Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.  September 2011

Trail Introduction   |   Guide   |   Facilities   |   Getting There   |   Additional Information

A Fine Fall Ride

We survived summer’s final blast of heat and humidity. Or at least we hope it’s the last one. With fall on our doorsteps, the next two months are the best time to explore some of Michigan’s great trails. In this issue of Trail Mix we cover the North Central State Trail, one of Michigan’s newest rail-trails. It’s a great reason to head up north for the weekend. You can book a room at either end in Gaylord or Mackinaw City and then enjoy the fall colors riding the trail between the two cities.
Need other reasons to get outside during fall? Check our ever expanding trail coverage at and then download a map and go!

North Central State Trail 
Click on the map to the right to view a larger version or print.

Map of North Central State TrailThe North Central State Trail is not only one of the newest recreational trails in Michigan but the longest improved rail-trail, stretching 61.9 miles from Gaylord to Mackinaw City. Much of it is like any other northern Michigan rail-trail: a flat, easy ride along a crushed limestone surface through woods and farms and past trout streams.
But in the fall, there’s not another rail-trail in Michigan, or maybe the Midwest, like the North Central. For almost 8 miles north of Indian River it hugs the west shore of Mullett Lake. On one side is the fifth largest lake in Michigan, lined by quaint cottages, weathered docks and old wooden lawn chairs. On the other side are stands of hardwoods in full autumn color, creating a beautiful barrier from M-27.
It’s no surprise that in 2008 the North Central was named as one of the top five autumn destinations in the country by Rails to Trails Conservancy.
The North Central dates back to 1881 when the Michigan Central Railroad reached Mackinaw City. Departing from Bay City, the railroad passed through the logging towns of Grayling, Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Indian River and Cheboygan, moving lumber from logging stations to mills and from mills to cities.
When the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island opened in 1887, the railroad’s main cargo became passengers, in particular tourists. Promoters touted the clean air, excellent fishing and freedom from hay fever in northern Michigan to markets in Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and even the East Coast, resulting in the railroad carrying guests to a growing number of resorts and hotels.
Even as late as the 1950s, the Michigan Central ran the “Timberline,” a weekend train that departed Detroit every Friday afternoon during the summer. Along its route north, the train dropped businessmen at their cottages, after many spent the trip in the bar car, playing cards and swapping fish stories. On Sunday evenings, there was a return trip so husbands could be back at work while wives and their families stayed Up North.   
A mountain biker on the North Central State Trail.By the mid-1990s, trail enthusiasts were already eyeing the defunct railroad corridor from Gaylord to Mackinaw City. The trail was acquired in six separate transactions between 1998 and 2000 and then developed with a nearly $2 million federal trail enhancement grant administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources and more than 40 local government units and organizations. By the fall of 2007, the 10-foot wide North Central had been resurfaced with crushed limestone and the following year it was officially dedicated.
Although open to snowmobilers in the winter, the rest of the year the trail is for non-motorized activity, primarily hiking, running and cycling. The limestone surface makes it ideal for mountain bikes and hybrids, a road bike is more of struggle on it. Gaylord is the southern terminus and also the highest point of the trail at more than 1,370 feet. Best to start here and ride north.
of the Porcupine Mountains, there aren’t many places in Michigan where hikers need to ford a stream. But here we were, looking at a beautiful stretch of the Platte River, with no foot bridge in sight. We were on one side

Trail Guide 
Click on the map to the right to view a larger version or print.

Map of the North Central Lake TrailThe Gaylord trailhead is a mile north of M-32 downtown on Fairview Road at the Alpine Soccer Complex. On the south side of Fairview is parking and vault toilets, on the north side the North Central begins as a paved path but quickly becomes a crushed limestone rail-trail.
The trail makes a gradual descent to Vanderbilt, dropping nearly 300 feet in 7 miles. The scenery begins as rolling farm country and includes a metal culvert tunnels under Poquette Road and Whitemarsh Road. The North Central then moves into a more wooded setting before breaking out at Vanderbilt, crossing Main Street (Sturgeon Valley Road) at Mile 7.6.
            Even though I-75 is less than a quarter mile away from the trail most of the time, the stretch to Wolverine is its most remote section. After leaving Vanderbilt it crosses only one road in the first 8 miles, winding through forest and skirting scenic wetlands, creeks and, halfway to Wolverine, a large beaver dam and pond. At the corner known as Trowbridge, the North Central uses three former railroad bridges to cross the Sturgeon River twice, where it’s often possible to see anglers casting for trout, and then pass underneath I-75 .

Wolverine is reached at Mile 18.5 and is marked along the trail by the town’s classic Michigan Central depot that opened in 1906, when six passenger trains were stopping daily. North of Wolverine the North Central closely skirts the Sturgeon, now a river with good size and volume. You view the river often from the trail or can stop at Haackwood State Forest Campground at Mile 20.6 for an extended break on its banks.  Just to the north of the campground the trail crosses to the Sturgeon’s east bank at the Rondo Public Access and eventually enters the town of Indian River at Mile 28.1.

In Indian River, the North Central passes the town’s original depot and arrives at a major trailhead at the Indian River Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center where there is parking, bathrooms, picnic tables and, ideally located just across the street, an ice cream shop. Indian River also marks the halfway point of the rail-trail and the start of its most scenic section.

Immediately after departing the town the North Central passes underneath I-75 again and arrives at the “spreads” where the Indian River, surrounded by beautiful wetlands, enters Mullett Lake. Soon you’re following the shore of Mullett Lake and within a mile arrive in Topinabee, reached at Mile 33.7. At the heart of this quaint village is another former Michigan Central depot, now serving as the Topinabee Public Library. Outside are bike racks, restrooms, picnic tables, a beautiful view of Mullett Lake and a swimming beach for those rides during hot summer afternoons.

A Mullett Lake beach along the North Central State TrailThe North Central stays with its lakeshore route for almost 7 miles, reaching Mullett Village and a swimming beach at Inverness Township Park at Mile 40.3. North of Lake Grove Road, the trail swings away from Mullett Lake and heads due north for Cheboygan in a stretch where forest gives way to pleasant farm scenery. The city’s new trailhead facility is reached at Mile 45.6 and includes restrooms, a picnic shelter and a large parking area.

After passing through Cheboygan the North Central swings northwest and skirts US-23 for the final leg, a 16.3-mile ride to Mackinaw City. Even though at times you’re less than 250 yards from Lake Huron, you rarely see the Great Lake or US-23 for that matter. A thin but effective barrier of trees and brush keep away the views of surf and motorists. At Mile 58, you pass through the entrance area of Historic Mill Creek, one of the Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Eventually the North Central crosses US-23 and enters Mackinaw City at Mile 61.9. You end up at the northern trailhead, located on the backside of the Mackinaw Crossing shopping and entertainment area. Within a block or two in almost any direction are restaurants, stores, ice cream parlors and fudge shops…the perfect destination no matter how far you rode that day.


The major trailheads are in Gaylord off of Fairview Ave., Indian River on Straits Hwy., Topinabee off M-27, Cheboygan off of Western Ave. and in Mackinaw City off of Mackinaw Crossing Dr. GPS coordinates for each are listed on the trail maps.

Getting There 

The major trailheads are in Gaylord off of Fairview Ave., Indian River on Straits Hwy., Topinabee off M-27, Cheboygan off of Western Ave. and in Mackinaw City off of Mackinaw Crossing Dr. GPS coordinates for each are listed on the trail maps.

Additional Information 

Contact the Gaylord Area Tourism Bureau (800-345-8621; or the Top of Michigan Trails Council (231-348-8280

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