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Awesome Mitten’s Guide to Traverse City TART Trail System | Let’s Explore Michigan Together

If you’re looking for a new place in Michigan to explore this spring or summer, head to Northwest Michigan and Grand Traverse County. There you’ll find the Traverse Area Recreational Trail, popularly known as the TART trails.

The original trail was constructed in the early 1990s and has been extended several times, most recently in 2005. The result is a trail that allows visitors to see the natural beauty of downtown Traverse City and the Greater Traverse City area.

An Overview of the Traverse City TART Trails

The main TART trail, while paying tribute to cherries that are plentiful around Traverse City, is a rail trail. It follows the path of the former Chicago and West Michigan Railway. It’s a paved, non-motorized trail that extends more than 10 miles from the west side of Traverse City on M-22 to Acme on M-72.

Not only does the path allow for much exploration of the Traverse City area, but it also connects to other non-motorized trails in the area, including:

  • The Buchanan Lake Trail is a 2-mile trail that’s heavily wooded along the east side of Buchanan Lake. The northern mile of the trail is paved, while the southern mile is composed of boardwalks and rocks.
  • The Leelanau Trail is a completely paved 17-mile bike trail that extends from Traverse City to Suttons Bay.
  • The Vasa Pathway is a series of loop trails built specifically for cross-country skiing in the Pere Marquette State Forest.

According to Arianne Whittaker, the TART Trails’ Marketing and Outreach Director, the best parts of the TART trail system are “the connections the trail provides. People get around town, commute to work and school. We’re creating connections and continuing to grow.”

Tart Trails - Tart Trail System
TART Trails | photo via Sarah Blodgett

More Trail Connections

Although there’s already a lot to see on the TART trails, plans are being made to eventually connect them to the Little Traverse Wheelway. This is another bike trail that stretches more than 26 miles from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs.

The Little Traverse Wheelway allows visitors to see Petoskey State Park, downtown Petoskey, and Little Traverse Bay among other points of interest.

All told, the TART trails cover more than 60 miles of pathways that allow visitors of all types the chance to run, bike, walk, hike, ski, and commute, among other activities.

Plans are to connect the Boardman River Trail to the Boardman Lake Trail on one end and to the North Country Trail on the other end. Part of the TART trail system’s long-term plans is to connect Elk Rapids to the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail as well.

Tart Trails - Tart Trail System
TART Trails | photo via Sarah Blodgett

What to Expect on the TART Trails

If you’ve never been around Traverse City, the TART trails will give you the chance to see a little bit of everything. If you’re looking to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the winter, the Vasa Pathway takes visitors through beautiful forests.

If you’re looking to spend a day at the beach, several pathways will take you right to the beach. If you’ve never explored downtown Traverse City, it’s an absolute must. You can easily do it by taking the TART in Town cross-town route.

The TART in Town trail allows visitors to get from one side of town to the other and includes many points of interest, including downtown Traverse City, Old Towne Neighborhood, Munson Medical Center, and Traverse City State Hospital.

Vasa Pathway, Williamsburg - Northern Michigan Cross-Country Ski, Tart Trail
Vasa Pathway | photo via @tarttrails

Art on the TART

As you traverse the TART trails, another thing you’ll see is the Art on the TART program. This program features artworks of multiple disciplines and includes exhibits of community art and year-round public art installations.

The pieces on display are meant to showcase the cultural history of the Traverse City area. It also highlights the natural beauty of the northwest part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Current works include Time to Let Go, which highlights the significance of the bicycle to the area, and Solar System, a distance to scale model of the solar system that spans from Traverse City to Acme.

Things to Do Along the TART Trails

Certainly, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible on the TART trails to see all they have to offer. But Traverse City is also home to some fun events, great sites, and delicious food.

Traverse City Beer Tastings

If you’re a beer enthusiast, the Traverse City area is home to more than a dozen breweries, many of which are in the downtown area. Each Traverse City brewery or taproom brings something a little different to the table, but it’s all done with an eye toward showcasing the area.

Traverse City hosts Traverse City Beer Week as well. No matter your taste in beer, there’s probably a locally-brewed pint for it.

Short's Brewing Company - Traverse City Beer Week, Tart Trail
Short’s Brewing Company

Traverse City Wine Tastings

Likewise, Traverse City is home to a growing wine scene. The Traverse City Wine Coast along the 45th parallel has vineyards on both the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, which are perfectly climatically moderated by Lake Michigan.

You’ll find about 40 different vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms. Among them, you’ll be able to see the entire winemaking process and sip the delicious results.

Chateau Chantal Winery And Inn, Traverse City - Tart Trail
Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn | photo via @hillaryheffernan

Tour de TART Event

If you’re looking for a fun summertime activity, check out the Tour de TART, which takes place in July. The event runs from Darrow Park in Traverse City to North Park in Suttons Bay. It lasts from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and costs between $20-40 per person.

Hundreds of people usually participate in the evening ride, which takes riders on the TART and Leelanau Trail. Along the way, riders can enjoy a pair of food stops and a bayside meal with wine and microbrews in Suttons Bay. Afterward, riders can take a relaxing bus ride back to Traverse City.

Events play a large part in the TART trail system.

“They get more people out on the trail and it helps bring in more funds,” explains Whittaker about the events. “What most people don’t know is that this is a volunteer organization. We run on volunteers and donor support. Most of our funds come from private donations.”

The best part of the TART trail system is that “so many people use it. We have a wide range of ages and abilities that we can provide for. We had a 4-year-old at the Tour de TART that rode the whole way. We’re continuing to grow the trail and make everything intertwined.”

National Cherry Festival

If you’re thinking about visiting Traverse City, you can’t beat the National Cherry Festival, which takes place every summer. There’s a reason Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World.

If you like cherries, you can find all the delicious cherry foods you could ever want at the festival — from cherry pie to fresh cherries to cherry wine. There’s also live music and a festival of races.

The event draws more than 500,000 people every year. So, if you’re looking for a good time to see everything that the Northwest Lower Peninsula has to offer, this is the perfect time to do it.

National Cherry Festival - Traverse City, Michigan
National Cherry Festival | photo via Jennifer Hamilton

Where to Get A Bike to Ride the TART Trails

Since the majority of the TART trails are paved for bike riding, you need to get a bike before you go exploring. If you don’t have your own, there are plenty of bike shops to rent what you need.

The main 10.5-mile TART trail in town runs next to Brick Wheels and McLain Cycle & Fitness, which are both on Eighth Street. If you need an extra boost on your ride, head to Garfield Avenue, where you can rent from Pedego Electric Bikes.

Mclain Cycle &Amp; Fitness, Traverse City - Tart Trail
McLain Cycle & Fitness | photo via @elgruponorte

East or West? You Decide!

Once you have a bicycle, the sky is the limit when it comes to exploring the TART trails. If you head east from any of the bike rental shops, you can ride along slow-moving sections of the railroad tracks.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Great Lakes Central Railroad trains that run a few times a week. Also, you can check out the various boardwalks along the trail, including one behind Traverse City State Park.

If you head west with your bike rental, you’ll cross over the Boardman River via a pedestrian bridge and head straight into downtown Traverse City. From there, you can head toward Grand Traverse Bay and Clinch Park Beach.

If it’s a hot summer day, stop at the pavilion. It’s a fantastic spot to cool off with ice cream or a cold drink.

The Awesome Mitten- Tart Trail System
TART Trails | photo via Sarah Blodgett

Frequently Asked Questions About the TART Trails in Traverse City

Where does the TART trail start in Traverse City?

The TART trail currently runs between the M-22/M-72 intersection in Traverse City and Bunker Hill Road in Acme Township.

How long is the TART trail Traverse City?

The main TART trail is 10 miles long and paved, making it the perfect path for a scenic bike ride.

Where does the Leelanau Trail start?

Officially, the Leelanau Trail spans from Dumas Road on the north side of Suttons Bay to Carter Road in Traverse City’s Greilickville area, where it connects to the TART trail.

Is the Leelanau Trail paved?

Yes, the Leelanau Trail is paved and groomed by TART trail volunteers in the winter and the all-volunteer Leelanau Trail Maintenance Crew, which works during the other three seasons to provide a world-class trail experience for visitors.

What does TART trail stand for?

TART stands for Traverse Area Recreation Trail and pays homage to the area’s rich history as a top cherry producer.

How long is Boardman Lake Trail?

The Boardman Lake Trail is 4 miles long. The heavily wooded trail wraps around the northern and eastern boundaries of Boardman Lake, connecting to the TART in Town trail on the northwest corner of the lake.

Discover Everything Traverse City Offers via the TART Trail System

When you visit Traverse City to trek the TART trail and its offshoots, the only thing stopping your exploration might be the number of hours in a day. On the TART trails, you can see a little bit of everything and spend multiple days exploring and having fun.

Whether you want to traverse the lakeshore and enjoy the tranquillity of the beaches or explore bustling downtown Traverse City, the TART trails offer something for everyone to enjoy!

One Comment

  1. How do I find the trail near East Bay? Showing a line on a map without identifying access points is not helpful.

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