The trail is a paved rail-trail which extends for 23.5 miles, covering 225 acres, from Hart to Whitehall at the southern end. It is open to hiking, biking, in-line skating, skiing, and if there are 4+ inches of snow, snowmobiling. The entire trail is accessible. It is also marked as being open to dog-sledding south of Rothbury.
The trail is a linear State Park following the former line of the Grand Rapids and Lakeshore RR Company. This was taken over by the Chicago and West Michigan RR, then the C&O which abandoned the line in 1982. Various services are available as it passes through small towns.
The description begins at Hart. There is a trailhead on the North Side of Polk Road about 1 mile east of the Hart exit from US 31. An Exercise Station is located here.
If you ride north the trail ends in just a few blocks at a city street in Hart. Efforts to extend the trail to Pentwater have thus far been unsuccessful.
The trail begins southward by angling nearly west and passes just south of downtown Mears in 2.5 miles. Then the trail turns SE and passes through nice wooded sections, providing shade. There are picnic tables on a deck beside the trail just south of milepost 4, and again between miles 5 and 6. A latrine has been added north of Shelby.
As you approach Shelby, there are Exercise Stations which are spaced throughout the village. Reach Shelby Industrial Park just south milepost 8. Limited parking there, suggest continuing 3 blocks to trailhead.
Shelby Trailhead is on the site of the old depot, but that structure is gone. There is ample parking for cars (not for long vehicles), water, a porta-potty, pavilion and picnic tables, historic information. Shelby has many village services.
Continue south through the actual industrial section of Shelby. Cross Oceana Drive (busy road), and soon enter rural area. For the next 3.35 miles the trail closely parallels Oceana Drive, sometimes in the open very near the road, sometimes with a wooded band separating the two.
Just north of milepost 10 is a bench. Country Dairy Farm operations are located at the crossing of 80th Ave. And just north of milepost 11, cross Dorrance Creek.
Enter New Era at milepost 12. There is a trailhead with limited parking immediately beside the trail, but a large parking area is a half-block away. Porta-potties, pavilion, picnic tables, historic information, small town services. There is supposed to be a barrier free rest room at the Country Fair Mall, 1/2 block south. This must be on the main street, it is not on the trail. There is one more tiny park with one adult and one child-sized picnic table just south of the trailhead. It is labeled Elm Tree Project noting 50 Liberty Elms which were planted in the community by school children. Continue past industrial buildings and quickly leave town.
The trail now is farther from Oceana Drive and continues in a long straight ride all the way to Rothbury. There are only a couple of stops at cross streets here, and you can work up some nice speed in this section. Partly open, partly shaded.
There is a deck over Carlton Creek with two picnic tables just north of milepost 14. There is a bench and then a deck over another crossing of Carlton Creek (no picnic tables) about 0.25 miles north of Winston Rd as you approach Rothbury. Cross Winston road at an angle left to make a jog around Kurdzel Iron Company.
Just past milepost 16 there is an unmarked paved turnoff to the right which leads to Rothbury Community Park which is the Rothbury Trailhead. There are picnic tables, a pavillion, water, accessible rest rooms, a playground, tennis and basketball courts.
Technically, the area the trail passes through between Rothbury and Eilers Rd just north of Montague is within the Manistee National Forest. However, this only means that it is within the boundary where the Forest can purchase land for inclusion. There is no public forest land here for camping. Cross under the US 31 Freeway between mileposts 17 and 18. This section of the trail is lined with young oak and sassafras trees with lots of bracken. Enter Muskegon County at the Skeels Rd crossing. (although this site will not cover Muskegon County, this trail will be described in its entirety.)
Cross Fruitvale Road near mile 20, a road with a freeway interchange. There are various services along this road common to interchanges (gas stations, fast food, etc.) There is no parking at this trail crossing, but there is a DOT ride share lot near the freeway that could be used.
The ecosystem is still dominated by oak, sassafras, and bracken, but now there is more white pine and maple mixed in. Pasture rose and butterfly weed can be seen blooming in July.
The final 3 miles of the trail are more urban as you enter the small sister cities of Montague and then Whitehall. Entering Montague there is a large flower bed of the American flag near the VFW hall which is maintained by the FFA.
Cross Walsh Road and parallel old 31 (Water Street). There are now many homes along the route, but it is still nicely wooded right beside the trail. Reach mile 22 at Stanton Road and a picnic shelter maintained by Montague-Whitehall Rotary Club. This is very near the highway and some services. There are no parking spaces here. The shelter has picnic tables, trash can, and a bike rack. Just south of here the trail passes through a delightful tunnel of trees that meet overhead.
Reach the Montague Trailhead (Dowling St). There is a kiosk with a trail map and tourist information. A hexagonal pavilion with picnic tables, grill, bike rack, rest rooms, and water is available. There is also a small pond here. Trailway Campground is located here and operated by the City of Montague. Many city services available nearby.
The trail was extended in 2003 past Montague into Whitehall. Almost immediately after leaving the TH you cross the White River on a large bridge. Parking for boat trailers, water access, picnic tables, fishing deck, and latrine on the south side of the river. Pass the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce building directly alongside the trail.
You are now in Whitehall, and the trail is definitely more urban, although nicely wooded and landscaped in many places. At the base of Slocum Street is a hillside park with paved switchback pathway, benches, planted with flowers, and the first of several Art Walk sculptures that you will encounter. This one is origami cranes done in rusty iron, named "Lake Spirits" by David Anderson. There is also a Whitehall city locator map here. A marina is directly across the street.
This newer extension of the trail is not on the former rail bed and thus has more turns and a bit more topograpy. It is also a bit wider; 10 feet as compared with 8 feet for most of the trail. Cross the main road on a bridge high above the street level. This is a very pretty view. Next you pass under a pedestrian walkway in a wooded, residential section.
There are murals of the White Lake Lighthouse painted on the back of the Howmet Castings building. Although this is an industrial section of the city there have been a number of attractive plantings added so this is not a dirty, ugly ride. Also, the next Art Park sculpture is at the street crossing just south of here, with a Veteran's Memorial across the street. The sculpture is of large daisies done in metalwork called "Wildflower" by Stan Policka.
At the north corner of Main and Mears the trail passes through a garden maintained by the Dirt Dauber Garden Club. The city has apparently partnered with various garden clubs to beautify the trail, and this lavish perennial garden is definitely a beautiful, bright spot along the route. South of this point is a shaded area in a residential section.
Because this section is not on the original rail bed it winds and curves much more than it could otherwise making it a delightful ride. There are a number of gardens and plantings here which are the Master Gardener Volunteer Project. This includes the next sculpture called "Serene Trees," a tree done in something of a stained glass style.
Next you coast down through a lower area across three small bridges. There is a wooden sculpture of an eagle on a nest just off the trail to the west. Climb out of the low area, and you quickly reach the end of the trail. At the end you make an abrupt right (west) turn onto a narrower paved path into the White Lake Library grounds, which ends at the parking lot of this facility. This is the current southern end of the trail. There are many benches here. There are rest rooms and water when the library is open. There is a polished metal sculpture here called "Wind Wave."
The trail continues south for another 8 miles as the Berry Junction Trail.
Hiking- The entire trail is open to foot travel- see description under Bicycling.
Skiing- The entire trail is open to skiing. However it is very flat and is also open to snowmobiles (north of Whitehall) if there are more than 4 inches of snow, so it might not be a premier place to ski.
Exercise Trail- There are 20 exercise stations spaced along a one mile stretch of the trail through the village of Shelby. Equipment is in good condition and the instructional signs are legible.
Picnicking- There are picnic tables just south of milepost 4, between mileposts 5 and 6, just north of milepost 14 near Cleveland Rd. Just north of Winston Rd (near mile 16) is a wooden deck extending over Carlton Creek. It does not have a picnic table, but you could sit there and not be in the weeds. There is a Rotary Club pavillion with tables and benches at Stanton Rd (mile 22). You can also picnic at the park on the south side of the White River. There are picnic facilities at the Shelby, New Era, Rothbury, and Montague Trailheads.
Benches- In addition to seating at trailheads, there are benches just north of mile 16, on the south side of the Winston Rd crossing at Kurdzel Iron, just south of the Rothbury TH near the power line crossing, just south of Skeels Rd. and milepost 18, just south of milepost 19 (and a non-working hand water pump), another not far south of the previous one, at mile 20.
Wildlife Watching- The DNR lists the trail as a good place to see songbirds, but I'm not sure you would see any more here than other, less civilized places to hike. I did see a Brown Thrasher between mileposts 12 and 13.
Fishing- There is a fishing deck on the west side of the White River bridge. Access is from the park on the south side of the river in Whitehall. This wide deck is about 5 feet lower than the surface of the rail-trail bridge.
Historic Sites- Former route of the Grand Rapids and Lakeshore RR Company. This was taken over by the Chicago and West Michigan RR, and then C&O Railroad which abandoned it in 1982.
The Shelby Trailhead has information on the kiosk about the history of the railroads.
The New Era Trailhead has information about the Covell Train Wreck of 1894 including the full text of a poem written about the event.
At the Rotary Club pavillion at mile 22 at Stanton Rd, there is a memorial crab-apple tree for Chet Pecak. "He who sows courtesy reaps friendship; he who plants kindness gathers love. 1923 - 1995"
Lumbering on White Lake Michigan Historic Site - at Whitehall City Park, south side of White River - "Charles Mears built White Lake's first sawmill in 1838. Four mills operated on White River tributaries during the next decade. Axemen, swampers, skidder, loaders, and haulers cut and moved pine, hemlock and cedar logs to the White River, where they were floated to the White River Log and Booming Company pens. There they were sorted and rafted to mills that produced lumber, shingles, lath and pickets. In 1883, there were twenty-four mills in Whitehall and the vicinity. Lumber was rafted down the lake and carried on barges to ships in Lake Michigan. Between 1838 and 1907 White Lake mills shipped over 3 billion board feet of lumber. The lumbering era ended on White Lake when the Staples and Covell Mill closed in 1907."
Handicap Accessibility- The porta-potty at Shelby TH is accessible, restrooms at Rothbury and Montague are accessible. The White Lake Library is accessible. There is supposed to be a barrier-free rest room at Country Fair Mall in New Era, but this must be on the main street, it is not on the trail. Other accessibility is uncertain.
The entire trail itself is accessible
Rest Rooms and Potable Water
Rest Rooms- Full rest rooms at Hart and Rothbury parking area in summer, Montague TH, porta-potty in Shelby and New Era, and at the city park on the south side of the river in Whitehall. Latrine added about two mile north of Shelby.
Potable Water- summer only at Hart parking area rest room, Shelby TH, Rothbury TH, Montague TH, various businesses along the trail
Access- Parking directly beside the trail at Hart, Shelby, New Era, Rothbury Montague, and Whitehall.
Restrictions- No hunting on or from the trail (although portions of the trail pass through lands which are open to hunting), no motorized vehicles, no horses. No jumping or diving from the White River bridge in Whitehall.
Distance and time- 23.5 miles, with many access points for day hikes and short rides.
Trail Markers- information signs at road crossings, mile markers on short brown posts
Condition of Marking- adequate, just stay on the pavement
Treadway- wide paved rail-trail, portions are becoming badly cracked and need resurfacing; those sections would not be pleasant for rollerblading
Grades- flat with occasional very gradual grades, slightly more topography through Whitehall where it is not on actual former railroad grade
Ecosystem- mixed young forest and open areas, local agriculture (asparagus, fruit, field crops), small towns.
Other points of interest- Exercise stations near Shelby, Country Dairy farm tour, bike rental in Mears, Shelby Industrial Park, New Era Elm Planting, Rothbury Community Park, various small town services and restaurants along the route.
Most recent date this info personally checked- I rode the entire trail in 2004, portions checked 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014
Maintained by- Michigan DNR Contact:
Hart-Montague Bicycle Trail
9679 State Park Rd.
Mears, MI 49436
More- Michigan Biking White Lake Chamber of Commerce bike path info
There is a sign south of Rothbury which says the trail is open to dogsledding. I do not know if this applies to the whole trail, or just south of Rothbury.
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Hart Trailhead - From the US 31 Freeway, take the Hart exit and turn east, toward town on Polk Road. Go one mile, and you will pass the trail crossing. Immediately after that, next to Hansen's Foods turn left into the parking area. Room for many vehicles
Shelby Trailhead - From the US 31 Freeway, take the Shelby exit and turn east, toward town on Shelby Road. Go 1.25 miles, turn north on Michigan St, and then west on 4th St. The old depot and trailhead will be on your right in a half block as you cross the trail. Room for many cars, but not for longer vehicles
New Era Trailhead -From the US 31 Freeway, take the New Era exit and turn east, toward town M-20. In one mile take a right on Garfield Rd and go downhill 1.35 miles into town. Turn left on 1st St (Oceana Drive) and the trailhead is in one block on your right at Ray St. Room for two cars only directly beside the trail but there is a large parking area on the other side of the road a short half-block north.
Rothbury Trailhead - From the US 31 Freeway, take the Rothbury exit and turn east, toward town on Winston Road. Go 1.3 miles, turn south on Michigan Ave. In two blocks turn east on Community St, beside the public library. This takes you into Rothbury Community Park which connects to the Trail via a short paved pathway. Parking for about 10 vehicles on pavement, overflow parking on grass.