Bike Camping – Hart-Montague Trail to John Gurney Park

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Hart-Montague Trail – Family Bike Tour – August 2 & 3, 2014

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One of the trips that has been on our list to try for a while is a family bike camping trip. This summer our youngest is 3 and has moved from the Burley Bike Trailer up to the tag-a-long bike. So finally our baby trailer could be converted to a camping gear hauler. We had an open weekend in early August and the weather forecast was looking good so we decided to go for it. We packed our camping gear into our Burley and then decided to borrow another one for the rest of our stuff. At first I thought that we would carry everything that didn’t fit in the single Burley in backpacks. However, after thinking about it more, I decided that it would make for a more enjoyable ride if we did not have the extra weight on our backs and bike seats. We still kept our things packed in the backpacks just in case Reid got tired and needed to take a break in the trailer. Although, he was a little trooper and we never needed to put on the packs.

Our plan was to ride the Hart-Montague Trail State Park up to Hart and camp at John Gurney Park for the night. The Hart-Montague Trail is 22 miles long and then it was going to be another 1.5 miles though the town of Hart to get to the campground.

Described on the Rails-to-Trails website as “one of Michigan’s great rural rail-trails.” The Hart-Montague Trail passes through the nice small towns of Rothbury, New Era, Shelby and Mears. In between the towns the trail passes through forests and orchards. There were only a few busy road crossings along the way. Most were quiet small town streets or country roads making this a good ride to do with kids.

The Hart-Montague Trail was completed in 1991 and was the first paved rail-trail project in the State of Michigan. The trail was recently renamed The William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail State Park. Mr. Field was a fruit farmer from Shelby Michigan and when he could not receive support from the county for the trail project, he purchased the old rail corridor himself and donated it to the state in 1983. Mr Field’s dream finally became reality in 1989 when the city of Hart built the first 11 miles of paved trail. For more on the interesting history of this trail see this “Trail of the Month” article by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. If you look close in our pictures you will see that the trail is starting to show it’s age and is cracking and getting a little rough in spots. However, I saw that a plan to repave and widen the trail is in the works.

The trail has mile markers starting in Hart. We started our ride in Montague so heading in this direction the kids could watch the miles count down as we neared our destination.

If the map does not show above click here >>

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The trailhead in Montague is located at the end of Spring Street. There is a big gravel parking lot and a bathhouse. In the background above you can also see the campers at Trail Way Campground. According to their website: “There is NO tenting available at the campground except for bicyclists or bicycle groups without vehicles and with prior management approval.” This seems a little strange for a campground right on a trail.

Directions to the Montague trailhead >>

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Taking our first water break in the shade under the US 31 overpass after about 4.5 miles. The trail passes under US 31 three times on the way up to Hart. We told the kids to watch for the third one because this meant that we were getting close to the end.

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All smiles back on the tag-a-long.

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Between the towns the trail is lined with forest. It looked like this would be a great ride to do in the fall.

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At about the half way mark the trail conveniently passes right by the Country Dairy Farm Store. This was our planned lunch stop and probably the most popular stop along the trail. When we pulled in there must have been 50 other bikes parked outside. Most of the people were biking up to here for lunch and then back for a nice 23 mile day trip.

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Reid finishing his kids meal bag. There is both indoor and outdoor seating available. We chose to stay inside and take advantage of the air conditioning as it was starting to get hot out.

The deli serves salads, sandwiches, wraps and burgers. There is also a pizza shoppe next door to the deli counter. Every meal comes with a bottomless cup of white or chocolate milk. Then for desert you can get some of their famous hand dipped ice cream. We had to wait in fairly long line to place our order, but ounce we ordered the food came quickly. We didn’t mind the wait because it was good for the kids to take a nice long break.

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After lunch we walked around for a few minutes to check out the farm. They do offer daily farm tours, but we did not want to take the time on this visit. The tours are 1.5 hours long and cost $7 for adults and $5 for children.

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Reid checking out the cow in the “Moo School” building where the tours start.

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Regan patiently waiting in the grass in front of Country Dairy.

The only problem with Country Dairy was that there were only two single bathrooms with long lines. We were just getting ready to leave and Reid decided he had some business to take care of…so it was back in the bathroom line again. I guess it was better to do this here than along the trail.

The Country Dairy website >>

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The second half of the trail had several decks with picnic tables on overlooks.

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After about 4 hours on the trail (including our lunch break) we arrived at the busy Polk Street crossing in Hart. We were all pretty warm so we rode up the shoulder of the road to Rennhack Orchards Market for some cold drinks.

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A nice woman offered to take our family picture while we rested and drank our Gatorade outside the market.

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Reid’s tongue, almost the same color as the building.

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After the drink break we set off on the last leg of the journey through the city of Hart to the campground. Just past Polk Street the trail ends and you have to ride on the side of the streets to get to the campground.

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After the drink break we set off on the last leg of the journey through the city of Hart to the campground. Just past Polk Street the trail ends and you have to ride on the side of the streets to get to the campground.

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When we made our reservation the only site available was #84 in the rustic area. Everyone was a little disappointed when we saw that it was a small open site with full sun. There was also big motorhome parked right on the line and their car and all their stuff was on our site. Things even got worse when we parked our bikes on the site and got swarmed by bees. No one was in the motorhome so we decided to retreat to a spot in the shade. Just then the camp host was walking by and we asked him if there were any other sites available. He told us that they were completely full for the night. Then after we told him about the bees and he saw our kid’s sad faces he said that someone may have left early from one of the sites across the road and he would check with his wife. After sitting with a couple worried kids for what seemed like forever he came back in his golf cart and told us we could have the other site.

John Gurney Park has 8 campsites in the rustic area. Sites 81 to 85 are in a wide open area with full sun. Sites 86, 87 and 88 are across the road in the trees by the tennis courts. If you can not get one of these 3 sites I would make other plans. It would be more expensive, but some of the RV sites on the outside may be another option.

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We made fast work of getting everything all setup on campsite #87. The site was small and in between the other 2 sites. It had little privacy, but at least it had big shade trees and no bees.

 

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Relaxing in our new Hammock. We picked this up on sale before we left and it was nice to have because on a trip like this there are not many comfortable places to sit and relax.

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By the time we had camp setup and the adults showered everyone was getting hungry for dinner so we got ready to bike back into town. You can see how close our neighbor’s tent was in this photo.

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It is about a 0.5 mile walk or ride into the downtown area. There are a few different options to try that looked good, but everyone thought pizza sounded good. We had stopped at Hart Pizza one other time when we were visiting Silver Lake State Park, so we knew that it was a good choice.

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Patiently waiting for our Pizza. Everyone was starved after the day’s ride.

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The old entrance sign for John Gurney Park.

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After dinner I rode around and checked the rest of the park. Across from the old pavilion building is a nice new bathhouse building.

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The campground sits up on a bluff overlooking Hart Lake.

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Looking out towards the rustic camping area.

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Looking down the road in the modern camping area.

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There was a small beach area on Hart Lake. We did not see anyone swimming here, just a few kayaks launching.

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Playing UNO back at the campsite.

We thought we were going to be lucky because the site next to us stayed empty for a while, but then a group of about 12 teenage girls on bikes showed up and a van with all their gear. They were with a bike camp doing a 4 day tour of West Michigan. They were actually fairly quiet most of the night up until everyone got into the tents. Then the talking and giggling started. Finally after their leader yelled at them a few times things quieted down and it was time to sleep. The kids all slept great. Between the noise and chaperoning the kids to the bathroom in the night, mom and dad were able to get at least a few hours sleep.


 

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In the morning we had an easy breakfast of pop-tarts, granola bars and coffee. We got everything packed up and after one last stop at the bathhouse we were ready to hit the trail just before 10 am.

The John Gurney Park website and reservations >>

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We took a few more breaks on the way back for water and snacks. I think the kids bounced back quicker than mom and dad the next morning. It was already warmer and more humid than the day before.

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Still happy after about 35 miles in 2 days.

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In Shelby there is a pavilion where you can refill your water bottles and just past that you will see this mural on one of the buildings.

Click here to see the larger version of this photo >>

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Country Dairy is closed on Sundays so our lunch stop on the way back was the Trailside Restaurant in New Era. It took a little while to get our food, although when it came it was all very good. I would recommend one of their sandwiches with roast beef. They are made from big chucks of beef that they roast in house. It tasted just like the Sunday noon roast that mom made when we were growing up.

More reviews of the Trailside Restaurant on Trip Advisor >>

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Rolling back into Montague and the end of our trip. The GPS on our phones tracked us right at 50 miles in 2 days. Everyone did great. Reid rode the entire way on the tag-a-long and was probably the only one that did not complain at all. It was a great 2 days and the kids are already asking when we can do another bike camping trip.

Above is timelapse of our ride on the first day from our GoPro Camera mounted to the handle bars of Kim’s bike. The battery ran out just as we started riding through the streets of Hart. It gives a good over view of our entire ride on the Hart-Montague Trail.

More information on the Hart Montague Trail on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website >>

 

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Grand Trunk Double Parachute Nylon Hammock
We purchased this hammock right before our bike camping trip because I knew that comfortable places to sit are hard to come by on this kind of adventure.
Since then the kids have spent countless hours sitting in and fighting over this hammock. It is comfortable, lightweight, easy to setup and we also found that it dries fast after leaving it out in the rain for the night. It has been a great addition to our camping arsenal. We may have to buy a second one just so we can have a chance to relax in it.
Click here to find Double Nylon Hammocks on Amazon >>


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