Head for Van Buren Trail State Park and take a walk (or ride) on the wild side. Wildlife abounds on this rural 14 miles between Hartford and South Haven. While you might see deer, rabbit, fox and eagles, this is an undeveloped trail that has rough ballast stones, long sections of sand and grassy two-track. The combined result is a trail suited to hearty mountain bikers, birders and naturalists.
Heading north from the grass-covered parking lot in Hartford, which has portable toilets, you glide quietly over bridge spanning the Paw Paw River. Cruising northwest to South Haven you pass beneath tall pines, maples and various hardwood trees. The scent of pine lingers as you emerge from the woodlands and enter fields of blueberry bushes and vineyards.
At mile 8 the small town of Covert is located one block south of the trail. A convenience store in town has the only refreshments and restroom facilities on this rural trail. You have to navigate rural State Route M-140 at this point, with no real busy traffic.
The last 8 miles from Covert the trail passes through woods, open fields and commercial fields of blueberries (growing on treelike bushes) and grapes. This part of Michigan is noted for its wine and fruit. At 16th Avenue, just south of South Haven, you will see a connection to the Van Buren Trail Spur, which opened in November 2015. It offers a paved, off-road route to the 400-acre Van Buren State Park, where you will find more trails and access to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Future plans call for a trailhead at the South Haven end of the trail and for a connection to the Kal-Haven Trail.
To start in Hartford, from Interstate 94, take the Hartford Exit. Head north 2 blocks past the first stoplight. Take a left onto Prospect Street and proceed for 2 blocks. The trailhead has a grass-covered parking lot with portable toilets.
To start in South Haven, take Lagrange Street to Aylworth Avenue (next to South Haven High School, across from McDonald's). Go west on Aylworth Avenue to Kalamazoo Street and then south on Kalamazoo to Lovejoy Avenue. The trail is 0.1 mile to the west on Lovejoy Avenue on the south side of the street.