Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

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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Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

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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Mid-Mitten Cycling

Lansing Brewpub Bike Tour

bike beer glassHmm, whether to see The World’s End this weekend, or do an actual microbrew pub crawl? (Pub roll? Pub weave?)

Six brewpubs in sixty miles. I’d say this ride has an excellent beer gradient.

>Start: Harper’s, East Lansing
>Finish: HopCat, East Lansing
>Distance: 60 miles
>Elevation gain: 560 feet
>MapMyRide Route

Caution: this ride hasn’t been checked for dangerous spots. Lansing area riders: any suggestions for alternate routes between these points?

The stops are:

I hope to see some riders at the pubs! (Thanks to LSJ for providing the list.)

Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

An Easy Cruise to a Gut-Busting Hill – Plus Beer!

Park at Rockford Dam
Park at Rockford Dam

Hills! I need more hills! I’ve decided to do the Big Mac Shoreline Tour 100-miler in Mackinaw City in September. It has 1600 feet of climbing, so I’d better get in shape! In pursuit of hill training I traveled back to the Grand Rapids area, and the White Pine Trail. This paved bike path passes through lovely forests above the Rogue River, using an old railroad bed. The path is well surfaced, wide, straight, and has very few hazardous crossings, all of which are marked with stop signs.

Of course, railroads never go up steep hills. To find those, this route takes side trips to hilly streets on either side of the Rogue. You’ll cross that scenic river twice and climb a couple of gut-busting hills. When you’re done tearing your legs off, you can cool down with a level three-mile cruise on the White Pine Trail to Rockford, which offers cafes, a brewpub, a bike shop, and a pretty riverfront park at the Rockford Dam. Put all of this together with the great weather we’ve been having this summer, and it makes for a perfect Michigan biking day.

A word of warning: this route involves many turns, and also many discontinuous streets with the same or similar names, so follow the directions carefully and print out a cue sheet.

White Pine Trail at Herrington Crossing
White Pine Trail at Herrington Crossing

To find the start, travel to Rogue River Park, on Belmont Ave. just north of Lynhurst St. in Belmont, which is just north of Grand Rapids. The park offers ample parking, bathrooms, and a drinking fountain. A paved ramp from the parking lot access road climbs up to the White Pine Trail. Turn right, northeast, onto the trail to begin your journey.

The 92-mile White Pine Trail, traveling from near Grand Rapids to Cadillac, is the main feature of White Pine Trail State Park. We can thank the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, Friends of the White Pine Trail, and Fred Meijer for its existence. The trail uses the roadbed of the abandoned Michigan Northern/Penn Central Railroad, making for straight sight-lines and gentle grades. Much of the trail has yet to be paved, so enjoy the smooth asphalt your tires will be gliding over.

The relaxing, gently rising bike path, coupled with steep hills on either side, makes this a good outing for a family or other group with differing abilities. Those who just want an easy cruise can stay on the path. But if you want to test your legs on steeper roads, you’ll turn off the path after a little over one mile. Anarchists can turn left at the first stop sign, using the unsigned, private Wildwood Creek Dr. (What’s with all these private roads in West Michigan, anyway? Worse, these aren’t marked as private on Google Maps.)

Law-abiding cyclists should wait for the second stop sign and turn left. (Like most intersections on the White Pine Trail, this one doesn’t tell you which street you’re crossing. The map marks it as Herrington Ave., and you can easily recognize it as the only gravel road crossing the bike path. There are also no annoying “Private Drive/No Trespassing” signs here. You may want to walk or carry your bike across the twenty yards or so of sandy surface.)

Whichever way you exit the bike path, you’ll soon arrive at public Van Dam Dr., where you’ll turn right, climbing gently to Packer Dr. NE. Turn right on Packer, which soon passes high above the bike path on a bridge, then begins a gentle-to-steep descent to your first crossing of the Rogue River. The street is quiet and the bridge is wide, so take the opportunity to snap a photo here.

Beyond the river crossing, turn left on Las Vegas Dr., entering a residential area. Go two blocks, turn left on Blythefield, then immediately right on Riverwoods. After a gently rising third of a mile, turn left on Kuttshill. This is where the real climbing begins. Use caution on Kuttshill, as the pavement is rough and the shoulder narrow. Make a left onto Childsdale Ave.

Rogue River at Childsdale
Rogue River at Childsdale

The steep climbing continues on Childsdale, giving you 130 feet of ascent in a little over half a mile. From the summit, Childsdale rolls along for half a mile then descends steeply for another half-mile to the second Rogue River crossing. A river access point across the bridge offers an opportunity to enjoy the stream and maybe cool your feet on a hot day.

Confusingly, Childsdale both heads straight and turns right after crossing the river. But there’s no confusion for you: you’ll head for the steep wall facing you straight ahead. CAUTION: You may be tempted to blast through the yield sign to use momentum to carry you up the hill straight ahead, but watch for cars coming from your right on the main branch of Childsdale Ave.

Childsdale Ave.
Childsdale Ave.

This hill on Childsdale shows how misleading the elevation profiles on MapMyRide can be. My route map shows it as a smooth 2% grade. Mapping just this portion gives more detail, showing it as a 7% grade followed by a 2% grade. In reality, the road climbs at what I call a gut-busting grade for about a tenth of a mile. I could just barely keep spinning my easiest gear without standing up. I’m going to guess it’s 10 or 12 percent.

The road levels off to a more gentle climb as it bends left, crosses the White Pine Trail (a good opportunity to meet up with group members who chose the easier option), and becomes House St. The respite of gentler climbing continues a short distance, before the road kicks up nastily around a right-hand bend.

House St.
Where you’ll want to yell, “Shut Up Legs!”: House St.

As you grit your teeth to make it up this short, steep pitch, just remember: no pain, no beer (or large mochachino with double whipped topping, if that’s your preference) at the end. Another tenth of a mile returns you to gentler climbing up to the circle where House St. dead-ends. From the Rogue River crossing, you’ve climbed 165 feet in a little under half a mile.

Turn around at the circle for a fast descent back to the White Pine Trail. Gluttons for punishment can continue down Childsdale, reversing the route as far as Riverwoods, then U-turn and do these climbs again. But our route turns right, southwest, onto the White Pine Trail for a gentle, 1.5-mile descent back to Herrington.

Turn right at Herrington, being careful of the sandy surface. This time you’ll turn left on Van Dam, heading west toward Belmont Ave. Get ready for the steadiest, longest climb yet, as you turn right, north, onto Belmont. Use caution on this ascent, as the shoulders are narrow and the traffic is moderate (at least mid-morning on a Tuesday). You’ll climb 150 feet in three quarters of a mile, with grades ranging from 2 to 5 percent, averaging about 4 percent.

Cresting the hill, descend  and then climb a short distance to a right turn on House St. (yes, House St. again, separated from that other House St. by a tributary drainage of the Rogue River). Now you have a choice to make. Anarchists can continue on House, turning right where it dead-ends into House Court, then quickly left onto the private Roguewood Dr., marked with “No Trespassing” signs. This brings you in half a mile back to the bike path.

(UPDATE: On my second visit to the area, a resident warned us that there has been vandalism in the neighborhood, and residents are prone to call the police when they see cyclists riding through. So consider yourself warned.)

Belmont Ave.
Belmont Ave.

Law-abiding cyclists should use House St. to turn around and head back south on Belmont. Use extreme caution turning left onto Belmont, then look for the left onto Packer Dr. in about three quarters of a mile. Again, use extreme caution making the left from Belmont onto Packer.

Packer heads east, then south. You’ll want to pedal rapidly as the road descends steeply past a house on the left with a dog that likes to bark and race cyclists. At the bottom of the steep hill, you will have completed one seven-mile, figure-eight loop (not including the warm-up on the White Pine Trail). If you’ve been keeping track of the numbers I’ve been giving for the climbs, you’ll see that you’ve climbed about 450 feet. But MapMyRide’s tally for the loop is only about 350. Remember, all of these figures are just estimates. My advice: do two loops, call it 1000 feet, and go have a beer.

Rockford Brewing Co.
Rockford Brewing Co.

To repeat the figure-eight loop, with its hills on Childsdale and Belmont, follow Packer as it turns left and crosses above the White Pine Trail, then repeat the route directions above. Or, if you’ve had enough climbing, continue straight ahead onto Van Dam, reversing your route from the beginning of the day. A scant quarter-mile descent brings you to Herrington, the gravel connector to the White Pine Trail, on the left.

From this junction with the White Pine Trail, the parking lot at Rogue River Park is one mile to the right; Rockford, with its shops, cafes, and the Rockford Brewing Co. Pub right on the bike path, is three easy miles to the left, offering a good cool-down. Since it was only 11 a.m. when I arrived in Rockford, I opted for an excellent coffee and lemon-raspberry oat bar at the Twisted Vine Deli.

If this figure-eight route seems too complicated, or if you’d like to pack your hill-climbing into a shorter distance, here are a couple of suggestions:

Belmont Only: Park on Van Dam (or use the White Pine Trail as a warmup), then do semi-loops of Van Dam to Belmont to House, then Belmont back to Packer and Van Dam. That will give you about 150 feet of climbing in a 2.5-mile loop.

Rockford Dam
Rockford Dam

Childsdale Only: Park in the residential area at Riverwoods Dr. From the corner of Riverwoods and Blythefield, follow Riverwoods to Kuttshill to Childsdale to the dead-end on House, then return. That will give you about 400 feet of climbing in just 4.5 miles.

Stay up-to-date with Mid-Mitten Cycling by filling out the form below. Want all my bike-related posts? Check only “Mid-Mitten Cycling.” Want posts on a particular type of ride? Check the type(s) of ride you’re interested in (but not “Mid-Mitten Cycling”). Want all my posts on a wide variety of topics? Check “All categories,” but none of the others.



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