Overhead, a million leaves rustle in the autumn breeze, the foliage of towering maple, beech and oak trees turned orange, yellow and scarlet and glowing in the morning sunshine. To the west lies a nearly unbroken, forested ridge, the backside of a row of dunes that shelters visitors from autumn’s chilly winds. Here and there breaks in the dunes allow momentary peeks of the shimmering surface of Lake Michigan. And up ahead, there’s nothing but easy pedaling as far as the eye can see.
More than 100 miles of paved bike paths traverse the wooded landscape around Holland, crisscrossing the city and leading outward to Saugatuck, Grand Rapids and Grand Haven. Fully paved and generally flat, the network makes it easy for cyclists to cruise through West Michigan.
But the star of Holland’s bike paths is the Lakeshore Trail, a 20-mile multi-use bike path connecting Holland and Grand Haven. Open only to non-motorized traffic, the trail parallels Ottawa County’s Lakeshore Drive and makes it possible to travel in a continuous, scenic route between two of Michigan’s most popular state parks, Holland and Grand Haven state parks.
BIG RED TO THE TUNNEL
Holland’s iconic lighthouse, Big Red, stands guard over the harbor at Holland State Park. In warm weather the park is a beach bum’s paradise with waterfront parking and sugar sand beaches that squeak under bare feet. Year-round the park’s breakwater is as popular with early-morning fishermen as it is with romantics looking for rainbow sherbet sunsets.
It’s a gentle, flat ride from Holland State Park east, past the park’s popular campground. Make a stop at the Ottawa Beach General Store, a mom-and-pop shop famous for its ice cream, before taking a quick jog north on 168th Avenue to Lakeshore Avenue and the bike path’s route north.
Quiet residential neighborhoods line the Lakeshore Trail as it snakes its way to Tunnel Park. A steep, grass-covered dune separates the park’s picnic and play areas from Lake Michigan. But a quick hop off your bicycle allows a walk through the tunnel that burrows through the dune for unbroken views of golden beach sand and pounding whitecaps.
PIGEON LAKE AND KIRK PARK
The Lakeshore Trail becomes slightly hillier as it nears Camp Geneva, a religious retreat. Admire million-dollar Lake Michigan homes if you can see them — they’re scarcely visible beyond sprawling, meticulously-landscaped lawns. And keep your eyes open for the occasional red trailside kiosk, “Little Free Libraries” that keep cottagers supplied with books and bicyclists stocked with trail maps.
A short wooden boardwalk passes over the wetlands near Pigeon Lake. From here, a tunnel of brilliantly-colored maples and beeches mark the route to Kirk Park, home to 68 acres of sandy beach, high bluffs and spectacular Lake Michigan views. If time allows, enjoy lunch at one of the park’s picnic areas or follow a nature trail through wooded dunes and over stairways to one of several beach overlooks.
GRAND HAVEN AT LAST
There’s no way around it. A trip along the Lakeshore Trail requires cyclists to get familiar with the Port Sheldon Power Plant. Keep pedaling onward and your route will wind through familiar scenery: stretches of West Michigan’s colorful fall foliage, lakeshore residences and occasional glimpses of the Big Lake.
Finally Lake Michigan’s bicycle trail ends in Grand Haven, just blocks away from the city’s state park. Grand Haven State Park is known for its gregarious beach atmosphere. Expect families, sand volleyball and the scent of grilling nearly all year round. On pleasant days it seems as if all of Grand Haven is at the beach.
At the state park you’re just a short walk from downtown shops and restaurants (take the riverfront boardwalk or the harbor trolley). You’re also right by the Grand Haven pier and the city’s own red lighthouse, its catwalk lit with white lights after dark.
It’s the perfect end to a perfect bicycle ride.
This article originally appeared in the 2014 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.