Trails at Grand Traverse Commons ~ October 2011

As I type this, I’m pinching myself and – I’ll just go ahead and offer full disclosure – sipping a glass of Left Foot Charley’s crisp white wine Murmur, at the wine bar’s outdoor patio on a most glorious fall afternoon in northern Michigan. Pinching myself not just because I’m enjoying a glass of vino midday (It’s Friday! ), but because this spectacularly unseasonably warm October day is simply amazing. And yes, I ran this morning, on the wooded pathways behind this peaceful spot tucked away not far from downtown.

Having run five hilly trail miles makes the wine taste all the sweeter.

This area – The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – 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, come spring when the countless towering trees are about to explode in greenery or in the fall, when the trees ablaze in reds, oranges and yellows catch your breath as you run over wood-planked bridges, up dirt-and-root inclines and across ridges that offer expansive views of Michigan’s fall color in all its glory. (It’s also awesome snow-shoeing throughout winter).

I decided to have the Grand Traverse Commons be the first in a series of great Up North sports to get your run on that I’ll feature here. Whether you’re familiar with this area, or haven’t yet experienced its beauty, a few tips for enjoying a run on these trails (this includes what to do post-run, too!):

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 Salone de Capelli, where I get my hair done.  (Yes, I apparently do spend a lot of time over in these parts.)

Just one of many trails to run at the Commons

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 recently-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. Today, I headed straight up. You’re definitely not running fast – it’s a winding trail that goes up and up…and up some more. But once you get to the top, as out of breath that you are, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment. From there, it’s downhill (for the most part) and I typically follow the trails another couple of miles until I get 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.

The Barns at Grand Traverse Commons

From there, I head right and follow the gravel road, which is in the process of becoming a paved thoroughfare/boulevard connecting W. Silver Lake Road 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. Today, wanting to run an even 5, I kept 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 at Building 50.

Post-run Fuel (and bathrooms for changing): After many, many runs in this area, in all seasons and weather, I’ve become quite intimate with its bathroom facilities. Since I typically go right from a run to work or meetings or getting kids (and there’s no shower around), I’ve mastered the art of 1.) finding a nearby public bathroom that’s suitable for changing out of sweaty running clothes, and 2.) actually smelling pretty decent–enough so that I can confidently go into a coffee shop and order food. Two favorite bathrooms: the one down the hall from Cuppa Joe (it’s a single-person bathroom so you have some privacy) and a second one near Stella (the restaurant doesn’t open until later in the day so it’s relatively quiet after morning runs). Dry clothes, deodorant, a spray of perfume … I’m ready to go. At Cuppa Joe, especially during winter, I’ll sometimes treat myself to their oatmeal with fresh berries on top. And a skinny vanilla latte. If I’m in cash-saving mode, I’ll order just a coffee and munch on a granola bar I’ve brought with me.

Check out this printable map of the trail system.

Ever run The Commons? What’s your favorite route?


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