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Closure notice: As at April 2020, dangerous conditions due to erosion of the trail have necessitated the closure of portions of this trail. Visit the trail manager's website for closure details as well as updates on repairs.
Picture-postcard-worthy views of Lake Michigan and its shoreline greet visitors to the Little Traverse Wheelway in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. The paved trail rolls for 24 miles from Charlevoix to Petoskey to Harbor Springs as it follows the curve of Little Traverse Bay.
“Trail-to-rail-to-trail” describes the background of the Little Traverse Wheelway in this historic resort getaway. A section of trail dates to the 1880s when high-wheeled penny farthings were a popular, though risky, form of recreation and transportation. The Chicago and West Michigan Railway and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad adopted the corridor for rail traffic in the 1890s, but by the 1970s the surviving railroads were no longer using segments of rail bed. By the 1990s, the first 2-mile section of reclaimed trail opened in Petos-key with more to follow until 2009.
Beginning at Shanahan Field in Charlevoix, you’ll go east for 0.4 mile on the shoulder of Waller Road to reach the trail that runs close by US 31 for the next 16 miles. (At the park, you can also opt to take the Charlevoix Township Bike Path connector into town.) You’ll cross a 0.6-mile boardwalk in a nature preserve in the first mile and be gazing out toward a magnificent lake view at a roadside park by mile 3.
The trail rolls inland at about mile 6, but in another 5 miles, you’ll arrive at the marina-resort community of Bay Harbor. Descending through East Park, you’ll view Little Traverse Bay from a bluff for about 1.5 miles before arriving at the Magnus Park public campground.
In a mile you arrive at a marina and Bayfront Park in Petoskey. This is the path of the original wheelway, marked by the first of three replica arches announcing no teaming or driving, referring to prohibitions against riding horses or horse-drawn carriages on the original trail. The town’s history is remembered at the Little Traverse History Museum, located in a circa-1892 railway depot at the park. A touristy shopping area is accessible through a US 31 underpass near the foot of Bay Street.
Leaving Petoskey, you’ll pass a fishing pond left over from an old limestone quarry. It’s only a few steps away from Little Traverse Bay, where the exposed cobble on the shoreline is a good place to look for Petoskey stones, pebbles containing designs from fossilized coral.
Soon after leaving the park, salmon-colored sidewalks signal your entry into the historic Bay View neighborhood. This community, dominated by Victorian homes, has long been a summer getaway for prominent Michigan families. The trail leaves the side of US 31 at Division Street and, in 1.4 miles, passes a trail entrance to Petoskey State Park, where you can find sweeping sand dunes and a swimming beach. Along this stretch you will also pass a short spur that crosses on the right over MI 119 and connects with the southern endpoint of the North Western State Trail, which heads north to Mackinaw City.
The wheelway continues for 2.5 miles parallel to busy MI 119 before cutting away to follow the northeast edge of the Harbor Springs Airport. From the airport, a 3-mile section of trail continues west along MI 119 to a trailhead at Kosequat Park near the heart of Harbor Springs, a deep moorage at the head of the bay.
To reach the trailhead near Shanahan Field in Charlevoix from the intersection of US 131 and MI 66 in Mancelona, go 31 miles north on MI 66, and turn right onto US 31. Drive 2.8 miles east through Charlevoix, and turn left onto Martin Road. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Waller Road. Turn left into the trailhead parking lot. After parking, walk east on Waller Road for 0.4 mile; the trailhead is on the left, just before you reach US 31.
To reach the trailhead at Kosequat Park in Harbor Springs from I-75, take Exit 310 onto westbound MI 68. In 0.3 mile, turn left onto MI 68/S. Sturgeon St./S. Straits Hwy. In 0.9 mile, turn right to continue on MI 68, heading west-northwest. Go 9.2 miles, and turn left onto US 31/Burr Ave. After 0.7 mile, turn right onto Powers Road. Go 7.5 miles—Powers becomes Hathaway Road and then Hedrick Road—and turn right onto MI 119/Harbor-Petoskey Road. Go about 1.4 miles, and turn right onto Park Ln. Look for trail parking 0.1 mile ahead on the right (you’ll actually cross over the Little Traverse Wheelway).
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