This weekend marks the official start to summer, and I am longing for Northern Michigan. Renting an e-bike and hopping on The Little Traverse Wheelway is my favorite way to explore three beloved Michigan towns: Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Charlevoix.
The trail is 26-miles long and, for the most part, hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline, offering stunning views of the water. The trail winds through several parks, so there are plenty of opportunities to use a restroom, eat a sandwich on a picnic table, or stick a toe in the water and hunt for Petoskey stones.
Trail users see cliffs and bluffs, tunnels of trees, and ride over bridges and through an actual tunnel. (See picture above.) It is mostly asphalt, but there are areas where the surface changes to cement or wood.
My husband and I like to start in Petoskey and ride 17 miles to Charlevoix for the day, or peddle nine miles to Harbor Springs. While there are many businesses that rent bicycles for half days and full days, we always use Banhof Sports. For years, they have been our go-to place for all our skiing equipment and have given us top-notch service. If you are ever in the market for ski boots, make sure to ask for Scooter, but that’s another story!
As you pass through Petoskey, the trail runs behind the D & W Fresh Market. On the back of the grocery store is a gorgeous five-panel mural, painted by Terry L. Dickinson, depicting the history of the Little Traverse Wheelway. Long ago, it was used by the Odawa Indians. Then, in the 1890s, everyone fell in love with bicycles and cycling was all the rage. A wooden wheelway was constructed just for the bicyclists. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the trail became a railway to shuttle vacationers from Petoskey to Harbor Springs. The rail service lasted almost 40 years. The ride took 25 minutes and cost 15 cents. The current trail was developed in the late 1990s and the final section was completed in 2009.
Last Spring, a section of the Little Traverse Wheelway collapsed between Petoskey and Bay Harbor due to erosion. This affected about a mile of the trail and people are routed down to US-31, where the old bicycle trail used to be. It is estimated that it will take years before that small section will be repaired.
As you pass behind D & W, there is a gazebo overlooking Little Traverse Bay in memory of Fred Fettis and Neal McCue, trail enthusiasts who were key to the development of Little Traverse Wheelway. It’s offers a spectacular view and is a great place to eat lunch or just take a moment to rest.
You’ll notice a few signs on the trail that say, “No Teeming or Driving.” It’s a nod to the era of the 1890s when riding horseback or horse drawn carriages was not permitted. Today, the trail is a motor-free zone and horses are still not welcome.
If you've used the Little Traverse Wheelway, tell me about your experience in the comments!