Southwest Michigan has a lot going for it: beaches, blueberries, wineries, antique shopping, gorgeous views. It’s easy to be entertained and amused yet impossible to see everything. If you like being outside, however, don’t pass up the Kal-Haven Trail. You can hike, bike, and even cross-country ski.

This beautiful, linear trail that opened back in 1991 stretches 34 miles between landlocked Kalamazoo and the coastal town of South Haven. It follows a rail bed laid in 1870 for the Kalamazoo & South Haven Railroad. The engines stopped running in 1970, by then managed by the New York Central Railroad.

The surface consists of mostly packed limestone, but there are short, paved sections at three of the town waypoints. Road bikes are commonplace, though some travelers think a mountain bike might be more useful in some areas. When it comes to e-bikes, only Class 1 e-bikes are allowed. If you have a Class 2 e-bike, you need a permit from the Michigan DNR office in South Haven.

If you were to take the trail end to end, you would pass through a half-dozen old railroad towns, including Alamo, Kendall, Gobles, Bloomingdale, Grand Junction, Lacota, and Kibbie, which offer a chance to take a break and find some replenishment. Just after the town of Gobles is the restored Bloomingdale Depot, which has a museum filled with history and memorabilia about mile 18 of the Kal-Haven Trail. You’ll also ride over two bridges: Camelback Bridge near Grand Junction (the name thanks to its unique midspan hump, which was an intentional design element for structural support in the 1920s) and a covered bridge near the conclusion of the trail in South Haven. There is a slight elevation as you move along the trail, so many folks prefer to travel west because it’s more downhill.

You can ride the trail for as long or as short as you’d like. The trail is open in every season, and every season has its own charm and appeal – exquisite blooms in the spring, a welcome shady tunnel in the summer, glorious colors in the fall, and a quiet oasis in the winter.

If biking is truly your passion, you can connect to other trails from the Kal-Haven Trail, including all the way to Lake Huron along a connected network of trails through nine counties and 34 towns for a total of 270 miles. This is the state’s longest bike trail, which became a reality in 2019: the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail. Many of the trails have been around awhile, but it took a vision to bring them all together. It takes about six days at a good pace to go from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, and the Kal-Haven Trail is the first link. It might be something to add to your bucket list.

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