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The Saginaw Valley Rail Trail offers a year-round rural retreat from the urban confines of Saginaw. Rolling through a continuous woodsy border past farms, fields, and game areas for 11 miles, the paved trail connects the manufacturing center of Saginaw with the former coal-mining town of St. Charles.
The trail follows a rail bed first used by the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Railroad in the late 1860s. By 1881, it extended north all the way to Mackinaw City and was under the control of the Michigan Central Railroad, a subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad. Ownership changes put the line under the Penn Central in 1968, Conrail in 1976, and the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway in 1982.
Advocates pressed for a trail after the railway became inactive. Work began on the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail in 1999, and it was completed in 2009. The trail’s builders preserved much of the tree canopy to provide shade in the summer and color in the fall. Bird-watchers use viewing platforms and the trail’s seven bridges to spot a share of the 100 species documented through the year. An equestrian trail parallels the paved trail for 8 miles.
Beginning at the Stroebel Road trailhead, you’ll head southwest on the old railroad grade to get to St. Charles in 9.6 miles. In the other direction, a newer 1.4-mile trail addition alongside Stroebel Road intersects a sidewalk for South Center Road that crosses the Tittabawassee River for access to southern Saginaw.
Luscious displays of Queen Anne’s lace and other wildflowers cluster along the route, and interpretive signs identify many of these species. A thick growth of vegetation flanks much of the trail, and the intact canopy of trees makes you feel as if you are in a large forest.
About 2 miles from the Stroebel Road trailhead, you’ll come to a junction with the Thomas Township Trail. The right fork heads due north through farmland for 2.3 miles to chain grocery stores and restaurants. Back on the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail, at mile 3 you’ll come to a trailhead at Swan Creek and Van Wormer Roads that has restrooms, soda machines, drinking fountains, and parking. Crossing Swan Creek, there’s a fishing platform where you may see anglers hoping to snag trout, perch, or smallmouth bass.
There are three pocket parks, complete with wooden gazebos and benches, along the trail. The first is located between Stroebel Road and River Road, the second between Spencer Road and Lakefield Road, and the third between Teft Road and Prior Road.
After crossing Marsh Creek just before mile 6, you’ll skirt the Shiawassee River State Game Area. A viewing platform south of Wolf Creek at about mile 8 is a good place to watch for geese, ducks, swans, and white-tailed deer throughout the year. Approaching St. Charles, the trail crosses the Bad River on a scenic restored bridge and enters the southern trailhead at Lumberjack Park.
To reach the northern trailhead on Stroebel Road from I-75, take Exit 149B west onto MI 46/ E. Holland Road. Go 1.2 miles, veer right onto MI 46/E. Remington St., follow for 1.1 miles, and then turn left onto Sheridan Ave. Go 0.4 mile, and turn right onto MI 46/Rust Ave. Go 1.8 miles—Rust becomes Williams St. across the Saginaw River—and, in 0.2 mile, turn left onto S. Michigan Ave. Go 1.2 miles, and veer right onto W. Michigan Ave. Go 1.5 miles, and turn left onto S. Center Road, crossing the Tittabawassee River. After 0.7 mile, turn right onto Stroebel Road. Look for parking on the left in 1.4 miles, just before the railroad tracks. The trail endpoint is located about 1.4 miles southeast along the trail, which parallels Stroebel Road.
To reach the trailhead at Lumberjack Park in St. Charles from I-75, take Exit 136 onto westbound MI 83/Main St./Birch Run Rd. Go 10 miles, and turn right onto Bueche Road. Go 0.5 mile, and turn left onto Fergus Road. After 6.9 miles, turn right onto Sharon Road just after you cross the Shiawassee River. Go 3.3 miles—Sharon Road becomes Chesaning St.—and veer left onto S. Saginaw St. After 0.3 mile, turn right onto E. Water St. Go 0.2 mile and look for parking on the left in Lumberjack Park.
Very nice trail. Well maintained, clean trail. Lots of shade. Very pleasant.
For 2 weeks I've been trying to take the rail trail from st. Charles to Shields for work and it's been closed they really need to mark this better
A beautiful morning for a ride ... lots of shade to shield one from the sun. Benches for resting, mini-parks to enjoy, even several picnic tables along the way.
Brought my road bike with me from Florida on a trip to visit family in Saginaw. Used the TrailLink App to find rail trails located in central Michigan. This trail was located within 10 minutes of where I was staying. Unfortunately, the freezing/thawing effects in this part of the world usually results in paved surfaces degrading fairly quickly. The folks in charge of this trail have done a wonderful job keeping the trail surface repaired and smooth.
The trail transitions between farm fields and woods throughout it's length. There is adequate signage that will be much appreciated for first time trail users. You will have to slow down and/or stop when the trail crosses roadways. While there are no restrooms/water at the eastern terminus of the trail, there are facilities and another parking area about 3 miles up the trail. Restrooms/water are also located at the western terminus of the trail at Lumberjack Park in St. Charles ...a distance of about 9.5 miles from end to end. Road bikes can ride the trail from one end to the other and back in a bit over an hour. It will take folks using mountain/cross bikes a bit longer. If you enjoy riding or hiking, you need to check this trail out. I don't think you will be disappointed.
This trail is a very easy way to get lots of exercise in a short period of time. The scenery keeps the ride from getting boring and helps to minimize sun exposure. Just remember if you are riding, walking, or whatever, stay as far to the right as you can. Also when passing on a bike, look behind you first.
This trail was not quite what I expected, but regardless, it is one of the nicer trails I have traveled. There is plenty of forested area to ride through for shade. There are glimpses of farmland beyond the trees bordering the old rail line. At the southern end is a small town which you can take a break at, if you've come in from the north. You cross creeks and rivers, which break up the monotony of trees. And, there is a nice roundabout with flowers.
The trail itself is very smooth the whole length, and is the only asphalt trail I've been on which has been sealed for its entire length. Road crossings are clearly marked. It is a nice, flat rail trail that even novices could ride. There are benches along the way to stop and take a rest, if you need to.
If you are driving to this area, you can easily do this trail and the nearby Harger Line Trail in the same day, although that nicely-kept trail is not as interesting as this one. In fact, looking at satellite views of the area, it would not surprise me if, in decades past, these two rail lines were connected, as you still see remnants of rail lines between the two. It would be nice to rejoin them.
I have lived in Shields for 23 years and was so excited for this trail. I have used it since it's creation. I walk my dog there very often but I find that lately the race bikers have made it kind of dangerous. I have seen 10-20 bikers flocked together in this category with riders in their spandex flying down the trail with little regard to the families or walkers like me with an old dog. I am surprised there has not been reported accidents. Some have been nervy enough to give me dirty looks as they pass. I wonder if anyone else has this concern.
This is a smooth and scenic trail.I bike it several times a week and always see lots of wildlife. I also always see the trail being maintained. It is kept very nicely. It's shady in a lot of spots which is great for a hot day.
Nice and flat, that's where it's at!
This has been on our list of Michigan trails to bike all summer and we are so glad we rode the 27 miles yesterday. It is almost 11 miles with a 2.3 mile connector and runs from Saginaw to St. Charles. The terrain is flat and paved with a wide trail and even a horse trail that runs alongside. The countryside is lovely running through farms and crossing several creeks. This has to be the most thoughtfully and professionally developed trail in Michigan. It is pet, people and eco friendly with everything from modern restrooms, air for bikes, lots of benches and places to picnic, a water fountain for pets, 7 bridges to cross, a round about with a landscaped flower bed, etched in stone mile markers, and special fencing to protect trail users at the railroad crossing and Swan Creek Road. What a well thought out trail! We saw folks roller blading, walking pets, in cross country practice, challenging their biking record and folks like us just getting exercise. Highly recommend this trail to any one.
Worth driving to if you love to ride. This is a very smooth paved bike trail that is maintained very well. Very scenic as well and for the most part it's pretty level ground with no hills at all.
I so love riding this trail.... it's has a up north feeling to it. There are some area's that are sunny... , but most are wooded trees and you cross a river. Many places to eat lunch at in St Charles, which is always fun! Great ride! I totally recommend it!
A great, paved ride through Michigan's rural center. Nice mix of sun and shade, an easy ride for all ages and abilities. I love this trail for its quiet beauty along the wildlife refuge and fields. An all season charmer! We ladies appreciate the modern, clean restroom facilities, too!
Nice shade in the summer. Its not too long of a ride (under 10 miles round trip). Nice scenery all the way through. I cannot think of any negatives to this trail. It could be a few miles longer though. You pass through farmland, a few bridges, forest and a few rivers. There are a few rest stops along the way for water and bathroom breaks. Swan Creek Road is the only major (busy) road crossing. I give this trail a 4.5 out of 5. Definately worth the ride.
I just love how the trees overhang the bike trail. In my opinion, this bike trail is one of Saginaw County's best keep secrets.
I have rediscovered my passion of biking. This trail is very well maintained. Try it and you will love it.
I had a great ride on Monday 7/29/13. This is a well maintain trail. Very pretty ride.
Rode this trail over July 4th weekend. Trail is flat and well shaded, which was helpful on a 90 degree day. Plenty of wildlife and scenery. Trail starts at a nice little park with a bridge over the river. There is a fountain in the river and a stream running to the river. The trail has many park benches and flower beds along the trail. The first mile and a half of the trail had a fresh surface of asphalt. After that the trail was still very smooth. Seen many families with children.
My wife, who is still new to biking and was able to do the complete trail and back without a problem. There are restroom facilities on the trail, but no place to purchase food or drinks. So bring your liquids. I would recommend this to anyone.
Great Trail,Nice Scenery
Been bike riding the trail for two weeks now.
been walking it for a few years now.
just would go from the parking lot on swan creek up to spencer road and turn around.
but now that we are on bikes we have now been going from the begining to the end of the trail.
very enjoyable and the people along the way seem friendly.
This trail is paved, shady, scenic, and not busy. It is a good length--20 miles. The grade is downhill from St. Charles but it's barely detectable.
It is definitely one of the nicer central/SE Michigan Rail Trails.
This trail has inspired me to get out and enjoy the outdoors. I have been biking this trail twice a week. A bike group meets every Thursday in the late evening. I have seen many deer and wild turkey. This is a great trail it ends at the bad river at Lumber Jack Park could not end at a better place. I have heard it will be expanding soon. I can not wait hope to see you there soon..
I'm a new biker - just got my bike out of the shed after it's been there over ten years! I'd been biking on city streets and sidewalks. What a thrill to be on this beautiful trail - smooth, tree-lined, well-marked! I did about half of it starting in Saginaw - can't wait to be able to say I did the whole thing! Soon......and I'll be checking out other rail-trails very soon.
Kudos to all who have worked on this wonderful trail! The first four miles from the St. Charles trailhead were especially sensational with a great deal of attention to plantings, benches, and other special touches. Even the drinking fountain at the trailhead had a basin for dogs (or for really really small children). It was wonderful - even on a hot day as the eastern part of this trail is almost entirely shaded by trees.
Very Enjoyable ride on this well maintained, shady and pictueresque trail...!!!
One of the better trails on this side of the state. Lots of shade and nice town.
"Very nice trail,enjoyed the rivers and creeks,lots of shade.We will ride this trail again."
"I have biked or run on rail trails in Michigan and this is one of the best. Well kept,shaded,scenic,picnic tables and benches available through out, bathrooms and water at various points.
Hopefully some day the trail can be extended into Saginaw through ""Trails with Rails"".
This could be accomplished by using the existing right of way along the Saginaw Bay Southern Railway.
Make good use of this wonderful asset for Saginaw County."
"This is a nice, mostly shaded and relaxing trail that is improving every year. As of early spring 2006 it has been extended to Stroebel Rd. and is now nearly 10 miles from the Stroebel Rd. trailhead to the end in St. Charles. In regards to some of the comments about it not being connected to the city of Saginaw or the surrounding townships, plans are being laid to do just that, but with so much in life it all takes money and does not happen overnight. Bathrooms have been added at the parking area on Van Wormer Rd., and there are many spots with benches where you can pull over and rest. It is a very quiet ride except for a small portion when you get near M-52 in St. Charles. There are what they call ""pocket parks"", spots to stop and look at a wetland with explanatory signage or a forested area that are very nice for families to stop and give the kids a rest and a chance to see wildlife. I have seen turkey and deer on the trail myself. It goes through farmland as well. Hopefully in time it will continue to expand into the adjacent region and city, as well as connect with other rail trails. Until then it is still a very nice rail trail to ride on. "
"This rail-trail is one of the nicest in the state. It's entirely paved with well displayed placards at each road crossing. Mile markers are easily visible to keep track of progress. Ample parking at the Swan Creek and St. Charles trailheads. Numerous benches along the way. What makes this trail even better is that it connects to both the St. Charles Area Park and the Swan Creek TWP park trails. Near mile marker 1, there is a cut-off with a nice one mile loop through the STC park with water, swings, restrooms, etc. This might be good for families with children. At Lakefield road, you can follow the white lines on the side of the road to the Swan Creek TWP park for water, restrooms, swings, etc. The path is well shaded for the most part. This path is also well maintained; There is always someone painting signs, sweeping off branches, or mowing the grass alongside every morning. Traffic on this trail is usually light too."
As an inline skater I appreciate this trail for sure. Watch out for the patches in the asphalt. The patching compound is like skating on ice. Sticks and leaves also aren't cleaned as frequently as we would like.
"If you are handcycle rider this is the trail for you. It's about 13 miles round trip. This trail is new, flat and very level and has lots of shade although it lacks a clean water drinking fountain."
"What a wonderful family type trail! Not too long, but long enough or short enough for all the family to enjoy. It is well maintained and has lots of ""rest areas"". I can hardly wait for this trail to be expanded! Thanks! "
This rail-trail is O.K. for skaters if and only if you watch for sticks. I'll tell you this: There are a lot of sticks that will find their way into your wheels and hitting that pavement from a dead stop of a stick isn't fun. So be careful when you're out there on the trail. Have fun.
"The gravel roads that the trail crosses over were paved last week. Now it's a great trail for skaters, too."
"I rode the trail on horseback on Sept. 1, 2003, from Shields/River Road to the Spencer Road crossing and back. I was a little disappointed at the lack of a bridge at Swan Creek, but I took the traffic bridge and Becket (sp?) Road to get back on the trail.
Although asphalt isn't great for horseback riding, it looks like a very good surface with good quality wooden bridges for walking, biking or jogging."
"The Saginaw Valley Rail-Trail has just been paved a week ago and is open for travel! It 6 miles of paved trail and is mostly shaded by a canopy of trees; sandwiched between farm fields and rural residences. Much of the trail is immediately adjacent to the lightly-used Teft Road and Martin Road, only twice passing near enough to the busy state highway M-52 for noise to be a problem. In several places it passes through woods, and the old railroad mileage marker for 90 miles from Jackson can be found in one of these woods. The hickory nuts are bountiful this time of year, and you can see where blueberries and raspberries may be found at other seasons. Chipmunks, garter snakes, and birds of all sorts are seen along the trail, and a frog or deer if you're lucky. The trail is almost perfectly flat, as is most of the county, and a bonus can be found in that the bridges all still smell of fresh-cut lumber.
There are NO facilities along the trail. But, the village of St. Charles has numerous restaurants (my favorite is Tony's) and convenience stores for supplies and restrooms. There are NO restrooms at the village park on Water Street, where the trail parking lot is located, but about 1 mile north along the trail, just south of the second bridge over a branch of the Bad River, there is a cut-off which leads to another village park which does have restrooms. There is a wildlife viewing platform about 1-1/2 miles north of St. Charles, but the viewing scope is not installed yet. The only restrooms mid-way on the trail are located about ½ mile west of the trail on Lakefield Road, at the Swan Creek Township Park. This is about mid-way on the current 6-mile paved trail. The park also has a drinking fountain and an excellent picnic shelter with tables.
If you want to add some distance, and try to see more wildlife, the Shiawassee State Game Area has viewing areas 1-1/2 miles east on Prior Road, and 2 miles east on Wahl Road. Make sure to check hunting seasons before entering the Game Area! There is NO parking lot at the current north end of the trail, at Benkert Road, just south of Swan Creek Road. However, there is public parking 3-1/2 miles east along Swan Creek Road, at the James Township Hall at the corner of Weigl Road. There is also a convienence store, Things-N-More, on Swan Creek Road, 1 mile west of the township hall.
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