The 26-mile Little Traverse Wheelway provides exciting changes of scenery—including many views of sparkling Lake Michigan—as it winds from Charlevoix to the northern outskirts of Petoskey and eventually to Harbor Springs. Most of the route is paved, with short sections on boardwalk, sidewalk and area roads.
If you park at the trailhead at Shanahan Park in Charlevoix, your journey begins with a short trek on Waller Road with light traffic. Once you reach the trail, you begin a 7-mile breezy ride sandwiched between Lake Michigan and US 31. A lightly wooded buffer helps to shield you from the fast-moving traffic along the highway, and the trail is entirely paved except for a 0.6-mile wooden boardwalk across a quiet wetland between the Charlevoix Country Club and Big Rock Road.
A magnificent view of the lake awaits you at MDOT Roadside Park, offering a chance to lunch at one of many picnic tables. Next is Ninemile Point, a particularly lovely strip of land along Little Traverse Bay. The shop- and restaurant-studded village of Bay Harbor lies 2 miles ahead. Soon you curve through woods next to Little Traverse Bay and descend into Petoskey’s Magnus Park. The city-owned public campground in Petoskey offers rustic tent sites as well as RV hookups. Just after Magnus Park, you'll emerge into Bayfront Park.
This portion of the Little Traverse Wheelway dates from the late 1880s when it was a bikeway, predating the railroad (completed in 1892). Three arches (also called “gates”) are replicas of a gate that once stood where the third arch stands now. The sign announcing “No Teaming or Driving” refers to a time when people were prohibited from riding horses or horse-drawn carriages on the trail. Bicycles were the recreational rage for a couple of decades before 1900, and they also served as inexpensive transportation. This bicycle history is commemorated in the Little Traverse History Museum, located on Depot Court just off Lake Street near City Hall, and is represented by a sculpture of an antique “boneshaker” bicycle in Bayfront Park.
Other Bayfront Park destinations include the Midway and Lime Kiln Pond. The Midway was once the shopping area on lower Lake Street that ran from today's business district down to the dockside area at the waterfront. Petoskey's cosmopolitan shopping center, it included three “Persian Bazaars” run by Armenian families dealing in rugs, spices and other Asian products popular in late Victorian America. On summer nights, brass band concerts on shore, and on boats docked in the harbor, entertained residents. As a growing commercial and tourist center, Petoskey was an “emporium of the upper lakes.” The Midway has since been bisected by the relocation of US 31; the park is now accessible through an underpass near the foot of Bay Street.
Lime Kiln Pond was the heart of Petoskey pioneer Hiram Rose's quarry operation, which dated from 1874 and greatly altered the appearance of the waterfront. The kilns “cooked” the limestone, the first step in the lime-making process. At one time it was one of Petoskey's most important industries, employing 30 to 40 workers, and sold lime used in fertilizer, cement and a variety of other industrial applications throughout the Great Lakes region. Today the pond, created by the quarry operation, is stocked with pan fish and is a popular spot for children learning how to fish. The water level is several feet above Little Traverse Bay, only a few steps away, and the exposed cobble on the bay is a good place to look for Petoskey stones, organic matter from the ancient past fossilized in the limestone.
After leaving the park, you see salmon-colored sidewalks signaling your entry into the historic Bay View neighborhood. This community, dominated by charming Victorian homes, has long been a summer getaway for prominent Michigan families. At the east end of Bay View is the Fettis-McCue Overlook, a covered wooden gazebo with benches offering a particularly pleasant view of the water. Next, you’ll arrive in Petoskey State Park, where you find sweeping sand dunes and a fine swimming beach.
Near the state park, the trail passes the smaller Spring Lake Park. The local park is the southern trailhead for the North Western State Trail, which extends north all the way to Mackinaw City. The Little Traverse Wheelway continues 2.5 miles parallel to busy State Route 119 before cutting away to follow the northeast edge of the Harbor Springs Airport. From the airport, a new section of trail continues west along SR 119 to a trailhead at Hoyt Community Park near the heart of Harbor Springs.
In Charlevoix, the trailhead is located at the Charlevoix Township Hall (12491 Waller Road); parking and restrooms are available. The first mile of the trail (from the trail head east to US 31) shares the right-of-way along Waller Road (shoulder is extended and paved). At the Waller Road/US 31 intersection, head northeast and pass the Charlevoix Community Pool and the Charlevoix Country Club. Shortly thereafter, you will reach the boardwalk that bridges a wetland area.
Parking is available at numerous places along the length of the trail; refer to the Top of Michigan Trails Council for more locations.