Other than the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, mountain and fat tire biking is off limits on Lakeshore hiking and ski paths. So what’s an off-road bike enthusiast to do? Check out these options.
Road biking is definitely a popular way for Sleeping Bear visitors to see a lot of the spectacular scenery along M-22 in summer and early fall. But Leelanau County and the Sleeping Bear Dunes is also home to an extensive network of unpaved county roads—hard packed, gravel secondary roads perfect for mountain and fat tire bike enthusiasts, which in the case of the later, have no problem accessing these more out-of-the-way places no matter what time of year.
Where To Rent
The Cyclery at Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor added fat bikes to their already expansive rental fleet last spring. While mostly used by visitors wanting to explore the Sleeping Bear Trail, the fat tire bikes available at The Cyclery can be taken anywhere in the Lakeshore where biking is permitted. Rental fees are $50 for half day (4 hours) or $60 for a full day. To contact The Cyclery, call 231.334.4420 or visit them at www.crystalriveroutfitters.com.
Also located near Glen Arbor—just a few miles south of the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, an unpaved biking hotspot (see below)—The Homestead offers guests a modern rental fleet of dual-purpose trail bikes with the best hourly and daily rates around. To make it more convenient for anyone looking to hit the trails, The Homestead’s rental bike office is centrally located in The Village at the New Leaf Health & Fitness Center. Call 231.334.500 or visit www.thehomestead.com.
Empire’s Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak also rents fat tire bikes for cruising around this charming Lake Michigan costal village or anywhere in the Lakeshore where great biking is found. Call 231.326.9283 or visit them at www.sbsurfandkayak.com for more information rental rates.
Top Four Off-Road Biking Options
45 North Vineyard Trail
Although it’s located on the private property of this popular Lake Leelanau winery, the Vineyard Trail is open to the public and offers terrain covering everything from gentle slopes to uphill climbs. The trail starts near the Forty-Five North tasting room and wanders through the lower vineyard before starting uphill toward the top vineyard where you’ll be rewarded with views of the entire property and surrounding rolling hills. It then winds downward through a wooded portion before returning back to the tasting room. The complete trail is a three-mile loop with shortcuts along the way if you’re looking for a lighter excursion. For more information, check out www.fortyfivenorth.com
Port Oneida Rural Historic District
Easily assessable for biking guests of The Homestead by way of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, the Port Oneida Rural History District provides a number of secondary roads that wind through a beautiful mix of fields, pine forests and hilly hardwoods. Basch Road, Baker Road, Wheeler Road and Darwin Road offer miles of biking opportunity around this scenic spot popular for its historic barns and 100-year-old homesteads.
Shauger Hill Road
Shauger Hill offers a shady tour through hardwood forests. (nps.gov)
Another challenging and rewarding mountain bike ride that can be found along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail: the steep and wooded Shauger Hill Road can be accessed from the parking lot at North Bar Lake, just north of Empire. Once bikers traverse the climb to the top of this gravel road, they are rewarded with a descent back down to the Heritage Trail. This paved trail can then be taken back toward Empire, where Bar Lake Road will lead back to North Bar Lake. This scenic loop is a total of 6 miles.
Otter Creek, arguably the most popular beach in the Lakeshore, offers biking opportunity along Esch and Aral Road. (nps.gov)
Five miles south of Empire along M-22, Esch Road dead ends at Lake Michigan and the ever-popular Otter Creek beach. From the parking area at the end of Esch, bikers can access great mountain biking opportunity by way of Aral Road. According to the NPS website, “this small gravel drive will take you south through woods and past wetlands and offer some excellent wildlife viewing.” Aral Road heads north through forested hills and eventually meets up with Hillis Road. Hillis Road travels past hardwood forests, open meadows and historic farms.