move into the left turn lane in 0.2 mile to make a left at the stoplight onto Kibby Rd. (Obviously, you could use Kibby to get here, but this road is more like a highway between the Sparks Foundation Park and this point, and the pavement is in poor condition.)

Top of the hill on Kibby Rd.
Top of the hill on Kibby Rd.

Once on Kibby, head west for another mile. True to the theory that drivers are less friendly toward road cyclists when a well known bike path is available nearby, I found most drivers here quite reckless in their passing on blind corners. Of the many cars that passed, only one slowed down behind me and waited until it was truly safe to pass. Fortunately, most of the traffic turned right at Robinson Rd., leaving the steep hill ahead for me.

Continuing past Dibble Elementary on the right, you have a couple of choices. If the traffic on Kibby still seems heavy, you could turn left onto Whispering Woods Dr. just after the climbing begins. But if you really want to get the slightly steeper hill ahead, continue on Kibby until you reach the top at Shady Ridge Rd., intersecting on the left. This hill gives you 65 feet in 0.2 mi, with a section of 7 to 8 percent. Use Shady Ridge Rd. or Pine Ridge Dr., a little farther ahead on the right, to turn around and head back down the hill.

West Primilia Ln.
W. Primilia Lane curves upward

Now turn right onto Whispering Woods Dr., being careful of gravel on the off-camber turn. You’ll climb steeply for 0.2 mile to an intersection with E. and W. Primilia Ln. On the map, it looks as if these two streets form a loop, but in reality they don’t connect. To get the best hill, turn right, continuing to climb for a short distance before beginning a long, curving descent. Be careful toward the bottom where the street begins curving left, as it gets gravelly approaching the end of the pavement. Make a U-turn at the bottom and head back uphill, climbing 80 feet in 0.3 mile with gradients of 5 to 6 percent.

The simplest and safest choice here is to just do repeats on this hill. The traffic is light and the pavement is good, and you could get 800 feet of climbing in just 6 miles (10 repeats). For more variety, you could continue over and down the hill, turning around at Kibby. Or you could turn left on Kibby, climbing to the top of the hill and turning around at Shady Ridge Rd. The latter option would give you 180 feet in a 1.3-mile lap, or a little over 1,000 feet in just under 8 miles if you were to do 6 laps. (You might be tempted to turn right onto Kibby, descending 20 feet to get the most out of the hill on the way back up, but there’s no good spot for a U-turn.)

Falling Waters Trail west of Weatherwax Dr.
Falling Waters Trail west of Weatherwax Dr.

Brave vehicular cyclists could return to their cars directly via Kibby Rd. But it’s safer and more pleasant to return the way you came on the Inter City Bike Trail. You might even want to cool down with some flat miles by heading west for a couple of miles on the bike path, now named the Falling Waters Trail. I’ll describe it in an upcoming post, but it travels through pretty wetlands, forest, and farmland, eventually reaching Lime Lake, 5 miles to the west.

Returning to S. West Ave. on the bike path, head north (left) toward the hilly neighborhood where you started your workout. You saved something to get over the last hill, right? Continue to Oakridge Dr., where you’ll turn left. Stay on Oakridge for the gentlest crossing of this hill, then turn right on Glen and immediately left onto Kibby, or the paved path that parallels it. Your car is just up ahead in the lot on Denton Dr.

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Pond at Sparks Foundation County Park
Pond at Sparks Foundation County Park


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