21.5 miles – Sand Beach – Grand Haven to Port Sheldon, Michigan.
Highlights: 11 miles of the finest beach riding in West Michigan.
Trailhead: This ride starts at the Grand Haven City Beach which is located just to the south of the State Park on South Harbor Ave. In season there are restrooms available next to the parking area. If this parking is full you can try next door at the State Park. A Michigan Recreation Passport is required to enter the State Park, but there is no fee for the the City Beach.
The Ride: This section of Lake Michigan shore from Grand Haven to the channel at Port Sheldon is a favorite for fat bike beach riding. You can expect smooth sand with only a few break-walls to navigate around. The only big obstacle is a creek crossing that may require getting your feet wet.
To start the ride hop on the fattie, head down to the waterline and take a left. About a 1/2 mile up the beach, Harbor Drive turns inland and the cottages and lake homes start to line the shore. After 2 miles of pedaling you come to the north border of Rosy Mound Natural Area. This Ottawa County Park protects 164 acres of Lake Michigan Dunes that includes 0.6 miles of shoreline. Near the north end of the park you will see 2 big stairways with viewing decks on top of the dunes. At the top of the second set of stairs there are rustic toilets if you need to make a pit stop. This beach area is usually not as busy as others because it can only be accessed by a 0.7 mile hike that includes climbing up and down over 400 steps each way.
The next 4 miles of beach is all homes and cottages with no public access points, There is one breakwall section that may require you to get off the bike and climb over in high water years. After 6.5 miles of pedaling the beach is cut by Little Pigeon Creek. In the summer the crossing is usually shallow enough to keep your bottom bracket dry. However, in early spring we found the water to be at least a couple feet deep. To get around this, you can ride up along the edge on the stream for a couple hundred feet and cross on a 2-track over a culvert. It looked like this may be trespassing, but we did not see any signs, so proceed at your own risk.
Continuing south about 1 mile past the creek you will see taller dunes rising up on shore at Kirk Park. This county park is fairly small in size with just 68 acres and 0.3 miles of beach, but it has some nice overlooks along the 1.5 miles of hiking trails. Just a short distance up the path from the beach you will find a seasonal restroom building and picnic area. This park would make a good access point for exploring the southern portion of this ride. There is a small entrance fee from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
At about 9.3 miles watch for a big wooden stairway and viewing platform up on shore. This is Olive Shores County Park. This park was opened in 2012 and just prior to this, scenes from the Tom Hanks movie Road to Perdition were filmed here. You will find a sign on the lower viewing platform detailing this. There is not good access for fat biking here as the parking area is separated from the beach by a steep dune and over 300 steps.
From here it is about another 1.5 miles to the Port Sheldon Channel. The 650 foot stack from the J.H. Campbell Generating Complex will soon come into view. This coal-fired power plant uses water pumped under ground from about 1,700 feet offshore to cool it’s turbines. The water is then run through a series of cooling canals and sent back out into Lake Michigan. Back in 2005 a women was scuba diving in the area and was sucked into the intake pipe. It was reported the she was carried for a half mile under ground at about 6 feet per second. She was then dumped out into a lagoon at the end of the pipe and was lucky to escape the ordeal with only a bloody nose. This must have been quite a ride.
About 0.7 miles from the channel is Port Sheldon Township Park. This park is a little hard to spot because the parking lot and restroom building are partially hidden behind a low dune. Watch for trails coming down through the dune grass right inline with the main stack for the power plant. This is a good place to stop and take a break before heading back to Grand Haven. We turned around here on our early spring ride because the sand got really rough as we neared the channel.
The map below is from a ride we did a couple years ago that went all the way to the channel and back.
I should also mention that If the riding conditions change you do have the option of bailing out at one of the parks mentioned above and taking Lakeshore Drive back. This is a popular roadie ride between Holland and Grand Haven State Parks. There is a wide shoulder and also a bike path along the entire route.
A GoPro time-lapse video of the ride.
Beverage Burrito: When you get back make sure to ride over and checkout the Grand Haven pier and then head about a 0.5 mile up the boardwalk to Butch’s Beach Burritos. Butch’s has been serving up seasonal Mexican takeout since the late 80’s, so they must be doing something right. Eating a burrito on the patio while watching cars cruise the strip and boats in the channel is the perfect way to refuel after your ride. If you still need an adult beverage (you might have a problem) try the Kirby House for a good beer selection and great food.
In the Area: Taking a relaxing stroll on the 2.5 mile Boardwalk along the harbor is a popular summer evening activity in Grand Haven. Start at Chinook Pier and then walk out to the fog signal building at the end of the pier to catch a Lake Michigan sunset. Along the way there are plenty of shops, restaurants and ice cream stands to check out. On the way back you will probably notice all the old people sitting on the grass above the boardwalk. They are waiting to see the Musical Fountain which starts every night at dusk in the summer.
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