Mid-Michigan is known for its flat farmland, but we do have some pretty scenery, especially where roads pass near rivers, lakes, and state recreation lands. We even have roads overhung by canopies of oaks and maples so we can feel like we’re “up north” right here at home. The foliage adds variety to a long ride and welcome shade on a hot day.
I decided to ride around Gull Lake on a lark after doing a bunch of hills to the south. From its south end, the lake looked small, although the number of boats docked at the marinas should have been a clue to its true size. Fortunately, the lake isn’t too big, so it only added about 12 miles to my day. That’s pretty short as a stand-alone bike ride, but there are plenty of other activities around the lake to fill your day.
The lake’s size was not the only surprise. It was also exceptionally pretty, even by Michigan lake standards. Another surprise was the W.K. Kellogg Manor House, which I had no clue about. For a minute I thought I had fallen into a T.C. Boyle novel (especially just after seeing the eerie Brook Lodge). Then I realized The Road to Wellville focuses on that other Kellogg, J.H., the one with the weird (not to mention racist) notions of sexuality, eugenics, and racial purity.
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.
(Here’s the first MidMitten Cycling route of 2015. I’ve been a little slower getting going this season — writing a novel will do that to you. Remember, if you’d like to subscribe just to my cycling posts, fill out the form at the end of this page.)
If there’s one thing Michigan has done right, it’s saving the last scraps of nature left over after clearcutting in the 19th century and industrialization in the 20th. On this route, you’ll start just a couple of miles west of one of DTW’s runways, pass within sight of a Mazda factory, and cross two freeways. Still, for most of the ride you’ll feel you’re away from it all, with many close-up views of the lazy lower Huron River, marshlands, the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, and the entirely different natural world of Lake Erie. Connecting it all is a mostly well-paved set of bike paths. This route begins on the extreme edge of MidMitten Cycling territory (about an hour and twenty minutes from Lansing, according to Google Maps), but it’s worth the drive.
You could rush through this 45-mile round-trip outing, as my bike partner Rob and I did on one six-hour journey, but it’s probably better to break it up into two or more trips. The four separate parks along the way provide great opportunities for short trips with kids, but the urban stretches through the communities of Flat Rock and Rockwood are less well suited for young children. Alternatively, if you want to experience the whole route without doing the full 45 miles, you could set up a car shuttle, leaving one vehicle at Lake Erie Metropark, then taking the other back to the start of the ride in Lower Huron Metropark, for a total of about 22 to 24 riding miles.