Mid-Mitten Cycling Scenic Rides

Falling Waters Trail

  • Starting Point: Teft Road Trailhead (directions below)*
  • Distance: 9, 13, or 22 miles
  • Elevation Gain: negligible
  • MapMyRide Route
photo of Lime Lake
Lime Lake: pretty on the surface

The Falling Waters Trail is emblematic of so much in Michigan: beautiful on the surface, with just a soupçon of industrial ruin beneath. Yet it’s well worth an outing, whether you want to do just a portion of it with the kids or tackle the whole thing. The adventurous can extend their ride into downtown Jackson on the Inter City Trail and urban streets or do some hill climbs in the suburbs.

Starting at the Teft Road trailhead,* you can head either east or west. If you plan to do all 22 miles, I recommend heading west first, leaving the possibility of a dip in Lime Lake for the end. But if you want a shorter ride with lake views, heading east will bring you to Lime Lake almost immediately. You can pick up the description further along in this article.

bridge over Mill Pond
Falling Waters Trail bridge over Mill Pond

The trail heads west from the trailhead for 4 miles mostly through farmland, ending with a bridge crossing of Mill Pond on the outskirts of the village of Concord. If you’d like to check out this sleepy town, head west on River St. for half a mile to Main St., then go left for one block. Like many Michigan towns, the downtown area is quaintly old-fashioned, but has a sad number of empty storefronts.

Sleepy downtown Concord
Sleepy downtown Concord

Two picturesque churches are a block east of downtown on Hanover St. One of them is a Universalist Church dating to 1866. Heading north on Union St. will return you to River St. and the Falling Waters Trail.

Heading back the way you came, you’ll return to the trailhead parking lot having covered a little over 9 miles. This is a good chance to stop at the car for anything you may have forgotten or for a water bottle refill.

Lime Lake hisorical marker
Lime Lake historical marker

Continuing east, you’ll come to the shores of Lime Lake in a quarter mile. A couple of benches near the shore make a convenient rest stop, and a sign explains Lime Lake’s history. The lake owes its existence to mining for marl, a blend of lime, clay, and silt. The Peerless Portland Cement Company dredged the marshes here from 1900 to 1929, using a one-ton bucket mounted on a concrete barge. The dredging created a north and a south lake, with the rail line running in between. Now the rail line is a rail trail, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Falling Waters Trail. One of the best parts of the trail is the half-mile stretch that runs along a narrow causeway between the north and south portions of the lake.

trees and dappled light
Dappled light along the Falling Waters Trail

Beyond the lake, the tree-lined trail travels through a short stretch of farmland before entering the forest proper, a nice stand of maples, ash and other deciduous trees that provide a shady canopy. Crossing Reynolds Rd. 3 miles from the trailhead (12 miles if you headed to Concord first), the scenery becomes more suburban, with houses visible here and there through the trees and more joggers, walkers and cyclists on the trail. In another 3+ miles, you’ll come to Weatherwax Dr. and the official end of the Falling Waters Trail.

Adventurous riders who don’t mind doing more than 30 miles could carry on beyond this point on the Inter-City Bike Path, heading into the heart of Jackson. The old state prison is well worth a visit and there’s a nice creek-side park near the post office. A word of caution however: don’t trust the mapping of the bike path on MapMyRide, which incorrectly shows the Inter-City Bike Path continuing across Cooper Street southeast of downtown, or the map in Michigan Trail Magazine, which shows a bike path along the west edge of Cooper heading north to the city center.

Jackson State Prison
The old state prison in Jackson now houses art studios

In reality the official bike path ends at Merriman St., and you’re forced onto a sidewalk circling a baseball field and then onto a sidewalk next to Cooper St., where you’ll encounter unsafe street crossings without pedestrian signals. A better way to get into downtown Jackson might be to take turn north from the bike path onto 4th Street, then slight right onto Greenwood. I haven’t biked either of these, but they look like quiet streets and are marked as on-street bike routes.

Those opting to turn around at Weatherwax Dr. will return to the trailhead having done 22 miles (or 13 miles for those who opted not to head west first). The benches along the lake are even more inviting on the way back, offering a chance to cool the feet if it’s a hot day.

Rest Stop
Lime Lake rest stop

*Directions to Trailhead: Google Maps seemed to have trouble marking the exact trailhead, so here’s how to get there: Find the intersection of Spring Arbor Rd. and Teft Rd. in Spring Arbor. Head south. In a little over a mile the road curves right, then left again in another quarter mile. A couple of tenths farther south, the road crosses the Falling Waters Trail, with the parking area on the left just before the crossing. A porta-potty is the only facility.

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