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The Bay County Riverwalk/Railtrail System connects a nature trail in a wildlife refuge on the shores of Lake Huron to a loop trail around the bustling port of Bay City. From the same 17-mile paved trail, visitors can see thousands of migratory waterfowl on Saginaw Bay, cargo and naval vessels in the Saginaw River, and lumber barons’ homes in the city’s historic district.
A 7.7-mile-long rail corridor links the Tobico Marsh Nature Area in the north with the 9.8-mile Bay City loop in the south. Originally created in the 1880s as the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena Railroad, the rail line hauled pine from northern forests to the growing port of Bay City. Renamed the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad in 1894, the railway was acquired in 1992 by Lake State Railway, which stopped using some sections.
Shaped overall like a lasso, the trail has many access points. It is mostly paved with asphalt as a separate path, although there are sidewalk sections alongside roads and boardwalks on the waterfront. Follow the directional arrows to stay on the path through Bay City.
Beginning at the Bay City State Recreation Area trailhead just off East Beaver Road/State Park Drive, you can visit the Tobico Marsh Nature Area by heading north for 1 mile on the Frank N. Andersen Nature Trail (part of the Bay County trail system). Bird-watchers use the two observation towers and 2.7-mile nature trail loop to view migratory birds.
Heading south from the Bay City State Recreation Area, you’ll cross the Kawkawlin River and leave the rail corridor in 3.2 miles. From here, travel begins on paved paths separated from city streets or sidewalks. Just past the riverfront DeFoe Park, you’ll arrive at the start of the Bay City loop. Going south to make a counterclockwise loop, you’ll find many tempting eateries specializing in ethnic cuisine.
The trail continues past a bustling marina to the popular waterfront Veterans Memorial Park, featuring gardens in the Kantzler Memorial Arboretum, riverside benches, and memorials of bygone shipbuilding days. Bird-watchers will enjoy the riverfront boardwalk and pedestrian bridge over to Middleground Island and Bigelow Park. (Another pedestrian bridge at Hotchkiss Road is planned to link with the Saginaw County to Bay County Connector trail, which begins at the easternmost end of East Hotchkiss Road.) Taking the Lafayette Street Bridge, the route continues south past waterfront businesses before heading into the residential district.
After Trumbull Street, the corridor opens up for a smooth pass through farmland and woodlots for a couple of miles on a former Penn Central Railroad corridor. Heading north, you’ll brush the eastern edge of Bay City’s Center Avenue Historic District, where the local 19th-century elite built homes that still survive. In 2.4 miles, you’ll close the loop after crossing the Saginaw River on the Liberty Bridge’s sidewalk. DeFoe Park is 0.6 mile north.
To reach the Bay City State Recreation Area trailhead from I-75, take Exit 168 (about 7.4 miles northwest of Bay City) onto Beaver Road/State Park Dr., heading east. Follow for 5.1 miles, and turn left to find parking in the recreation area.
To reach the DeFoe Park trailhead from I-75, take Exit 164 (about 2.7 miles northwest of Bay City) onto Wilder Road, heading east. Go 2.1 miles, and turn right onto N. Henry St. Follow Henry for 0.8 mile, and turn left onto W. Hart St. Go 0.6 mile, and turn right onto Marquette Ave.; then go 0.2 mile, and turn right into DeFoe Park.
To reach the southern trailhead at N. Tuscola Road from I-75, take Exit 160 for SR 84/Saginaw Road, just southwest of Bay City. Continue onto SR 84 N. for 2 miles, and bear right to continue east for 1.1 miles on SR 84/Salzburg Ave., crossing the Saginaw River. Continue straight on Lafayette Ave. for 0.6 mile, and then continue onto 22nd St./Kosciuszko Ave. for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto SR 15 S./Tuscola Road, and follow for 0.3 mile. Make a U-turn at 27th St., and look for parking immediately to your right, just past the railtrail sign.
I’m very disappointed with the maintenance program for the Bay County rail trail/river walk. The surfaces are almost unridable in several areas for bicycles. Several areas are in desperate need of resurfacing. Some areas are like a washboard, some areas have rough seam cracks about every 20 ft. And some areas are just in need of a good cleaning. In the Marquette St area the ride surface is ridiculously rough. I’m afraid I’ll break my bike in this area. The sidewalk is to narrow and close to the buildings to safely ride a bicycle. I don’t like to complain this much but the trails are a beautiful system and if they aren’t maintained they’ll be lost to the same degree as the roads and highways in Michigan. If you take care of them, people will come to the area to ride, walk or just enjoy the trails. Please!
Great ride. Mostly smooth, with a few areas that are bumpy (from age of the trail). Many cross streets. Could be marked better, but you can still see the arrows. We had a great time.
May be great for an off road bike but very rough for a road bike. In fact all three bikers I met on the trail had fat tire bikes. I got lost because the markings were bad. Signs would be better and better seen in the distance. I left from in front of the Water Plant. First off the trash can was full and spilling over and the bathroom was dirty, trashed and the toliet plugged.The trail was better there but I kept hitting tree branches hanging over the trail. I did do a short side ride down to the USS Edison and thank god there was a bathroom there!
Bay County Riverwalk/Rail trail is a well-marked and picturesque trail. It covers a diverse area, going through a residential areas in the city, the woods, the marshes, and the river front. Although it was cloudy and rainy throughout the day, we really enjoyed our ride. We also biked through the 5-mile unpaved loop in the woods. The view from the two wooden observatories located about a mile from one another inside the unpaved loop is priceless. I do not recommend the trail for kids as there were many cross-roads, but it is a perfect and gorgeous trail - rain or shine- for adults.
Ok for a stroll on a fat tire bike very bumpy. Rough trail not great for a road bike unless you have 28mm tires.
We decided to do this trail in October as we thought the fall color would be pretty. The weather had other ideas though. The day was cloudy, breezy and cool....but we still ventured out. We started at Veterans Park and went counter clockwise around the loop. This took us through residential areas. There were many benches along the way to rest along with drinking fountains. There were also little parks mixed in with the trail. The colors along the route were pretty. We had the trail virtually to ourselves (probably due to the weather). As we made our way outside of town and towards the state park the breeze made it more difficult to ride (we commented on how nice it would be on the way back). We were very disappointed when we reached the end off of Killareny Beach road. There was no beach access. After all that and we could not get to the water. We ventured off the trail to the Tobico Marsh Nature trail. Climbing to the top of the overlook platform gave us a nice view of the marsh. We made it back to the riverfront and wound our way through the parks until we reached where we parked. What an enjoyable ride! The trail was well maintained (there were places that were in need of repair but for the most part it was in good shape). There were not many shaded areas but I would like to go back in the warm weather and see what the city has to offer along the river.
Our family did the 9.5 mile Bay City rail trail loop. Our family enjoyed this trail and found that going through a city with lots of riverfront makes it unique and interesting. We disagree with other reviewers who did not recommend this trail for children. Our children, ages 7 and 9 enjoyed this trail and we felt that we were safe on it.
However, please note the following. First, there are two main bridges, Liberty Bridge on the north and Lafayette Ave on the South. You are crossing these bridges with traffic on narrow sidewalks adjacent to traffic lanes and will need to walk your bikes across these. We were there on a Sunday afternoon in June (12:30pm-4pm) and yes, it is a city with traffic, but the traffic is not very heavy. There were about 5 crossings of roads where we had to wait for traffic to pass before crossing, all of the rest of the crossings we would arrive and there was no traffic at all. Kids may not be used to this if they normally have been riding more rural trails. So before we started, we talked about walking bikes over bridges and having Daddy be the leader at all road crossings where we looked carefully in both directions and then all crossed together. With these rules in place, we did not have issues. We did not feel unsafe around the people on this trail either. There were lots of cyclists and walkers on all parts of the trail on Sunday afternoon and all appeared to be friendly.
Except for bridge crossings, all of the rail-trail that goes through the city is an extra wide sidewalk that is well marked with many signs and spray painted arrows on the trail. There are many little circle “pocket parks” throughout the city on this trail that have landscaping and benches and many of these also had water fountains. This trail had more water fountains than we have seen on other trails. There is one section of the trail that crosses beside Pizza restaurants and other fast food (Center Ave, near letter “i” on map) if you get hungry. On the north side of Veterans Park, near Liberty Bridge, the rail trail crosses right beside a miniature golf-arcade-ice cream stand (near letter “n” on the map).
We parked in Veteran’s Park and went south, to Bigelow Park and around the loop. We would recommend that route for kids, because you end up near the ice cream stand-miniature golf place at the end of your ride, a great reward stop for a ride! If you child is not ready for a full 9.5 mile ride, we recommend just riding the west side of this loop starting at Veteran’s park and heading to Bigelow Park and then stopping there (about 2 miles---marks “n” to “c” on the map). You won’t be in any traffic and can make playground and ice cream stops and have a fun afternoon and a great introduction to riding.
We parked at the M15 parking lot and went clockwise around the loop. The trail was flat for the most part except slight inclines over the bridges. Because a lot of the trail is in a residential area and shares sidewalks you need to pay attention to trail markers. The trail could be better marked but if you watch close you should be ok and not leave the trail. Had a nice picnic along the river with a great view. Next trip will be in the summer when the river will be full of boaters having fun. If you plan to make the entire loop please take heed of this warning. This trail crosses many busy roads and the bridge sidewalks are very narrow and real close to fast moving vehicles. I would recommend you DO NOT take any child under the age of 13 on the entire loop. That being understood the trail has a lot to offer and I highly recommend you add this trail to your list of trails to ride.
Has too many crossroads. Crosses many busy roads. Not recommended for kids.
I put my bike in the back of the truck and go up to the nearest place to park from my house, about 10 miles. Today I did 12.5 miles on a recumbent bike. There's plenty of shady spots to stop and rest, drinking fountains and bathrooms, though I wish there were a few more of those. Along the river you get to enjoy a good view and a good breeze off the water. Lots of people use it so you can always find someone to talk to if you want. Everyone says hi when you pass them. I'm thinking of adding the Trail System to my WILL and leave money to help maintain it for others in the future to enjoy. Thanks for a good thing.
I have no idea what some folks are talking about. Perhaps if I was ant-sized (as in Honey I Shrunk the Kids) the miniscule imperfections might pose some minor inconvenience but this fortunately is not the case. This trail has hardly a blemish. It is a fantastic ride/walk showcasing the town and local nature areas. I highly recommend this ride for any type of bike/rider. I've been enjoying this route for years and hope further additions are made.
The entrance to the trail looked good so I wanted to try it out. Big mistake. The trail has deep cracks running from one side to the other every foot or so, broken up glass, and lots of meandering people. Not a good ride at all...especially if you're on a road bike. Mountain bikes or cruisers might be a better fit for this trail. There was some nice looking homes along the way, but overall it was one of the worst rides I've been on in years. Will use the trail for occasional walks, but not for riding.
The Family and I took our bikes for a ride here today, lots of birds to see and hear. Very clean trail, no trash anywhere.
Part of this ride are nice. The Northern section through the Marsh and the dirt section near the marsh are worth the ride. The Bay City Loop is not so great because you are in to much car traffic and city streets
Please note spelling for this Trail. It's a pleasant walk from the visitor centre at the Bay City State Park north along this trail. It would make for a very easy family cycling journey. At about the midpoint of the trail, a path leads off to the left through a marsh towards an observation deck, a nice spot for birdwatching or just enjoying the sights and sounds of the marsh. It is best approached from the south trailhead, as there is ample parking in the State Park.
I ride this at least 5 times a week all spring summer fall love this trail. It is easy to connect from this trail to the one that goes out to state park also using the light on Wilder Rd at Patterson you can see the trailhead of the other trail.
I've ridden the Bay City loop twice, and loved it both times. It is nice to be make a loop without having to back track over the same trail to get back to the car. There is plenty of great parking spots along the river, and the trail goes through a combination of neighborhoods and a woods area. Another nice feature of this trail is that you can bike into downtown at both bridges where there are restaurants, ice cream shops, and shopping. Traffic in the city has been minimal on the two weekends I was there, and it was easy and safe to ride into the downtown area.
"I was in Bay City today and explored a small distance of the trail. I was so facinated I came home and looked for the map on the internet since I plan to return and bicycle the whole trail this summer, I was disappointed that I can hardly read the map because the print is so small."
"I live within walking distance of this trail in Bay City and it is great. The trail is paved with asphalt and goes through neighborhoods, into the country by farm fields and then back into the city again. It connects to the Riverwalk in Bay City by way of sidewalks on two bridges. You can see a map of this trail at the Bay Area Community Foundations homepage http://www.bayfoundation.org/"
I was ordered to check this trail out. I got distracted the first time. It was snowed in the 2nd time. But do so want to RIDE it! It looks very inviting.
The newer section of the trail by Essexville is O.K. but there's not much shade. The downtown Bay City sections are fair at best. On a scale of one to ten I would rate this trail a seven on its best day.
"From my review last year, the rail-trail was completed last fall. It now makes a complete 10-mile loop. The ride is even better now."
"I only live a few miles from the M-15 trailhead and have ridden it numerous times. It is a well maintained ashphalt trail, which runs partly on an old railroad grade. One thing which is not mentioned, is the trail also connects to the Bay City River Walk, which is an additional 4 miles that runs along the Saginaw River in downtown Bay City. There's plenty too see and do, restaraunts and parks along the way. It's well worth the ride."
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