If you’ve lived in Michigan for any significant length of time, then you know there’s no shortage of places to explore in the Mitten State. No matter where you go in Michigan, there are always historical sites to see and new trails to check out, such as the Kal-Haven Trail in Southwest Michigan.
About the Kal-Haven Trail Sesquicentennial State Park
Kal-Haven Trail Sesquicentennial State Park is a former railroad bed that’s been converted into a trail with a slag and crushed limestone surface. It’s perfect for biking and hiking, which is one reason it should be on your Michigan summer bucket list.
The Kal-Haven Trail was designated as a Pure Michigan Trail in 2020 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources because it provides visitors with access to beautiful and scenic views.
Where the Trail Goes
As the name suggests, the trail stretches more than 33 miles between South Haven and Kalamazoo. It used to end just west of Kalamazoo, but in 2008, it was extended as part of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail into downtown.
The main trailheads are on 10th St in Kalamazoo and North Bailey Ave in South Haven. However, there are several access points along the way, including Bloomingdale and Grand Junction.
History of the Trail
Besides the joy of riding through the rough, the trail itself has a bit of history to be appreciated. Most of the trail is located in Van Buren County and runs along the former route used by the Kalamazoo and South Haven Railroad.
The railroad was built in 1870 as a means to transport lumber and operated for a little more than 100 years. The trail opened in 1991 and is one of the oldest trail conversions in the state. It has been hailed as the cornerstone of Michigan’s trail system, which helped set the groundwork for future trails.
Reminders of the railroad are all over the trail, with depots serving as visitor centers in both South Haven and Bloomingdale. A red caboose also offers trailhead services outside Kalamazoo.
Activities Along the Trail from Kalamazoo to South Haven
The Kal-Haven Trail passes through small towns, wooded areas, and farmland, offering visitors a chance to see a little bit of everything. During warm months, the trail is a favorite of hikers and bicyclists.
In the winter, it’s popular for snow-showing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. A 4-inch snow base is required for the latter, of course, but that’s rarely a concern at the height of a Michigan winter.
Year-round the trail is monitored and maintained by the Van Buren County Road Commission, so it’s kept in a clear but natural state, perfect conditions for mountain biking. The trail is even good for horseback riding, and an 11-mile trail runs adjacent to the regular trail just for that purpose.
Points of Interest Along the Pure Michigan Trail
The Kal-Haven Trail is a Pure Michigan trail for good reason. It passes by historical points, over bridges, through small towns, and through woods. It features stunning wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. So, if you’re a lover of nature, this is the perfect trail to traverse.
The trail passes through several locations, allowing visitors to see a good portion of Southwest Michigan. Below are some points of interest along the way.
Kal-Haven Heritage Trail Project
The Heritage Trail project includes panels that inform visitors about the area’s natural and cultural history. A mobile app aids in finding the 31 panels as you walk, run, hike, or bike the trail. And don’t miss stopping at Camelback Bridge along the way for a great photo opportunity!
If you start your trip from the eastern trailhead on 10th St in Kalamazoo, you’ll enjoy seeing the refurbished caboose that serves as the trail office and information center.
Fuel up before hitting the trail because there aren’t a plethora of places to eat or drink along the way, although there are plenty of bathroom break opportunities.
In Kendall, you can visit a small town that was once home to a steam sawmill. The successful company produced barrel staves from the oak forests surrounding the area.
In Bloomingdale, a small village considered to be the midway point of the trail, there’s a welcome rest area with vault toilets. While you take a breather, check out the Depot Museum.
The museum features lots of historical Michigan artifacts, some of which are from the lumber and rail industries. There’s also a miniature train display and a telegraph display.
Heading toward Grand Junction, you’ll find blueberries aplenty. There are quite a few you-pick blueberry farms, so you can get some fresh fruit for your trek.
About 9 miles past Grand Junction, you’ll find a bridge that signals that you’re nearing the end of your trail journey.
If you head uphill to the South Haven staging area, which runs along the Black River, you’ll be led right to the South Pier Lighthouse, which dates back to the 1870s.
If you’re biking the trail on a hot summer day and you’re looking to cool off, you absolutely have to visit South Haven’s South Beach, one of the best Lake Michigan beaches. It offers great views of South Haven Light. Also, there are picnic areas, volleyball nets, and a skate park.
Additionally, South Haven hosts the National Blueberry Festival every August, so that might be a great time to visit the area and explore the trail.
Van Buren Trail State Park
If you still want to travel after you’ve reached the end of the trail, you’re in luck! There’s a trail connector about 2 miles through downtown South Haven on the north side of Aylworth Ave. It marks the northern end of Van Buren Trail State Park. From there, you can travel along the Van Buren trail, 14 miles to Hartford.
Special Events Along the Trail
This southwest Michigan trail is great to explore any time of the year. But special events always add a little extra something to historical sites and trails, and this southwest Michigan state park is no exception.
The Kal-Haven Trail Run has been held since 1991 and includes several races — a two-person relay, a 3-6 person relay, and a solo run. The run begins in Kalamazoo at the 10th St Trailhead and finishes in South Haven, offering a chance for runners to see the entire trail.
Where to Eat Along the Trail
There are plenty of things to see along the Kal-Haven Trail, but eventually, you’ll want to stop and get a bite to eat. There are lots of great spots to stop in South Haven and Kalamazoo, but there are also some delicious stops along the trail itself.
Before you start the trek, try Commensoli’s Italian Bistro & Bar in Kalamazoo. It serves classic Italian food and has a creative list of martinis.
You can also check out the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, a gastropub with an incredible selection of beers on tap. Another option is the Food Dance, which has a selection of American food using local, organic produce.
If you’re looking for something simple, check out the Round Bread Sandwich Company, a locally-owned place that makes quality sandwiches with high-quality ingredients.
Grand Junction & Gobles Restaurants
In Grand Junction, Country Fare Restaurant has been hailed as a great stop for lunch and offers breakfast all day, as well as burgers and sandwiches.
There are several great places near the trail in Gobles for grabbing a quick bite to eat, such as The Den Cafe, which is known for its soups, subs, and pizzas.
South Haven Restaurants
Before you head to the beach, stop by Sherman’s Dairy Bar for some of the best ice cream you’ll ever eat. From excellent cones to great sundaes, milkshakes, and malts in almost any flavor you can imagine, it’s a place that everyone can enjoy.
There are many great places along the shore and throughout South Haven where you can relax and unwind for the evening as well. For casual dining, check out Admiral Jack’s, a local favorite bar with a Tiki-esque feel and offers tasty comfort food.
Captain Lou’s Boathouse & Grill is another beautiful spot to enjoy the afternoon and evening while you’re in South Haven.
Where to Stay Nearby
If you’re planning to explore over multiple days, there are several great places you can stay. If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, there are several campgrounds that put you close to the trail.
Kal-Haven RV Park Campground
The Kal-Haven RV Park Campground is another great place to stay. It’s just a quarter-mile from downtown South Haven and a half-mile from Lake Michigan. Along with RV sites, it has sites for primitive camping. The campground is open from May to October.
The Kal-Haven Outpost
The Kal-Haven Outpost in South Haven is a bit farther from town but still close to the trail. It has some excellent primitive sites surrounded by woods. The outpost also has pull-through RV sites, as well as large and small cabins that are perfect for family get-togethers.
South Haven Hotel & Vacation Rental Options
Frequently Asked Questions About the Kal-Haven Trail
Where does the Kal-Haven Trail start?
You can start the Kal-Haven Trail at either 10th St in Kalamazoo or Bailey St in South Haven.
How long does it take to ride the Kal-Haven Trail?
The time it takes to ride the Kal-Haven Trail varies. However, many bikers say the trip takes about four hours. In Bloomingdale, riders can find a bike station with a pump and tools, and there’s also a water pump about a third of the way down on the trail.
Is the Kal-Haven Trail paved?
The Kal-Haven Trail is paved through Bloomingdale, roughly about halfway. Despite that, the entire trail is well-maintained and open for all sorts of activities.
Can you snowmobile the Kal-Haven Trail?
Snowmobilers can enjoy the trail when there’s at least a 4-inch base of snow.
Is the Kal-Haven Trail State Park free?
The Kal-Haven Trail is free to use. Along with Van Buren Trail State Park between Hartford and South Haven, it used to be subject to a trail pass. The free access is a return to when the trail was free when it originally opened.
Traverse a Southwest Michigan Hidden Gem
If you’re looking to experience the best that Pure Michigan has to offer, you can’t go wrong with a journey along the Kal-Haven Trail.
You’ll see natural beauty across a wide spectrum, including orchards, farms, and woodlands. Plus, you’ll pass through small towns and villages with their own unique charms.
Whether you’re biking or hiking, you’ll see a lot of Michigan history as you traverse the trail. You’ll likely come away with a greater appreciation for one of the hidden gems of Southwest Michigan.