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The North Eastern State Trail (NEST)—formerly known as the Alpena to Cheboygan Rail-Trail—is one of the longest rail-trails in Michigan. Surfaced in smooth, crushed limestone, the trail offers an extended journey for snowmobilers, hikers, cyclists, and equestrians through some of the most remote and unpopulated regions of the state.
The trail follows an old Detroit and Mackinac Railway line, first developed in the late 1800s to ship Michigan's vast supplies of timber to points beyond. What loggers didn't haul out was left on the ground, setting the stage for devastating forest fires in the early 20th century and turning entire towns into ash. Many of the towns were never rebuilt. The most recent owners of the line, Lake State Railway, abandoned operations in 1992, allowing the right-of-way to be turned over to outdoor recreationists.
The trail passes through the hearts of some communities, as well as near state parks and recreation sites, boat launches and campgrounds. Yet it's remote in other areas, and at times you won't see a building for miles along this incredible corridor. From its wetlands and woodlands to all sorts of waterways, the North Eastern State Trail offers an incredible wealth of scenery. Wildlife abounds: coyote, fox, deer, raccoon, elk, black bear and beavers inhabit the area. A wide variety of bird species will please twitchers.
History buffs will like this trail, too, as the route takes in old logging towns, railroad stops, and even the town where wooden steering wheels for cars were once manufactured—Onaway. In Millersburg, the halfway point, the last remaining railroad depot stands; it has been renovated into a history museum and year-round trailhead.
There is a new trailhead in Cheboygan with restrooms, parking and a shelter. This trailhead also serves the 62-mile North Central State Trail. At the southern end of the trail in Alpena, the route connects to the paved Alpena Bi-Path via Woodward Avenue on the north end of the city. In the future, the planned Rogers City Spur Trail will take trail users from the North Eastern State Trail near Posen north to Rogers City on Lake Huron.
Trail access is available in several towns along its length, including Posen, Hawks, Millersburg, Onaway, Aloha and the end points of Alpena and Cheboygan. Refer to the website for the Top of Michigan Trails Council under 'Related Content' at right for more information.
My aunt and I set out to ride from Cheboygan to Onaway, round trip totaling 52 miles. This trail is gorgeous and very easy to navigate. I agree with the previous reviews that, there is no coasting, limestone is difficult at times. Our average speed was only around 8-9mph, so it took us 6 hours to ride the trail.
Onaway has a great restaurant called Woodwinds for our half point to grab lunch and some homemade cookies for a little boost on our way back. Getting to Onaway was very cool, a little off roading around a farm which lead to some great pics.
Wife and I just returned from 3 days of cycling using Cheboygan as a hub. On our third day we did 15.5 miles on the North East State trail from Cheboygan to Aloha State Park and back. Could only give it a 3 star rating.
Good News: Great trail head services in both Cheboygan and at Aloha State Park. Scenic route with a mix of shade trees and open farm fields. Cool bridge crossing over the Cheboygan River.
Bad News: The crushed limestone surface is too deep and causes a lot of rolling resistance. On my 700 X 38mm tire I felt as if I was “snowplowing” through the crushed limestone. As another commenter said, “there is no coasting on this trail.” In fact, on similar RTTs that have numerous street crossings but are PAVED my average moving speed is 14.5 mph. However, my speed on this section of the NEST was only 10.3 mph. So plan your trip accordingly.
The crushed limestone is most troublesome at street crossings were it can be 3” deep and stop you dead in your tracks.
Wish this trail was paved as they did with the Leelanau Trail in Traverse City or the Little Traverse Wheelway – Charlevoix to Harbor Springs.
We just rode 6 miles south of Cheboygan and back on our hybrid tandem. The route is nice, as it is not alongside a highway. Very quiet, allowing us to enjoy the bird serenades.
We were a bit disappointed with the trail surface. It was irregular, with some narrow tracks of hard pack but 80-90% of the width was loose crushed gravel. Some of the road intersections had deep gravel aprons which we had to plow through with our 20" front wheel. There was also the occasional pothole to avoid. If the gravel had some clay mixed in it would make for a much nicer ride.
My wife and I started at Aloha state park and went north to Cheboygan. There was a slight incline going. We had a nice lunch at Pier 33 restaurant. Only four stars instead of five just because I'm a little lazy and like to coast now and then. No coasting on the crushed limestone. There are some isolated spots so girls go with a friend.
My friend and I ride this at least once a year and it is a very nice ride. We always see deer, many different types of birds and we are always joined by dragonflys that fly along with us! I ride a hybrid and it is fine on the hard pack/crushed stone. When you are near Aloha State Park, there are a few places to pull off and check out the lake.
I rode this trail on the 2012 summer solstice . "HOT" weather but cool trail . The area had some severe weather that had washed out some of the drain culverts but a constuction crew was doing repairs . The weekend of June 23 , all the towns along the trail are having ribbon cutting ceremonies for its grand opening . The trail is packed crushed lime stone and is easily rode on skinny tires . I tell you what fellow bikers this trail is out in the wilderness of northern mich. . It gave me the feeling like an Elk could pop out of the trees at any time . A must ride trail if you like the wilderness and easy riding . So get out there and "RIDE ON" bikers .
20120413: Rode a TerraTrike Rover from Alpena to Posen to Sunken Lake Park campground and back. About 50 miles, mostly on the trail. Not a bad trail but there are some problems.
There isn't a sidewalk where it crosses US-23. If you are approaching from downtown Alpena you either have to ride with traffic on US-23, cross the Alpena Community College campus and head up Woodward Avenue to the trail start, or take French Road/Truckey Road (also no sidewalks) and enter the trail from their crossings.
Trail segment between French Road and Truckey Road is completely washed out. Fine-crushed limestone does not have suitable erosion resistance at the bottom of a long hill. Needs to be replaced with larger stone. Use a mountain bike, walk, or bypass it via Truckey Road. The pavement ends before the crossing but the gravel section is relatively short.
There is a few channels cut across the trail from flooding. Hard impact if you don't have shock absorption. Needs some culverts.
Some of the traffic guard posts are unevenly spaced or a little too close together for my Trike. I was able to make it through all of them but had to be careful about which gap to use.
Section between Duck Lake and Posen is damp and soft. More drag than the rest of the trail.
There is a small waterfall visible from the trail at 45°11'39.23"N, 83°36'32.76"W. Possibly a sinkhole.
If you are heading to the campground at Sunken Lake Park, get off the trail at Long Lake Highway (paved) and take it to M-65. Head south a few miles to Maple Lane (western portion, which is about 0.5 mi down from the eastern portion). Horrible road (loose gravel and steep hills) but it's only a mile to Leer Road. Leer is paved down to Sunken Lake Road (which is packed dirt/gravel).
I highly recommend the Route 65 Diner on the north side of Posen.
My son and I rode this trail last week (November 7th), and it was a great ride. I was a little leery about taking my very thin-tired road bike, but I had no trouble at all. Rode from Alpena to Onaway. I did swap out my clip pedals for regular pedals though, and found I missed being able to use my upstroke. That's a lot of constant pedaling, no downhill breaks like you get on the road. My son saw a black bear near Bolton. Nice trail, thank you RTC!
The new hard pack gravel was very nice to ride on. Rode the trail from Cheboygan to Hawks and from Metz to Alpena. I had to skip the Hawks to Metz stretch of the trail due to construction that should be done by the time you read this review. I saw very good fall color on my mid October visit. Services like water and restrooms are almost non existent on the trail itself.
We parked in a field just off M211 in Onaway (north of highway 68 I think it is) (across from a Do It Best store) and rode west to M33 (Indian River) - about 15.5 miles - and back - on Sat Oct 8, 2011 . This stretch of the trail is beautiful. We ate wild apples, saw beaver dams, an elk, and, of course, amazingly beautiful Fall colors. There are no trail amenities including no bathrooms, so it might be nice to start in Hawks. There are restaurants and hand-dipped ice cream near the trail head there. A couple of riders we met said there was some gravel 2 miles east of Onaway and it was tough for one of them with skinny tires. We rode hybrids.
Hope to get back up there to ride the whole trail.
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