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Planning a Road Bike Trip Around Lake Michigan: A Legendary Midwest Vacation

Updated on July 24, 2012

Imagine waking up in the morning to the soft waves of the lake lapping against the sandy beach, spending a few moments cooking up your breakfast on a camp stove, packing your bag, placing it on your bike, and then hitting the road. The wind blowing your hair back as you peddle along the lake, through the woods, and across the countryside.

Truly, bicycling is an enjoyable experience. Even more so when you know that you are doing something legendary.

Whether you are a professional biker or a healthy amateur, biking around Lake Michigan can be rewarding physically, emotionally, spiritually, and egotistically. Knowing that you have accomplished something that few people actually do will provide you with great satisfaction.

When planning a trip around Lake Michigan, there are a variety of things that should be considered.

The Bicycle Route Around Lake Michigan

While the starting point and route can very slightly, according to Google Maps the trip is 976 miles long following the route consisting of the cities on the map to the right.

At approximately 12 miles per hour, it would take a cyclist 81 hours to bike all the way around the lake. For someone able to go 15 miles an hour the trip would be dropped by about 16 hours to a total of 65 hours of biking.

This suggests that the trip could be completed over a week with the use of the two weekends on either side. Leave Chicago on Friday and be back by the Sunday of the next week. A pretty short trip with the potential of being an epic adventure.

Imagine coming back from a week out of the office with the ability to say that you biked nearly 1000 miles, saw all sides of Lake Michigan, and carried everything you needed to survive for that week with you on an environmentally friendly vacation!

Route For Biking Around Lake Michigan

Chicago, Il:
Chicago, IL, USA

get directions

Starting Point

Saint Joseph, Mi:
St Joseph, MI, USA

get directions

Second point

Muskegon, MI:
Muskegon, MI, USA

get directions

Third Point

Traverse City, MI:
Traverse City, MI, USA

get directions

Fourth point

Manistique, MI:
Manistique, MI 49854, USA

get directions

Fifth point

Green Bay, WI:
Green Bay, WI, USA

get directions

Sixth point, nearing the end!

Chicago, IL:
Chicago, IL, USA

get directions

Back to the start!

Choosing a Bike for Your Trip

The quality of the bike that you will use to traverse the land around Lake Michigan is entirely up to you. While some people may prefer to spend several thousand on a high class, state-of-the-art bike, others may be perfectly content with an older, used bike.

One important consideration to keep in mind is that a road bike will make the trip much smoother than a mountain bike will. Because the tires of a mountain bike are 2-3 times wider than a road bike, you will have to exert a lot more energy to cover the same distance. The thinner your tires, the faster and easier you will be able to travel.

Whether you are an experienced biker or an amateur, spending 10 hours a day on a bike for a week will have the potential of building up a bit of a sore rear-end. Make sure that you have a comfortable seat - this is something certainly worth investing in.

Additionally, determine how you will transport everything you will need for your trip. Will you take a trailer, have a place to mount everything on your bike, or wear a large backpack? There is no right way, just as long as you are comfortable and able to travel. Remember, the more streamline you are, with least possible resistance, the faster you will be able to ride.

Finally, make sure that you have an emergency kit with things that you may need to repair yourself and the bike. A basic medical kit, some ibuprofen (for that sore rear), a spare tire, a small pump, and something to make patches if needed.

Where would you stay while biking around Lake Michigan?

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Where to Stay While Traveling by Bicycle

Will you be staying in hotels, at campgrounds, or staying with strangers by using Planning ahead of time where you will stay is important for the sake of maintaining a budget and not getting trapped in the dark on some lonely road in the middle of nowhere (unplanned).

You may decide to stay at campgrounds the whole time or hotels for the entire trip. If you have enough friends around the Lake, planning this won't be a problem at all. Perhaps you will stay at a variety of locations. Camping for two nights, spending a night in a hotel to clean up, camping two more nights, and then staying with a friend.

The primary reason to consider where you will be staying is to ensure that you are prepared to sleep outside if that is the plan, and wealthy enough to stay in hotels the whole time if that is the plan.

What to Bring on Your Bike Trip

Being prepared for your trip is very important. What do you need for meals, clothing, cooking, sleeping, and hydrating? Make sure that you have everything you will need to make your trip as comfortable as you intend.

Someone staying in hotels for the whole trip will not need to worry too much about a sleeping bag or tent (although it may be a good idea to be prepared just in case you have to spend a night outside). Meanwhile, someone planning on eating out the entire time will not have to worry about a camp stove or food to cook (remember that you will be able to purchase food pretty regularly on the trip).

Charging Electronics! Anyone planning on making the entire trip without stopping at houses or hotels will need to consider how/if they will want to be in contact with civilization via cellphone or use a GPS for the trip. Without having a regular outlet to plug in your electronics, you will need to find some other method of charging - solar power would likely be your best choice.

When choosing clothes, realize that this is one time in your life where you do not need to dress to impress. Forget about looking or smelling good and dress for necessity. A couple pairs of shorts with a pair of pants that can be layered on top, along with one long sleeve and one short sleeve shirt should suffice. Bring a windbreaker for a little extra warmth and protection when needed and you are ready to rock and role! An important thing to remember is to keep your socks and rear dry at all times - as this is where you are most likely to blister. Keep the necessities dry and your trip will be a whole lot more enjoyable.

The amount of food that you will need to bring depends on what your plan is. If you decide to purchase meals at restaurants, you will not need much for meals - just snacks and powdered drinks to keep you energized throughout the day. If you do decide to bring food, consider the amount of food you will need, the weight, and how you will prepare it.

Make sure that you have a stove, pots, cups, and utensils if you will need them for any of your meals. Additionally, an extra water bottle is always a good idea (on top of a bladder).


Enjoying the Trip!

Once you start, let the planning ahead of time pay off and simply enjoy the trip. Realize that your stamina and endurance will be tested, but the reward in the end will be worth it. Consider documenting the trip via camera, video camera, journal, or all of the above. This will be an experience you will want to remember.

During the trip be sure to stay hydrated and do not place yourself in situations where you feel unprepared or unsafe. Traveling with a friend or two is a much better idea than going it alone - as friends provide safety and motivation.

Now go out there and enjoy the ride! (This article is one of several about exciting, challenging, and adventurous trips that I hope to go on in the future - I will post here once I have successfully made the trip).


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    • profile image


      4 months ago

      Did this exact trip in 1984..before long trips where popular...The tour took us ten (me and a friend) days with a full load ...Food clothing tent and sleeping bag....un supported...No cell phone in 1984...Great trip definitely bucket list addition. We purchased county maps and encased them in plastic in miniature size for each county...we stopped on three occasions at motels...the rest camped out..the ride across the UP is beautiful... few food stops..I never will forget that trip..neither will you if you take the challenge....

    • Robert Erich profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Erich 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the honesty man. This is a route that I have been looking into, but I suppose I should do a bit more research!

    • profile image

      A Biker 

      5 years ago

      Seriously? The route is on major highways! Uh, that's not going to happen.

      There are many other pages that have real cycling routes - this is just click-bait as far as I can tell.

    • Robert Erich profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Erich 

      6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the advice Ryan! that sounds epic. And likewise, let me know if you do the trip - I live in Benton Harbor, Southwest MI. You certainly have a place to stay here as well.

      Good luck and maybe we'll cross paths!

    • profile image

      Ryan Zinkel 

      6 years ago

      I'm planning on doing something similar this summer, but cutting it in 1/2. There is a car ferry between Manitowoc, WI and Ludington Michigan so I'm planning to do the north 1/2 of the lake. Being from the area it's too beautiful to spend the entire trip on the bike. Love Door County and the UP. Kick back and enjoy it at a leisurely pace. If you do the trip contact me. I live in Sheboygan, WI and could even provide a place to stay or local recommendations.

    • Robert Erich profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Erich 

      6 years ago from California

      Yes, I think it would be an awesome trip. I am leaning towards doing it next summer. We will see how things go. Unfortunately, in the Midwest, you cannot really do such a trip during the winter because of all the snow. But likely next year! Legendary.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      What a great trip you have planned. Would love to do something like this someday. Certainly takes some planning. Any idea when you will do this? Keep us posted.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      This sounds like a great adventure, Robert. I had no idea Lake Michigan was so huge! Such a trip would certainly confer bragging rights on the person who finished! Interesting hub...


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