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.
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.