7 Things to Love About The Great Lake To Lake Trail

In 2009, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance began a project called the “Great Lake To Lake Trails.” This would be a series of five trails that cut across the state, created from and connecting existing rails-to-trails conversions. Route 1 of the Great Lake To Lake Trail runs 250 miles from South Haven (Lake Michigan) to Port Huron (Lake Huron).

On September 13th, 2013, Chris Hillier set out to be the first to hike this entire trail while Chris Bowman, starting September 21st, wanted to be the first to ride this trail. It took the hiker two full weeks of 20+ miles per day and the biker one week of 40 mile days but they arrived, together, in Port Huron on September 28th. And together, they want to express what they most enjoyed most about traveling across the great state of Michigan.

1) The People  We’re not sure if happy people go out on trails or if going out on a trail makes you happy but everyone we met out there was kind, generous and interested in our journey. Sometimes they just  offered a kind word or helped with directions but sometimes they opened their homes to us and let us stay overnight. Generosity like that can renew your faith in the human race.  These 250 miles really were the best of nature and the best of mankind.

2) The Variety  This trail will take you through thick woods and downtown streets. You’ll travel across open farmland and suburban neighborhoods. Your surroundings are constantly changing and that kind of variety keeps things interesting and fresh. On the second day of the hike, I went from the remote forests of the Kal-Haven Trail to busy downtown Kalamazoo on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail and I loved it.

3) The Water  Each of us started a week apart but from the same beautiful beach on Lake Michigan. I could have stayed right there for two weeks and been happy but the trail has more in store from the gently flowing Black River to busy Sylvan Lake and everything in between. Swamps full of turtles and nameless creeks that attract deer, geese swimming in farm ponds and giant freighters on the St. Clair River can all be seen. The Falling Waters Trail actually bisects Lime Lake and was covered with morning mist as I hiked across it.

4) The Towns  You’ll pass through places you would never see if you just drove across the state. Stop for a cup of coffee in tiny Kendall, MI or spend some time checking out Battle Creek. Enjoy the youthful nightlife of a Saturday night in Kalamazoo or a picnic style lunch in the city park of Bloomingdale. You’ll discover new places and promise yourself that you’ll come back to visit.  It’s fun to come out of the woods to the edges of civilization, then see some neighborhoods, then right through the downtown areas and back out through townships, farms and back into the woods. That’s the way to see a city.

5) The Birds  There’s lots of wildlife to see on this trail but the myriad species of birds is the best part. Fields full of sandhill cranes, ponds full of ducks and swans, trees full of angry blue jays and a flock of turkeys running down the trail were all present.  Skip the headphones and you’ll hear eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings and barred owls.  Keep your camera handy and you’ll get pictures of belted kingfishers, sharp shinned hawks and the stately great blue heron.

6) The Courtesy It’s especially refreshing and, frankly, unusual for people to be so polite to each other but that is what we encountered. People said “Good morning!”, they gently called out “Passing on the left!” or rang a bell to let us know they were coming.  Even busy traffic gave us a break in the cross walks. All this proved to us that a little courtesy goes a long way and that a multi-use trail can be a great experience for everyone.

7) The MTGA  We took on this challenge to raise awareness for the Great Lake To Lake Trail and to help the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance raise money to complete it. These are folks who are trying to get the word out that trails in Michigan are good for the economy, for society, for health and fitness and environmental preservation and enhancement. Their website, Michigantrails.org, is the place to go to find more information about this trail or to find a trail near your home. We are grateful to them for all that they do.

What do you love about biking and hiking in Michigan? 

Chris Hillier has hiked more than 8,000 miles since 2011 included thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is proud to have been the first to hike the Governor’s proposed trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood. Next, he plans to attempt a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. Read more about Chris on his website.

Chris Bowman is a right lower-leg amputee but nothing slows him down. He is proud to be the first to ride the 250 mile Great Lake To Lake Trail. When he’s not riding across the state, he spends time with his daughter, Gracie and his dog, Olivia. Chris lives in Rose City, MI. Read more about Chris on his blog.

Sugarloaf Mountain: A Short Hike to an Amazing View

Michigan is home to hundreds of great hiking trails to explore – many of which offer spectacular views to enjoy along the way. Today, native “Yooper” Jesse Land takes us on a journey through Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette, which he thinks rewards hikers with one of the best views in Michigan.

Marquette is full of excellent hikes and beautiful views. One shining example is Sugarloaf Mountain. The trailhead for Sugarloaf is just a few miles from downtown Marquette, the turnoff from county road 550 is well marked, and it’s a relatively quick hike to the top where you’re rewarded with one of the best views in the Upper Peninsula.

The Hike to the Top

On a recent hike, my first time to Sugarloaf Mountain, two friends and I took the “difficult” route and made it up in about fifteen minutes. There’s an optional “easy” route with a tamer grade that takes a little longer, but both paths up the mountain do require a extra care as rocks and roots stick out of the ground along much of the path.

Most people come to Sugarloaf for the view, but the forest canopy that envelops the trails is worth mentioning. With century old trees and ancient rock outcroppings, this trail reminds me of a few of the better hikes I’ve done in the rainforests of Australia. It really is a gorgeous area.

As we approached the top, the dirt trail switched to a series of wooden stairs that brought us up to the viewing area. At the top we were rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Superior, Marquette, Presque Isle Park and Little Presque Isle as well as Hogsback Mountain and the large swath of forest between Marquette and Big Bay.

Photo courtesy of Crag Grabhorn @ Chalet Press

The Stone Monument

Also at the summit is a stone obelisk erected long ago by Boy Scout Troop 1 to commemorate their assistant scoutmaster Bartlett King. King had helped to establish the local troop, which is one of the claimants of first Boy Scout Troop in the U.S. He later fought and died in World War I and his troop members wanted to construct a memorial that his mother could see from her home on Marquette’s arch street.

Three Observation Decks

As we stood there, about 1,000 feet above sea level, I was impressed with how much work has been put into this viewing area. Three viewing platforms situated atop Sugarloaf Mountain offer three slightly different vantage points. The first observation deck faces southward toward Marquette and offers a view of the Superior Dome, the Upper Ore Dock and Presque Isle Park. The second deck faces northward toward Wetmore Landing and Little Presque Isle island. And the third platform faces westward and offers a great view of Hogsback Mountain.

After the Hike

After our hike we opted for a late lunch in downtown Marquette, but deciding where to eat was no easy task as Marquette County is filled with excellent dining options, not to mention being home to four of the thirteen Upper Peninsula Breweries.

Getting There

Sugarloaf Mountain is located about six miles north of downtown Marquette on CR 550. Get there by taking Washington Street to Fourth Avenue. Turn north onto Fourth Ave., which becomes Presque Isle Ave and drive .4 miles to Hawley Street. At Hawley Street, turn west (left). Hawley becomes CR 550. Drive about 4.0 miles on Hawley Street/CR-550 to the parking area. A sign that reads “Sugarloaf Mountain” marks the parking area and is easily visible from CR 550.

Have you been to Sugarloaf Mountain? What did you think?

This blog post was written by Jesse Land on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan. Marquette County is home to some of the best hiking, biking, motorcycling, beaches, breweries and restaurants in the Upper Peninsula. Learn more about beautiful Marquette County at www.travelmarquettemichigan.com.

Hiking 924 Miles of Michigan

Christopher Hillier loves spending time outdoors, and a lot of that time is spent on Michigan’s hiking trails. Since April 2011 alone, Chris has hiked nearly 6,000 miles. To continue his adventures, he’ll take on the newly proposed trail that runs 924 miles from Belle Isle all the way to the border with Wisconsin in the western Upper Peninsula. Read about it below and follow his journey at WolverineHikesMichigan.blogspot.com or on Facebook as Hiker Resupply.

I like to be out-of-doors. A lot. I spent 7 months and 9 days hiking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  It took me 5 months and 25 days to hike the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. More recently, I’ve been hiking all the best trails in Michigan: the Shore-To-Shore Trail, the Kal-Haven Trail, the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, etc… My next big hike is a trail that was just proposed by Governor Snyder in November of 2012 that runs 924 miles from Belle Isle all the way to the border with Wisconsin in the western Upper Peninsula. I intend to be the first person to thru-hike this trail. That is, to hike the entire distance over about 10 weeks this spring. I want to use this hike to bring attention to all the great trails we have to offer here in Michigan, as well as for the health benefits of hiking. I want people to know that they don’t have to hike thousands of miles like I do, but they need to get out and walk more often.

People sometimes ask me if my six years in the US Army started my passion for long distance hiking. I explain to them that marching with a rucksack is a world away from hiking with a backpack. But the Army did prepare me for an 18 year career in cardiovascular technology and during that time I saw lots of vascular disease caused by inactivity. If I can encourage people to walk more, I will be doing a good thing.

So far, I’ve been working with the good folks at the Polly Ann Trail, the Detroit Free Press, the City of Warren, the Caroline Kennedy Library, Moosejaw gear stores and the Downriver YMCA. I receive incredible support from my family and friends. I am very proud to have been born and raised in Michigan and I am honored to have been selected as a finalist for the 2013 Governor’s Council Veteran of the Year Award as part of the Governor’s Fitness Awards.  The award will be presented April 25th at Ford Field. Wish me luck and follow me at WolverineHikesMichigan.blogspot.com.

Chris has hiked almost 6,000 miles since April of 2011. You can read about his adventures at WolverineHikesMichigan.blogspot.com or learn more in this story from the Detroit Free Press.