North Lakes

North Lakes
Osceola, WI to Denver, IN
3 Map Set (1101.5 mi.)
GPS | Overview | Buy
1. Osceola, WI to Escanaba, MI (381.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
2. Escanaba, MI to Mackinaw City, MI (151 mi.) Detail |Addenda
3. Mackinaw City, MI to Denver, IN (569 mi.) Detail |Addenda

Experience the north woods and lakes.

The North Lakes Bicycle Route is very pleasant to do if you like biking through hardwood forests, lakes and farmlands. Its beauty is subtle rather than dramatic. It's a route in which high-mileage days are possible, if you are so inclined, because it is not particularly difficult. If you are doing the Northern Tier, you can use sections one and two along with the Lake Erie Connector instead of dropping south and going through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The Manitowoc Alternate uses a ferry across Lake Michigan and shortens the route by about 200 miles. The ferry is pricey, so call for more information before you decide to ride the alternate.

If you are beginning in Minneapolis-St. Paul, you can conveniently start the route by biking right out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport onto bike paths along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. The route uses city streets and connects to the Willard Munger State Trail, a beautiful bike trail that leads you out of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. You'll cross the St. Croix River into Osceola, Wisconsin. The route goes through dairy farmland and makes a gradual transition to the hardwood forests and lakes in the northern part of the state.

After Wisconsin, you'll bike through the farmlands of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and ride alongside Lake Michigan. At St. Ignace, a ferry takes you across the Mackinac Straits into Lower Michigan. But be sure to take some time for a visit on Mackinac Island, and do the short eight-mile loop around the island. You'll share the road with only horses and buggies, pedestrians, and other bicyclists as motorized vehicles are banned from the island. The area between Mackinaw City and Traverse City, at the northern tip of Lower Michigan, is a favorite spot for vacationing tourists.

South of Harbor Springs, the route is concurrent with U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) 35, except where noted. Be aware that signs can be damaged, stolen, or otherwise missing so you can never rely totally on following signs. For more information and other maps of the region see

From Suttons Bay, the route crosses the Leelanau Peninsula to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. From here going south, you’ll follow rural roads and state highways through small vacation towns along the Lake Michigan shore. Please be cautious of tourist traffic during summer months. 

At New Buffalo, the route leaves Lake Michigan on rural roads across Indiana farmland to Denver, finishing on the Nickel Plate Trail. From here, you can rejoin the Northern Tier heading east or west.

Photo by Dennis Coello

The North Lakes Route is generally rolling and one of Adventure Cycling's easier routes to ride. There are no dramatic climbs over mountain passes. This is not to say that there aren't any short, steep climbs, but difficult climbing is not the general terrain of this route.

The North Lakes Bicycle Route can be ridden from late spring to mid-fall. Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns. Summer temperatures can be cool.

Services are generally plentiful. There are some especially nice campgrounds and resorts in northern Wisconsin where people like to spend their vacations "at the lake." Some cyclists may want to do this route during the colors of autumn. If you do, call ahead to verify campgrounds because many close after Labor Day. If staying indoors, make advance reservations.

Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$30/night. The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes sometimes go through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul, Section 1
  • Mackinac Island, Section 2
  • Lagrange County, Indiana, Section 3

More Route Resources