Category Archives: Beach Rides

Hoffmaster State Park – Fat Bike Beach Ride

12 miles – Sand Beach – Hoffmaster State Park                                      

Highlights: 3 miles of undeveloped beach, Hoffmaster State Park Sand Dunes and the Grand Haven Pier.

Trailhead: This fat bike beach ride starts at the North Shore Fisherman’s Parking Lot on the north side of the Grand Haven Channel.  Here you will find parking for about 40 cars just steps from the walkway leading out to the north pierhead.  There are pit toilets available, but no other facilities.  This a nice spot to visit anytime of the year and a favorite location for photographers to capture the Grand Haven Channel Lighthouses.  Driving directions to the trailhead >> 

The Ride: Air down the fat tires and head down the sidewalk towards the channel and out to the beginning of the pier.  Just past the rocks you can drop down on to the sand and start pedaling north.  This part of the beach usually has a lot of debris to navigate over and around.  During spring floods, tree branches are carried down the Grand River and out into Lake Michigan where they are then washed up on shore.

The first section is private beach and is lined with some really nice summer homes.  At 1.7 miles you will see swimming area poles out in the Lake as you approach North Beach Park.   This County Park has 750 feet of public beach, a picnic shelter, playground and restrooms available in season.  There is also a nice hiking trail leading to an overlook deck high up on the dune behind the park.  It is worth checking out if you are up for climbing some stairs.  This is also the only good bailout point on this ride.  If the wind or weather changes on you it is an easy ride back on N Shore Road from here.

Just past North Beach Park there is section of beach that has always been tight with little or no sand between the wall of dune grass and the water.  With the higher than normal lake levels, I have had to ride in a few inches of water the last couple years when riding the fat bike through here.  With anything other than small waves it will be impassable or you will be getting really wet. I made it through, but ended up with wet shoes from a boat wake rolling in.   The private beach continues and just before reaching Hoffmaster State Park, there is about a 100 yard section of old wooden breakwalls.  Most were easy to ride over or around, but there were a few that required a dismount.

At the 3.5 mile mark, the beach riding smooths out and you leave all the man-made obstacles behind as you enter into Hoffmaster State Park.  From the Michigan DNR website: “P. J. Hoffmaster State Park features over three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, a 297 site modern campground, towering Lake Michigan dunes, and the Gillette Visitor Center. Miles of hiking and skiing trails offer stunning views of Lake Michigan and subtle beauty at every turn.”

Soon you will start seeing some of the famous windswept Hoffmaster Sand Dunes on your right.  Several of the parks hiking trails also lead down to the beach including the trail to the Gillette Visitor Center at about 4.5 miles.  The visitor center is about a 0.4 mile walk from the beach.

Continuing on, at 5 miles into the ride, the beach will widen as you enter the main day use area.  Up by the parking area there is a restroom and changing building that is open during the summer and a pit toilet for the off season.  This would be another good starting point for this ride if you wanted to just ride in the State Park or make a 10 mile round trip to the Grand Haven Pier and back.  Past the beach area there is another nice mile of beach riding until you hit Little Black Creek at 6 miles from the start.  This is also the beach area for the campground.  Just before the creek you will see a wide sandy path leading up the hill that connects to the campsites.  I decided to push my fat bike up the path and ride around the campground loop.  This also gave me a chance to make a quick pit stop at the bathhouse.

I was hoping to wade through Little Black Creek and try to continue on for another 2 miles up to the Mona Lake Channel, but I was running out of time and had to get back.  If anyone has ridden this section let us know in the comments below.  After turning around it was a little easier heading back as a light breeze started blowing in from the northwest.  Unfortunately this also blew in some clouds.  Back in Grand Haven I took a victory lap out to the end of the pier and back before heading back home.

The beach portion of this ride was almost exactly 12 miles long, but when you include my tour through the campground and to the end of the pier it was a 14 mile outing.

Ride Photos:

Post Ride Beverage:  I am not really a dog person, but I still really enjoyed the food and beer at Old Boys’ Brewhouse in Spring Lake.  Old Boys’ opened way back in 1997 well before the current micro brewery craze began.  They are still going strong today, so they must be doing something right.

In the Area:  There are not many decent mountain biking options in the Grand Haven Area.  However, about 30 minutes to the north is one of the most scenic single track trails in West Michigan at the Owasippe Boy Scout Camp.  There is about 16 miles of nice rolling single track along the shore of a nice lake and creek valley.  The trails are closed to the public during the summer Scout Camping Season from the second Saturday in June through the second Saturday in August.  They are also closed for hunting in the months of November and December.  There is a parking fee of $10 per vehicle.   See ooec.org/trails/ for more information and to purchase a pass online.

Links:

Hoffmaster State Park

Hoffmaster State Park Trail Map

North Beach Park

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Silver Lake State Park – Fat Bike Beach Ride

11.8+ miles – Sand Beach – Silver Lake, Michigan                                                

Highlights: 3 miles of undeveloped beach, a historic lighthouse and the Silver Lake sand dunes.

Trailhead: This ride starts at the Little Sable Point Lighthouse Beach which is part of Silver Lake State Park.  This is a popular beach access with parking for over 100 vehicles.  On nice afternoons in the summer this lot can fill up quickly and there will be people everywhere.  I would recommend doing this ride in the off-season or getting an early start.  The only facilities available are pit toilets available at the north end of the parking area.  A Michigan Recreation Passport or day-use fee is required to enter the park.  Driving Directions >>The Little Sable Point Lighthouse was built is 1874.   At 105 feet tall it is one of the tallest light towers in the State.  From late May though September the lighthouse is staffed by the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association and you can climb the 130 steps to the top for a small donation.

The Ride:  To start, saddle up on the fattie and ride up the sidewalk heading straight towards the lighthouse tower.  Hop down into the sand and when you hit the waterline turn to the north.  The main part of this ride is an out and back along the shoreline of Silver Lake State Park.  After about 500 feet the Lighthouse portion of the State Park ends and you will encounter a short section of summer homes.  About half through the private section of beach is the mouth of Silver Creek.  This is also a small Oceana County public beach access.  On my visit in April the creek looked pretty deep so I decided to take off my shoes and wade through with my bike on my shoulder.  This turned out to be a good decision because the deepest spot was well over the top of my knees.  After the creek crossing you may see “No Trespassing” signs where the private beach starts again.  It is okay to pass through here as long as you are below the high water line and do not stop.  There will be a few breakwalls to navigate around in this section, but there are easy to ride around of over.

At about 0.6 miles the cottages end and you enter into the main part of Silver Lake State Park.  The park protects almost 3,000 acres and much of this is open sand dunes.  The sand dunes area is divided into 3 different sections.  The south section is leased to the Mac Woods Dune Rides concession.  The biggest section in the middle is designated as a pedestrian area.  Then finally the 450 acres on the north end is the famous ORV area.  This is the only place where off-road vehicles can be driven in sand dunes in the eastern half of the country.Soon the trees end and the dunes open up to your right.  At about the 1 mile mark you may start seeing tire tracks on the beach and even a dune cruiser from mid-May through September.  There is a 1000 foot section where the dune ride runs along the beach and then stops for a few minutes to take pictures.

The next 1.5 miles is some of the best fat bike beach riding in the park with smooth sand on the shore and interesting dune formations inland.  3 miles into the ride the the dunes open up and a fence and picnic tables start lining the beach as you enter the ORV area.  You will likely hear and smell it before you see it.   The ORV area is open from April 1 through October 31 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.  On my visit in early April there were only a few 4 wheels out riding in the dunes at 9:30 in the morning.  However, it can get very busy on nice weekends in the summer.In another 0.5 mile you reach the northern border of the State Park and the turn around point for this ride.  There is a cottage up on a bluff with a big rock breakwall.  At the time of my visit the Lake Michigan water levels were near all time highs, making this section impassable.  If the Lake goes back down to more normal levels it may be possible to continue riding north.  Although, looking at Google maps, the breakwalls continue for about a mile until the beach opens up again.It is a nice 7 mile ride to the end of the State Park and back.  On my visit the beach riding conditions were almost perfect with firm and sand and a light east wind.  I decided to continue on past the lighthouse and explore to the south.  The first 2 miles were more of same nice and open sand.  Although, this is a private beach area lined with summer homes.  At about 2 miles from the lighthouse there are breakwalls that start running out into the water to help stop beach erosion.  I was able to ride over or around the first few, but it looked like they continued on for a while so I decided to turn around here.

By the time I got back to the parking area by the lighthouse I had logged 11.8 miles of sweet sandy beach riding.  Exploring this section of beach on the fat tire bike had been on my to do list for a while and it was a really nice early spring ride.

Ride Photos: 

Post Ride Beverage: I wasn’t able to stop after this ride, but on a recent camping trip we had a good meal at Big Hart Brewing Company.  Big Hart opened in February of 2016 and is the first micro brewery in Oceana County.  At the time of our visit it was getting mixed reviews, but we enjoyed our meal and had great service.

In the Area: If you have not experienced the Silver Lake Dunes before I would highly recommend driving around to the other side of the Lake and taking a hike in the pedestrian area.  The huge open dune area has been described as walking in the desert and is like no other place in Michigan.  We like to pick a sand ridge and walk it out towards Lake Michigan and then circle back along Silver Lake.  With the sand constantly moving and changing the landscape every time we visit it is a little different experience.   Directions to the Pedestrian Dune Access >>

Links:

Silver Lake State Park Map

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Our hike in Silver Lake Dunes while camping in Pentwater.

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Lovers Key State Park – Fat Bike Beach and Trail Ride

17+ miles – Beach and Trails – Fort Myers Beach, Florida      

Highlights: Up to 9 miles of Gulf Coast Beach and 4.5 miles of multi-use trails.

Trailhead: The best place to start this ride is at the north entrance to Lovers Key State Park . You will find this just before the Big Carlos Pass Bridge if you are coming from the south.   When I arrived at 7:30 am I found the entrance gate locked until the park opened at 8 am.  Although, shortly after I parked, a state park official pulled in and unlocked the gate.  It looked like you could sneak in around the fence and climb over the rocks just below the bridge if you want to get an extra early start.  Just inside the fence there was a picnic area and several portable toilets, but no water.  You will also find a box with paper trail maps available.  There is a $2 per person entrance fee that can be paid in the pipe just in side the gate.

About Lovers Key State Park: This 1,616-acre park between Fort Myers and Naples is comprised of four barrier islands— Lovers Key, Inner Key, Black Island and Long Key. The park offers 2.5 miles of white sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and a variety of recreational opportunities including wildlife viewing, fishing, kayaking and swimming.

Swim, sunbathe and experience some of the best shelling on southwest Florida’s gulf beaches. Hike or bike on 4.5 miles of island trails including the 2.5 mile Black Island Trail that follows the inner waterways of the island. Kayaking and canoeing in the 920 acres of waterways fed by the gulf and bay are favorite pastimes at the park.  Source: Lovers Key Brochure. 

ghost-tree-lovers-key

One of the ghost trees on the beach.

The Ride:  This ride starts with 5 miles out and back on the Lovers Key Beach. After the beach you can explore the 4.5 miles of multi-use trails on the inner islands of the park.  Then if you are still looking for more miles you can cross the Big Carlos Pass Bridge where you will find another 7 miles of open beach riding all the way up to Fort Myers Beach.

To start the go through gate and take a right to head out to the shore along Big Carlos Pass.  After taking a left at the water you will follow the shore along the inlet for the first 1/2 mile before reaching the Gulf Coast Beach.  When the tide is out the sand is packed almost as hard as a gravel road and I have to admit that it could probably be ridden on a skinny tire mountain bike,

Shortly after rounding the point you come to an interesting ghost forest area.  The beach starts out fairly narrow but as you near the park’s main beach area the sand expands to about 300 feet wide.  The first boardwalk leads the main parking area where there is also a gift shop that sells t-shirts, souvenirs and an ice cream.

lovers-key-beach-concession

Hurricane Charley’s Hideaway

About 0.4 miles further you will find Hurricane Charley’s Restaurant where you can get hamburgers, hotdogs and other beach style foods.  Kayak, SUP and bike rentals are also available at both concessions.

Past the concession the beach starts to narrow again and if you watch the trees inland there are several osprey nests.  I spotted several of them along the beach and on the inner island trails.  After rounding the south point there is about another 1000 feet of beach that can be ridden along New Pass until you reach the turn around point for this portion of the ride at just over 2.5 miles from the start.  From here retrace your fat tracks in the smooth sand back to the north parking area.

lovers-key-sand-flats

The sand flats at low tide by the turn around point at New Pass.

Next up is the trail portion of this outing.  The Black Island and Eagle Island Trails are an easy off road ride on a fairly wide gravel track.  Both trails follow inner waterways of the park and make for a somewhat interesting ride.  The trails are smooth and nontechnical by mountain bike standards, but are much better than riding on the busy Florida roads.

To access the trails from the north entrance you will want to follow the signs pointing to the main beach area along the gravel service road.  The first turn off to the left goes to the 2 mile lollipop loop Eagle Island Trail.  I didn’t see any eagles, but there were 2 more osprey perched on dead trees on the other side of the water.

black-island-trailheadAfter completing the Eagle Island Trail continue on the service road for about another 0.5 mile until it opens up at the parking area.  There is a sign on the left marking the start of the 2.5 mile long Black Island Trail.  This is also a lollipop loop that takes you out to the island that is to the east of the Eagle Island Trail.  For pictures of  the trails see the  GoPro Hero  time-lapse video below.    The Lovers Key Beach, Trails and Roads totaled about 12 miles of easy, but nice off road riding.

In the Area: If you are looking to extend this ride further you can access another 7 miles of beach by crossing the Carlos Pass Bridge.  There is a narrow side walk along both sides of the bridge that can be used to stay away from the heavy traffic.  The beach can be accessed right under the bridge.   The sand starts out really wide, but soon narrows and you may have to weave your way through a small section of trees before it opens up again.  I only went out and back for a couple miles here, but it looks like it could be ridden all the way up to Fort Myers Beach.

Time-lapse Video: The ride from my GoPro Hero in 10 second photo mode.  It was done in the following order: Lovers Key Beach, Black Island Trail, Park Roads, Eagle Island Trail and then the beach towards Fort Myers.

Ride Map:

Post Ride Beverage: I did this ride early in the morning, so I not get to sample any of the nearby establishments.  If you have a recommendation, please leave it in the comments below.

Links:

Floridan State Parks

Lovers Key State Park Brochure

Driving Directions

 Make sure to come back and Rate This Ride at the top of this page.


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