If a trip on the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail leaves you in love with this route, you are not alone. The Pere Marquette is one of the most heavily used trails in Michigan (the section between Midland and Clare), according to a 2002 Michigan State University study. The serene, paved corridor welcomes all non-motorized users, including equestrians on an adjacent path for approximately 5 miles between State Route 18 and Coleman Road. There are numerous access points along the trail, as well as benches for trail users to rest and take in the beautiful scenery of maple and pine trees.
Officially, the 30-mile section between Midland's famous Tridge and Clare is known as the Pere Marquette Rail Trail (a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame Trail), while the section between Baldwin and Clare is known as the Pere Marquette State Trail. The latter is not entirely paved but the two trails can be joined into one via a 2-mile-or-so on-road portion (using bike lanes) in Clare.
For the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail portion, kick off your trip in downtown Midland at the Tridge, a unique three-way bridge located at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers. The Chippewa Trail extends west from the Tridge, traveling 4 miles to the Chippewa Nature Center. Go north to instead follow the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail all the way to Clare.
The trail is a haven for deer, chipmunks and an assortment of bird species. There are cultural attractions to be had from the very start. Just off the trail in Midland is the Dow Historical Museum, where you can find information and displays concerning the pioneering chemical experiments of Herbert H. Dow. Another interesting cultural attraction, located just off the trail, is the Bradley House. This restored 1874 home offers visitors a glimpse into the everyday life of an early Midland family.
The town of Sanford is at mile 8.4 and is a good spot for a lunch break. It has shops and restaurants as well as Sanford Village Park, where you can dip a fishing line or a canoe into the Tittabawassee River. If you are up for a 0.25-mile side trip, head north and cross Saginaw Road to reach Sanford Lake County Park, which has a beach, pavilions, boat launch and playground.
Just ahead at mile 9.3 is Veterans Memorial Park, which features 180-year-old red and white pines. The Pine Haven Recreation Area, located at 8 Mile Road, has 8 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing.
In Coleman, the trail has been made the focal point for the city. Exit the trail at the Coleman Staging Area if you want to stop, shop or grab a bite to eat. A bike shop is also located adjacent to the trail. Continuing north, you may decide to stop at the general store in Loomis for a snack.
In Clare, continue your journey on the Pere Marquette State Trail by taking a wide, on-road bike lane and some city streets for about 2 miles before meeting up with the western segment, which goes all the way to Baldwin. From Clare, the trail courses for more than 55 miles through beautiful woodlands and fields and passes nearby wetlands, showcasing wildflowers and streams. Benches along the trail offer places to rest and enjoy the scenery.
On its far western end, the trail between Reed City and Baldwin has a new (as of July 2014) crushed limestone surface, and the trailhead in downtown Baldwin now offers paved parking. Along the way, this section of the trail passes through the communities of Idlewild, Nirvana and Chase. The terrain is varied with crossings over Baldwin River and Sanborn Creek; passage by bogs, lakes and ponds; and treks through tamarack stands and rolling fields.
In Reed City, the trail intersects the White Pine Trail State Park just east of Old US 131/Chestnut Street. That trail travels a whopping 92 miles, north to Cadillac and south to Grand Rapids. This charming small town community makes a nice rest stop with a welcome center (including bathrooms) located in the Reed City Depot. The eye-catching building is modeled after the original 1892 train station.
To start in Midland, from the intersection of State Route 20 and Business Route 10, go east on Buttles Street/ State Route 20 for 3 blocks to Ashman Street. Turn right and follow the street right to the trailhead, which has plenty of parking and restroom facilities.
To reach the trailhead in Clare, from US 127, exit onto McEwan and follow it to 5th Street. Go east for 1 mile. The trailhead will be on your right by the freeway underpass.