The nine towns that once stood between Kalamazoo and South Haven were connected by train traffic from 1870 to 1970. Some of those towns have faded into the past, but the old railroad corridor linking Kalamazoo and South Haven still hums with activity as the 34.5-mile Kal-Haven rail-trail, itself a state park.
Begin your adventure at the eastern trailhead on 10th Street in Kalamazoo. A refurbished caboose serves as the trail office and information center. From this trailhead, you can also pick up the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.
The beginning of the trail is paved—though the majority of the route is crushed slag and limestone—and slopes gently downward. Trees flanking the trail offer many miles of shade before you enter the open fields of Mentha. Almost nothing remains of the old Mentha Plantation that built this area's reputation for producing some of the world's finest peppermint oil.
Continuing west you pass on the south edge of Kendall and Gobles. The restored Bloomingdale Depot stands as the halfway point of the trail and houses a museum filled with railroad and local history.
In Grand Junction a pedestrian walkway will carry you over active train tracks. About 1 mile before reaching Grand Junction, the bridle trail starts and follows the trail until 1 mile beyond the town of Kibbie. Just 2 miles past Grand Junction you will cross the Camelback Bridge, name by its unique curved camelback style, over Barber Creek. In early spring the trail here is lined with a white carpet of wild trilliums.
The covered bridge over the Black River signals that you are nearing the end of the trail, and you begin winding uphill to the South Haven staging area.
South Haven is a beautiful port city, so take some time to explore the area at the end of your trail journey. The famed South Haven lighthouse, dating back to 1903, is a not-to-miss attraction standing high above the mouth of the Black River at the end of a long pier. At sunset, it is especially spectacular. To either side of the river, North Beach and South Beach offer fun places to play and take a dip in sparkling Lake Michigan. And, less than a mile from the shoreline, the Michigan Maritime Museum shares the rich history and culture of the Great Lakes region and offers boat cruises down the Black River.
To reach the Kalamazoo trailhead, take Interstate 131 to Exit 38. Turn left on 10th Street and follow it for 2 miles. The trailhead is on you're left.
To access the South Haven trailhead, take Interstate 196 to Exit 20. Take Phoenix Road west to Bailey Road and turn right. Turn left onto Wells Street. The trailhead will be on your left.