North Central State Trail – Gaylord to Mackinaw City

Planning an overnight bike trip? See parking options here.

Distance: 75 miles

Trail Surface: Packed crushed limestone, asphalt within the Village of Mackinaw City.

Elevation: The trail drops gradually in elevation (770 feet) from Gaylord to Indian River, otherwise flat with slight elevation changes.

Allowed Uses: All non-motorized users (including horses) year-round, and snowmobiles from December 1 to March 31.

Notes: The mile markers use the historic Michigan Central Railroad numbers from Bay City to Mackinaw City. Mile marker number 121 is north of Gaylord and number 181 is south of Mackinaw City.

The North Central State Trail (NCST) has become a premier cycling trail in the Midwest. It is surfaced with crushed limestone and its flat terrain makes for easy cycling through diverse natural beauty. Highlights include the Sturgeon River valley between Vanderbilt and Indian River and the section of trail that runs along Mullet Lake between Indian River and Cheboygan.  The trail towns of Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Indian River, Topinabee, Cheboygan and Mackinaw City offer plenty of amenities to serve trail users along the way.

The improvements to the former Michigan Central Railroad corridor were completed in 2007 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Funding was made possible through a Federal Transportation Enhancement grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation and a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, along with support for local communities and organizations.  The trail surface is maintained by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division.

In 2008 the trail was named as one of the top five autumn destinations in the nation by Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Symbols

P= Parking
R= Restrooms
W=Water
A= Amenities (signs, benches, etc)

Segment Descriptions described from south to north:

Waters to Gaylord – 10.4 miles

The newest addition to the North Central State Trail extends the trail further south to Waters. With a planned trailhead for 2022, complete with parking, restrooms, water, and other amenities, this segment helps connect Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail to the south.

The trail parallels an active rail line with wonderful views of Otsego Lake and connects to Ostego Lake State Park, perfect for the day or to stage a weekend of exploration. Head to Wah Wah Soo County Park for a swim or the Energy Outlet for a great playscape.

Gaylord to Vanderbilt – 8.4 miles

Gaylord Trailhead (P,R,W,A): The trailhead is located in downtown Gaylord at 360 W. Main St.

This 7.6-mile segment continues along an active rail line for about a mile and then follows and abandoned rail corridor. It traverses the highlands of Ostego County, through two culvert tunnels and has great rural views.

Vanderbilt to Wolverine – 10.8 miles

Vanderbilt Access (P,R,W,A): Parking is available along E Main Street where the trail crosses. Next to the Village Hall a few blocks north on Garfield Street there is a porta-potty. The community has a general store, bar and restaurant.

This 10.9-mile segment is very scenic, with the trail going through remote Stewart’s Creek Marsh where there is excellent birding opportunities. It then crosses the Sturgeon River twice and as you enter Wolverine, there are two riverside parks and town is just up the hill.

Wolverine to Indian River – 10 miles

Wolverine Trailhead (P,R,W,A): The Village has two parks between the trail and the Sturgeon River and makes a great place to stage a ride.  Parking, restrooms and amenities are available at both parks. There is a Michigan Historic Site sign at the former railroad depot (privately owned). The community has a general store, restaurant, bar and a canoe/kayak livery if you want to paddle and pedal.

The sounds of the river accompany your journey as the trail continues through the Sturgeon River Vally. Stop at Rondo Canoe Access Site where the trail crosses the river for a view. A nice staging area for a few days is at Haakwood State Forest Campground.

Indian River to Topinabee – 5.4 miles

Indian River Trailhead (P,R,W,A): This scenic trail segment crosses the Indian River as you leave the trailhead (don’t forget your photo with the iconic Indian Totem) and goes along the “spreads” of the Indian River as it enters Mullett Lake. There are great views through Topinabee and a nice beach at the Topinabee Trailhead.

Topinabee to Cheboygan – 12 miles

Topinabee Trailhead (P,R,W,A): For the next six miles the trail continues north along Mullet Lake; at time, the trail is directly adjacent to the lake with incredible views, other times going behind historic resort communities. Enjoy a rest at the small township park on Mullett Lake near Bayshore Road. The trail then veers away from the lake, crossing M-27, going through rural farmland before it reaches Cheboygan.

About 1/4 mile south of the Cheboygan Trailhead (just south of W Lincoln Ave) the North Eastern State Trail branches off the trail and goes southeast toward Aloha, Onaway and Alpena.

Cheboygan to Mackinaw City  – 16.3 miles

Cheboygan Trailhead (P,R,W,A): The Cheboygan Trailhead is located between Lincoln Avenue and Taylor Streets just east of Western Avenue. It has parking as well as trailer/RV spaces, restroom, water and a pavilion. Cheboygan is a full-service community with hotels, restaurants, shops, a brewery and beaches. To get to downtown, continue north on the trail 0.7 miles from the trailhead and follow the bike route signs along Division Street.

The trail is on the west/south side of US 23 and goes through forest lad. About 1/2 way there is a small connector trail to an MDOT park on Lake Huron with pit toilets, water and picnic tables. It is a nice place for a rest stop with a spectacular view of the Mackinac Bridge from the shoreline. A great destination for the day is Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park (fee required).

Mackinaw City Trailhead (P,R,W,A): The trailhead is located on Mackinaw Crossings Drive just east of Nicolet Street. Here you’ll find parking, RV/trailer parking, restrooms, water, interpretive signs and a pavilion. Mackinaw City is a full-service community with hotels, restaurants and shops.

Those wishing to continue their journey can head southwest from the trailhead on the North Western State Trail to Petoskey or take a ferry to Mackinac Island and enjoy cycling around and through the Island.

This beautiful 61-mile trail has become one of the premier cycling trails in the Midwest. Its flat terrain makes for easy bicycling through an area of great and diverse natural beauty. Most users’ highlights will include the valley of the Sturgeon River and its tributaries and the section north of Topinabee along the west side of Mullet Lake. The terminal towns of Gaylord and Mackinaw City, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Indian River, Topinabee, and Cheboygan also offer plenty of amenities. The improvement to the old rail corridor was completed in 2007, and was made possible by a nearly $2 million federal trail enhancement grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation in 2005 and the cooperation and contributions from governments and individuals along the way. In 2008 the trail was named as one of the top five autumn destinations in the nation by Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Mileage:

Gaylord to Vanderbilt 7.6

Vanderbilt to Wolverine 10.9

Wolverine to Indian River 9.6

Indian River to Topinabee 5.6

Topinabee to Mullett Village 6.6

Mullett Village to Cheboygan 5.3

Cheboygan to MDOT Park 8.4

MDOT Park to Mackinaw City 7.9

Total Miles 61.9