**Editor’s note: this post has been updated, with new places to explore and eat, as of July 2015.**
Once warm weather hits, the trails call my name—my body itches to climb dirt paths into the woods and get lost on a shaded route that’ll take me onto winding slopes and through tall-grass fields, alongside flowing streams, and across wood-planked bridges. Traverse City has a number of different trail systems perfect for this experience.
But there are other times I’m craving a more urban feel to my run—exploring Central and Slab Town neighborhoods, running right through downtown on Front Street, trekking around Boardman Lake and the public library, and traveling along busy Grandview Parkway which offers a glimpse of tall buildings and lots of activity on one side and the calming waters of Grand Traverse Bay on the other.
You can always have a run that combines a little of both, too. Whether you live in the area, or you’re here visiting this summer, these 5 Traverse City routes are absolute musts. I’ve included information on the terrain of these spots, distances you’ll find to best plan your run, and a few ideas for post-run eating.
This is my most favorite Traverse City trail system, partly because it’s so convenient being that it’s close to our house, but also because it offers numerous loops, both single track and a wider pathway—all nestled within the Pere Marquette State Forest. There are some fairly flat portions, but it generally is fairly hilly. Expect a satisfying, challenging workout. I start from my house and hook onto the path a mile away, near Timber Ridge Campground. (You can get onto the Vasa from this campground, too). There’s ample parking at the trailhead off Bartlett Road. If you’re here in the fall, the Vasa Trail Race typically takes place in late September. Go to runvasa.com for more info.
Trailhead: 4450 Bartlett Road, off Bunker Hill Road in Acme.
Directions: From Traverse City, head east about 6 miles to the intersection of Bunker Hill Road and U.S. 31 North in Acme. There’s a stop light here. Turn right up the hill and go a few miles, around the big curve to the left, and Bartlett Road is on your right. You’ll see a brown Vasa sign on your right where Bartlett Road meets Bunker Hill. Follow Bartlett Road until you see the sign on your left for the trailhead, about a mile down.
Distances: 3K, 5K, 10K, 25K loops. I love running the 5K loop, tacking it onto my regular out-and-back route of my house to the trailhead (8 miles total), when I want to log a longer run.
Terrain: Fairly hilly. Some portions especially so. Bring a hand-held water bottle and fuel, particularly for longer distances. The trailhead building has restrooms and a drinking fountain.
Nearby Coffee Shop: Post-run, grab coffee at Einstein Cycle’s cafe (attached to this awesome local bike shop), 1990 U.S. 31 North. It’s across from the Speedway gas station at Four Mile Road and U.S. 31 North.
If you’re looking for a paved trail experience, the TART Trail is for you. This is a 10.5-mile “urban transportation corridor” with an eastern end point of M-72 (Bates Road) in Acme Township and a western end point at the M-22/M-72 intersection in Traverse City. It’s flat and easy to navigate—I’ve logged many longer runs along this path that treats you to views of both East and West Grand Traverse Bays, through neighborhoods and the Mitchell Creek watershed.
Getting There: Are you staying at a hotel or resort, maybe camping at Traverse City State Park? The TART Trail runs parallel to U.S. 31 North, the main highway connecting the east and west sides of Traverse City. To access the trail from one of the many lodging options along this highway, you’ll need to cross the road (if you’re staying along the Bay) and look for signage. Parking lots are located at Bunker Hill, Four Mile and Three Mile roads. You can also hop on the trail at spots such as the public library, at Woodmere Road, downtown by the Open Space, and at the grocery store Tom’s West Bay, where the highway meets M-72. Check out maps at traversetrails.org for detailed information.
Distance: The eastern trail section from M-72 to Lautner Road is 2 miles, and then the trail leapfrogs to Bunker Hill Road and continues for 8.4 miles into Traverse City. At its western end the TART trail connects to the Leelanau Trail, which runs north to Suttons Bay. During my first marathon training I discovered I could start at my house, get onto the TART about a mile and half away at the Walgreen’s by our neighborhood, head clear across town and come back home for a total of 17 miles. Pretty much entirely on this path. (There are lots of shorter distances you can do, of course. This was marathon training, after all.) A favorite 4-5 miles: Start at the library on Woodmere, head north toward the water, travel along West Bay and through the newly-renovated Clinch Park, and turn around at the 2 or 2.5-mile mark.
Places to Eat & Drink: Lots of options here if you’ve run and are looking for post-workout fuel. It really all depends upon where you’re getting on the path. If you’ve started and finished at the library, check out Morsels, 321 E. Front St. on the east end of downtown, several blocks north from the library. Or try Oryana Natural Food Market‘s Lake Street Cafe, 260 E. Tenth St. that’s within walking distance of the library on Boardman Lake. Looking for the most delicious flatbread pizza and a pint of handcrafted Michigan brew? Check out The Filling Station, next to the Traverse Area Distric Library and overlooking Boardman Lake. (Read more about running + post-run noshing at The Filling Station in this article here.) Also nearby is Brewery Ferment, a small, friendly and locally-owned brewery with delicious brew on tap. (Full disclosure: my brother is co-founder and head brewmaster. He and my sister Kirsten operate the brewery in Old Town. Tell them I said hello if you stop in!)
Old Mission Peninsula
Want even more water views throughout your run? Start at the base of Old Mission Peninsula and head out East Shore Drive, also known as the beginning of two well-known local races: the Bayshore and the Cherry Festival 15K. I got to know this route extremely well while training for Bayshore, my first 26.2, a couple of years ago. The first four miles of this route take you right along the water—head out early to catch the breathtaking sunrise. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, take a left onto McKinley (Mt. McKinley as it’s called during the 15K) and go up, up, up before crossing Center Road and going down a steep decline to Bayshore Drive—you could head back toward town along this road, catching views of West Grand Traverse Bay. Option #2: Check out the west side of the peninsula — start at Bryant Park, at the base of the peninsula — and follow Peninsula Drive for a picturesque out-and-back.
Getting Started: Park and start at Northwestern Michigan College or adjacent TC Central High School. Lots of parking at either spot during the summer. For Option #2 (the west side of the peninsula), park at Bryant Park, 1245 Peninsula Drive. Bonus: at the end of your run, jump into West Bay to cool off and get a great view to the west of the marina and downtown Traverse City. Sunsets here are spectacular, too.
Distances: Get started on Eastern Avenue (this is the street the high school is on). Head out a couple of miles on East Shore and turn around for a flat 4-miler, or go all the way to the end of East Shore and back for about 8 miles. Center Road is a busy stretch—this is the main road for Old Mission Peninsula traffic, and vehicles whiz by—so be careful if you decide to go further. It’s another couple of miles along Center until it meets Bluff Road, on your right. Bluff is another beautiful stretch for running (and biking—you’ll likely cross paths with plenty of friendly cyclists on the peninsula).
Post-workout cup o’ joe: Near the base of Old Mission Peninsula, at the intersecton of Garfield Avenue and Munson Avenue you’ll find fantastic coffee, bagels and smoothies at Cuppa Joe. It’s a popular drive-through coffee spot, but there are a few tables in the small sit-in area.
There are a number of ways to enjoy running in and around downtown Traverse City, and this 4-mile route is one of my most favorites (it also offers a great challenge with an even greater reward, I promise):
Getting Started: Park near the west end of Front Street, close to where it meets Division Street. I park along Maple Street, a residential/commercial area which also happens to be where my Pilates studio is located. You could also park in the fairly large parking lot for CVS, which is on the corner of Front and Division.
4-Mile Distance: Head west and cross Division—this is a busy road for sure, but in the early mornings I find it fairly easy to cross. There is a crosswalk at Division and Front, or you could cross a few blocks north if you’re starting further north on Maple; I’d suggest crossing at Third Street or Randolph. Once you’re across Division, keep going west until you reach Spruce or Elmwood. Take a right onto one of these cross streets and go a block or two to Wayne Street. Turn left and get ready for a BIG climb, and an even bigger, spectacular view about a half mile up. Atop Wayne Hill you’re treated to what I believe is the prettiest expansive views of downtown Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula, West Bay, and—one a clear day—East Bay. It’s about another half mile down and to the base of the hill. From there, stay on Wayne until you reach Monroe. Hang a left and follow Monroe to Bay Street, where you can jump onto the TART Trail. I like to head east, back toward me car, at this point. But I stay in the paved trail, crossing Division and Grandview Parkway using the crosswalks and then enjoying the beautiful Bay view as I make my way toward downtown. At the Open Space, I’ll cross and take Union Street to Front Street and head back toward Maple, my starting point. But if you’re looking for a longer run, you can always keep going, through Clinch Park and the marina, all the way on the TART to the end of Clinch Park Beach and then loop around to run right through downtown. If you love jumping into the water after a sweaty run (who doesn’t, right?), cross Grandview Parkway and dive in. I wrote about how much I love doing this in an article here.
Nearby Coffee Shops: Around the Maple Street-Front Street area, there’s a couple places I really like—Bay Bread Co., 601 Randolph St. and Grand Traverse Pie (the original TC location), 525 W. Front St. for coffee and pastries, and Mary’s Kitchen Port, 539 W. Front St. for yummy sandwiches and salads.
This area is one of my most favorite places in northern Michigan, not just for its delicious offerings and ultra-cool vibe (the area, once a state hospital, is home to independent businesses like coffee shops, eateries, restaurants, clothing boutiques, art galleries, a yoga studio, professional offices AND hip residential spots), but its impressive trail system. These 480 acres of preserved parkland are the perfect place to lose yourself in a run.
Getting There: I usually park in front of Building 50 on the Grand Traverse Commons grounds. This is where Cuppa Joe, a popular coffeehouse, is located, as well as where my favorite yoga studio Yoga for Health and other businesses are housed. Parking is free in this area, and you’ll find spots in the circular drive out front or along the road leading up to the building. I’ve also parked in the nearby lot to the south, which is closer to Trattoria Stella, an amazing Traverse City restaurant, and also in the lot in front of Left Foot Charley, my favorite wine bar.
Where to Run: You could run a hundred different ways, there’s that many twists and turns to these paths. I like to start at Cuppa Joe, since that’s where I like to end up, for their yummy lattes. A paved path on the east side of the building will take you to a parking lot that directly connects to the trail system. This is where I hook up to the paths usually, and I follow it for a mile to the foot of an especially steep hill. Usually I am feeling up to tackling this hill, though there are times when I opt to go left or right instead and follow a different route. I like to follow a route that takes me to another trailhead along a gravel road at the south end of the Commons area. Here, you’ll come face-to-face with majestic white barns. From there, I head right and follow the gravel road which not too long ago became connected to a new paved thoroughfare/boulevard connecting W. Silver Lake Road to the Commons. If you follow this around back toward where you started, you’ll see a two-track to your right that provides more trail running, including a couple of half-mile stretches. One takes you through a tunnel of pine trees while another weaves through a wooded area with a bubbling brook just across the street from the Grand Traverse Pavilions. At this point, you’re at about 4 miles. To run an even 5, keep running north, toward Front Street, before looping back around behind Munson Hospital, Higher Grounds Coffee, Left Foot Charley, the Underground Cheesecake Co. (yum) and finally back to Building 50 and Cuppa Joe. Check out this printable map of the trail system.
Post-run fuel: Cuppa Joe has fantastic lattes (caramel soy being my top choice), as does Higher Grounds, which is located next to Left Foot Charley. If you have extra time to explore, definitely check out the numerous shops and eateries located within the Village.
There are so many other awesome places to run in and around Traverse City … What did I miss? What is your favorite Traverse City running route?