Mountain biking trails, empty back roads and rail-trails make the Petoskey and Harbor Springs region perfect for a weekend of cycling—off road and on, families and hard cores.
Boyne Highlands as Home Base
Sometimes tasty adventures come from unlikely pairings, and that’s the case with Boyne Highlands and bikes. The resort known for golf and downhill sports serves up some of Michigan’s sweetest mountain bike riding, is surrounded by lightly traveled two-lanes, and even has car-free bike trails nearby. The Highlands food and lodging make it all easy.
Boyne Highlands is smack in the middle of Emmet County, a roughly 460-square-mile oasis (half the county is water) that boasts some of the best road, mountain and rail-trail riding in the state. Bonuses include roads and trails that follow the Lake Michigan coast or swing by inland lakes and rivers, and a 26-mile paved bike pathway from Harbor Springs to Charlevoix that offers excellent riding for any skill level, even for families with little riders still stuck on training wheels.
More than 4,000 acres of maple, beech, oak, aspen and evergreens have long made Boyne an ideal destination for autumn escapes like color tours. But cyclists want the forest foliage and more, so Boyne obliged, adding a mountain-bike skills park, single tracks and killer free-rides, plus complimentary guided bike tours. The upshot: a spot where gearheads gather.
So, go ahead and start eyeing routes, but be forewarned. The cycling options here are so rich and varied that selling the car and buying a bike for every surface will suddenly seem like a totally reasonable life choice.
Boyne’s bike park has earned a top-three ranking in the Midwest, and is free for resort lodging guests.
Riders choose from seven carefully maintained single-track cross-country loops ranging from three-quarters of a mile to five miles long, or go for straight up speed with some of the fastest trails in the state—straight down the ski runs.
The 13 downhill trails were modeled after the popular North Shore designs found in the Northwest U.S. and Vancouver, Canada, and serve up natural-cuts, banked turns and butt-kicking jumps. In total, the Highlands offers 32.5 miles of single-track and a 7-mile paved on-site bike loop.
For on-site lodging, rent a condo or a cabin, or settle into a hotel room at the Heather Highlands Inn or Main Lodge. One of the big bonuses of Boyne Highlands is that there’s a price point—and vacation package—for just about everyone. For cyclists, the Alpine Village condos work because they are close to all resort amenities but also have the bonus of fully appointed kitchens … and fireplaces for cool September nights.
Emmet County Rides
While it would be nice to hunker down at Boyne Highlands—road cyclists can even use the winding neighborhood grounds as twisty fun criterium-type rides—so much of Emmet County has great biking. For help with routes, we called in a couple of experts. Christian and Amy Janssens are sorta like the first couple of cycling in Emmet County. Owners of Latitude 45 bike shop in Petoskey, the pair—often along with their four kids—commute to work, school, and play via two wheels all year long.
Christian and Amy know darn near everything about cycling: the gear, the sport, the way of life. And they know the trails and roads of Emmet County. We checked in with Christian and Amy for intel on favorite rides.
One of my favorite Emmet County road rides is the Stutsmanville Road/M-119 Loop (it’s a hilly 35-miler!). Park at Spring Lake Park off M119, and follow the North Western State Trail about 2.5 miles—flat with lots of lakes. In Conway, just past the “famous for pancakes” Parks Place restaurant, veer left off the trail and onto North Conway Road … where the climbing soon begins. After about 5 miles, go left on Brutus Road 2.25 miles and then right onto Pleasantview Road for O mile to reach Stutsmanville Road. This is the true workout, but the views are grand. Stay west on Stutsmanville about 9 miles, and at the coast, take a left on renowned M119 “Tunnel of Trees” to Harbor Springs (about 9 miles), enjoying plenty of fun downhills and vistas along the way. Stop downtown at the Stained Cup for a coffee, then finish the remaining 6 miles back to your car with a swift return trip down the Little Traverse Wheelway bike path.
One of my favorite rides is from Petoskey to Harbor Springs, and there is no wrong time of day for this ride. Each time, the ride fills my soul to brimming.
We typically pedal down to the waterfront and jump on the Little Traverse Wheelway, heading north all the way to the Petoskey State Park main entrance. Shortly after, the Wheelway crosses Beach Drive. We take a left on Beach and head toward the water, following this quiet alternative to the Wheelway (you can stay on the LTW to Harbor Springs, also very nice). As you head through the beautiful old neighborhood of Wequetonsing, remember to always “go left” at any forks in the road and stay near the water. Once into Harbor Springs, get sandwiches at Gurney’s or have drinks on the outside patio at The Pier. Then we re-trace the route. The ride from Petoskey to Harbor Springs and back is a little shy of 20 miles.
Mountain Bike Rides
The cross-country trail system at Boyne Highlands Resort is hard to beat. The terrain is varied with lots of climbing and descending. There are numerous loops to indulge in, with my favorite being the Orange Loop, which is two miles long with nearly a mile-long climb at the start. The payoff is sweet though, with the longest section of downhill descent available. The Adventure Center has maps and information on trail conditions.
The Larks Lake Ride on the North Country Trail is a very fun “out and back” ride. We normally park at the Pleasantview Township Hall, off Pleasantview Road, and start riding west on Stutsmanville Road. The North Country Trail picks up on the right, about three-quarters of a mile down the road.
The beginning of the ride is fast, flowing and relatively flat—a great warm-up. You roll through deciduous forest, swamp and pine stands. We like to stop and eat wild berries in this section on the way back. When you cross Larks Lake Road, the trail starts to climb. The next three miles are lots of ups and downs, with the majority being a gradual climb.
The reward comes on the return trip, with many fun downhills. Go as far as you like (just remember, however far you ride in, that’s how far you have to ride back—this is not a loop).
Christian and Amy:
Our family has young kids, so one or two stops on a bike trip is a good idea. One of our favorite family rides with fun stops is from Petoskey to Bay Harbor and back. We typically park at Latitude 45 bike shop and pedal down to the water, where we take a left onto the Little Traverse Wheelway.
The views on the first 1.5 miles of this trail section rival other renowned American coastal drives. Our first stop is East Park (great bathroom break with the added bonus of a new play structure overlooking the Little Traverse Bay). Ride down toward the water, taking a sharp left onto the paved bike path into Bay Harbor. This new path adds a great loop to this ride. Once it appears that the path ends, do not be concerned. Simply follow the slow speed, low traffic streets along the water to the Village of Bay Harbor, where you will find our favorite food stop on this ride, Galley Gourmet. We usually get a pizza (they have gluten free!) and sit outside.
On the way back to Petoskey we continue the loop by climbing up to the main entrance of Bay Harbor (on a pizza-filled stomach this can lead to some walking) and take a left onto the Wheelway for a nice trip back.
As another family option, Amy suggests starting in Petoskey and riding the Wheelway to the Petoskey State Park. Leave the car at Petoskey’s downtown waterfront—also a great place to walk the docks or play on the lakeside playground—and ride about 3 miles north. The park is a perfect spot to look for Petoskey stones and explore sand dunes.
On the way back to Petoskey, pit-stop at the Bob-In Again, in Bay View, where the kids love to sit at the counter on the swivel stools. The frozen custard sundaes and cool car-shaped kids-meal boxes entice, too.
Our motto when riding as a family is, “The unexpected is an opportunity for adventure.” Here in Emmet County there is sure to be spectacular adventure on any ride, and you can count on children finding it; the key is to slow down and listen. Riding as a family is all about the journey, not the destination.
Get Your Gear
No bike? No problem.
Latitude 45, Petoskey: Wide variety of bikes and trailers. Available by the hour, day and multi-day. Reservations online or phone. 231.348.0929.
Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs: Variety of rental bikes, and guides available to select the right trail loops for your ability. Rent bikes hourly, up to 8 hours.
Touring Gear, Harbor Springs: Wide variety of bikes and trailers. Available by the hour, day and multi-day. 231.526.7152.