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The Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee (CIS) Rail Trail stretches 41 miles between the mid-Michigan towns of Ionia and Owosso, offering a mix of pastoral and wooded landscapes. It crosses three counties and also passes through St. Johns, Ovid, Fowler, Pewamo, and Muir; the trail is paved in the towns and crushed limestone in between.
As it traces the path of the former Central Michigan Railroad, the rail-trail crosses nine trestles and has a replica train station as a trailhead in Pewamo. And, just off the trail in St. Johns, the Clinton Northern Railway Museum, housed in a restored 1920 depot, offers visitors the chance to explore old railcars, view railroad artifacts, and operate model trains.
The trail is part of a regional 125-mile trail network named after Fred Meijer, the grocery magnate and philanthropist who supported the development of the trails. In Ionia, the CIS Trail connects to the Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Rail Trail, which continues 16 miles west to Lowell. In Lowell, one could get on the Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Trail to travel north 22 miles to Greenville, and, from Greenville, continue the journey north and east 41 miles to Alma on the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail.
Parking and restrooms are available at the Pewamo Trailhead Welcome Center located in Pewamo at the intersection of Main and Higham streets. Another nice trail stop is the Clinton Northern Railway Museum (107 E. Railroad Street) in St. Johns. St Johns has a grant and should be building a facility this year but parking,restrooms and water are available in Muir, Fowler and Ovid as
I’ve walked, ran and rode this trail since mid nineties, and before it was widened, grated and crushed limestone base added. Never had a problem with adjacent property owners until recently. There’s a “home caretaker “ about a quarter mile east of Lowell road, south side (pond berm butts up against rail trail, windmill clearly visible) that likes to stand out there at his “post” and ensure neither you nor your dogs land a foot off the limestone and onto “his land”. I’m aware that this same kid has had run-ins with DNR and deer hunters exercising their right to hunt on buffers. Other than that, I’ve had no problems, and enjoy my time out there.
I was ready to abandon gravel-surfaced trails after riding from Ovid through St. Johns to Fowler. In this section it is all farmland (although picturesque farmhouses and fields), very little tree canopy, the surface is sometimes rough, you rarely see another rider, and you can hear M21 the whole way.
And THEN I discovered what happens once you hit Pewamo and west to Saranac. The trail completely changes into wooded forest/wetland/river views, lots of bridges over rivers and streams, and even the gravel surface gets more uniform, perhaps because of higher traffic.
I WILL say that St. Johns, Fowler, and Pewamo, have newly-restored depots with beautiful facilities. Someone has spent a lot of money, and I couldn't help but think how much more they'd be used if these trails were paved. It would increase usage twenty fold. Even tiny Muir has a lovely park along the trail, as did Saranac and Ionia.
I rode the Pewamo-Muir-Ionia section of the trail and really enjoyed it. The scenery is great, and the trail is in good shape. The paved sections are a nice break from the crushed stone, which my cyclocross tires handled with ease. Road tires may get slowed down some, but the trail is very packed down and I would certainly not discourage road bikes. There were some spots with debris (sticks, leaves, potholes, occasional rock) on the trail, but that is to be expected and they are easily avoided on such a wide trail. I was surprised at how sparsely used this trail is, I only encountered a handful of people on a beautiful Saturday in mid-August when I expected it to be more crowded. In response to earlier comments, I also did not see any signs of horses on this stretch of trail, and in fact there was one sign between Muir and Ionia that said "No horses allowed".
I have walked several sections of this trail mostly in the owosso, Ovid, and St. Johns area. It is a great easy to walk beautiful trail. Well maintained, peaceful, and very easy to take a 2-3 mile walk on any evening. Only suggestions I have are maps at road crossings so you know where on the trail you are, and some parking access some day would be nice as well..but for an infant beginner just getting started trail it is amazing! great job to those who made this.
Today my wife and I finished the CIS trail. We worked from east to west in segments. I would definitely agree that the western end is much more scenic. Our favorite area was from Pewamo to the west, especially Muir to Ionia where you ride along the Grand River. The railroad bridge just west of Ionia is beautiful. More paved sections would be nice, but at this point the crushed limestone is very well packed. We're definitely looking to continue riding on the other Fred Meijer trails.
A good place to begin is at the Pewamo welcome center. East of Pewamo the trail follows M-21 through farm fields to Owosso. West of Pewamo is much more scenic as you ride through woods, wetlands, and next to and over rivers.
Yesterday we decided to to take the western section, about 20 miles roundtrip, starting at Pewamo. From Pewamo the trail is paved until crossing M-21. From there it is well-maintained crushed rock traveling next to Stoney Creek. As you approach Muir you cross over Stoney Creek and the Maple River. At the Maple River you have a mile and a quarter of paved trail through Muir.
From Muir west the trail is not as much used or as well maintained. It is scenic going through forest with the Grand River to the south. At Prairie Creek, just east of Ionia, the trail abruptly ends with no signage to indicate you have reached the current end. At that point one can turn around and return along the same trail or take a short connector road to M-21 and continue into Ionia.
Overall, we enjoyed the peaceful scenery and would recommend it to others. Incidentally, an earlier rider complained of horses on the trail. We saw no evidence of horses having been present recently.
Rode from Owosso to Shepardsville. Trail very smooth and firm. Nice mixture of sun and shaded areas. Lack of trailhead parking in Owosso and lack of drinking fountain, restrooms, bring grade down. Trail is fairly new, and hopefully these amenities are planned in the future. I would like to see Shiawassee government officials support and promote the trail more. This can and should be a valuable asset to a county that is in desperate need of more recreational opportunities of this type. It seems Clinton and Ionia counties are much more involved.
All in all, a very nice ride.
We rode 16 miles round trip today, starting at the trail head outside of Owosso. We parked at the fire station. This is a nice trail that has trees on both sides, which provides shade, depending on the time of day. We enjoyed the ride.
If there was something I would suggest as an improvement, it would be a bit more limestone to solidify the surface a little more. It's not bad, however. I rode a hybrid and didn't have any trouble.
This trail was very disappointing. First it was almost impossible to find the beginning in Owosso. We rode from Owosso to Ovid. Than from Ovid to St. John's. The trail is very difficult to ride. It is covered in sand. We both had mountain bikes and it was no easy task. Would NOT recommend a road bike attempts this trail. Not much to see. I would not recommend or return to this trail.
I would give this trail five stars for walking and for scenery but for biking not right now. I rode the trail from Pewamo toward Ionia last week on my bike and was very disappointed that horse's hooves had created a series of pits along the entire length and most of the width. There was no way to avoid riding across them and it made for a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride. I had ridden it last fall as well at which time it was really good. The scenery is beautiful with lots of trees and the river running along side. There are also several nice bridges. I should add, though, that there were several small, dead trees partially across the trail toward the Ionia end. I wasn't paying close attention and ended up crashing into one. Luckily I was going slow due to the hoof pits so only suffered minor injuries. One last thing...as you approach Ionia, there is an old railroad bridge that, for safety's sake, should be blocked off. It's dangerous to cross and the trail on the other side is unimproved so not good for biking anyway. Hopefully these issues will be addressed quickly as summer is approaching and more people will be using the trail.
We walked over 9 miles from the St. Johns Depot by the library to the Main bar in Ovid. Took a break in a side woods half way through for a nap in a hammock. Heard coyotes along the trail at one point. Overall nice experience because there are no motorized vehicles and well marked streets to cross that aren't busy. There were a few bridges and you walk under US127. Very straight and tree lined but you aren't really walking through any woods.
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