Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Glacial Hills Pathway

West Valley Route plus extra loop from 12 to 25, Pine Tree Route
Trailhead Elevation: 652 ft.
Distance: 5.27 mi.
Elevation Gain: 354 ft.
Start Time: 3:02pm
End Time: 4:45pm

Trip Report:
In researching trails in northwest Michigan I happened to stumble across the Glacial Hills Pathway as an enticing option. Then good fortune would bring me to Bellaire for a pastor's conference putting the GHP on the menu for afternoon free time.

As I researched the trail options and poked over the website it was quickly evident how much info and care was given into this trail system. This mindset would be reinforced when I actually set foot out there. It was a drizzly afternoon with temps in the mid 60s but still a good one to hit the trails. With the goal of making the 23-mile Manistee River Trail Loop the next day I decided to make my day on the GHP an easy hike.
  • Trails that are well loved are more fun
As I prepared for this trip I was researching both the Glacial Hills Pathway and the Grass River Natural Area. The GHP had me concerned that it would be just some long miles in the tree tunnels winding around tight corners. The GRNA looked like it might have some open meadows. Well the GRNA did have a nice boardwalk trail but its forest trails were relatively uninteresting. When I hit the GHP today I enjoyed all my time. Yes there were some heavy miles in the trees but there was something different about them. The trailhead had nice facilities, maps were plentiful along the way, every junction marked, and the trail itself clearly well taken care of. The paths were well thought out and it was evident this trail was loved. There is something about being on a well-loved trail that makes you want to love it back. I felt that here.
  • Suggested Routes are Helpful
This trail system is setup for mountain bikes and so it is intentionally very windy and doubles back on itself to create more miles in less space. This makes for a ton of little junctions and short trail segments. It is a mind challenge to look at the map and decide where to get started. The caretakers of the GHP have helped by offering suggested routes with simple names. The routes are even noted on the trail signs while in route with simple icons to help you follow. Brilliant! A suggested route simplifies the burden of choice and helps with the overall experience.

I chose to hit the West Valley route and set out following the numbered junctions. The trail seemed to climb over the first half. In numerous places it would contour along hillsides. The trail was mostly covered in leaves today with this being October. Colors weren't in full swing just yet.

When I hit junction 12 I decided to deviate slightly from the West Valley Route. I had the time and the energy to increase the day's mileage so I added an extra loop that would cover 12-29-28-27-26-25. I followed the rest of the West Valley Route down to the Overlook Point which offered the only views of the day.

When I hit the main trailhead I was under 4 miles with time to spare so I decided to add the Pine Tree Route. This entailed a northern loop that was essentially an out and back. The west side of it hugged the edge of the tree line a bit offering some nice views over a meadow. The Route then moves to the south side for another out and back. The west side of this loop was possibly the most beautiful part of all the GHP trails. It was a section of thinned out pines with grasses beneath. It reminded me of trail sections out west and I loved the more open freestyle of terrain it offered.

The Glacial Hills Pathway is surely a treasure for locals who love trails. So many options to mix up routes and enjoy good trails miles.

From the Overlook Point

Meadow view from the north loop of the
Pine Tree Route

Beautiful thin pine and grass section on the south end 
of the Pine Tree Route

I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in the embedded Google Map. Check it out and use at your own risk.

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