The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in Grand Rapids

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While the Great Lakes are often overlooked in favor of the mountains or the coasts, when it comes to adventure we’d argue that the area is worth a second look. With access to miles and miles of hiking and biking trails, easy paddling, whitewater rapids and more than 40 local breweries to grab a pint, Grand Rapids is a great home base for any Trail to Tavern weekend. The second-largest city in Michigan is going from Furniture City to Beer City USA. We’re not kidding – Grand Rapids has won the titles of “Best Beer Town” and “Best Beer Scene” multiple years in a row! If that’s not enough of a reason to head north, check out this three-day, action-packed itinerary. You’ll be packing your bags in no time.

Day One

Grand River Open Space is a 279 acre, undeveloped wetland on the Grand River.Grand River Open Space is a 279 acre, undeveloped wetland on the Grand River. Sam Brown

Start out your weekend at a Grand Rapids staple, Marie Catrib’s. Some might even say you haven’t *really *been to the west side of Michigan without a pilgrimage for Marie’s incomparable breakfast potatoes. Organically grown and locally sourced, Marie’s offers a full array of options from the city’s best vegan dishes to the seriously mouthwatering “Kate’s Corned Beef Hash”.

After getting your fill of the tastiest bacon around, pay homage to the city’s namesake by paddling on the Grand River. Rent the vessel of your choice from Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus and then head back downtown to paddle on the Grand. There are multiple launch spots, so choose yours based on how long you’d like to be on the water. The staff at Bill and Paul’s is always a good source for suggestions and general knowledge of the local area if you want some tips, especially considering that there are several dams to navigate around, necessitating a few portages. These dams were originally put in to tame the rapids for the furniture shipments, but now they serve mostly as a congregating point for fishermen.

The Grand Rapids Whitewater project is actually advocating for the removal of the dams and a return to the river’s natural rapids state, which would turn downtown Grand Rapids into a whitewater playground. Sounds like a good idea to us. Learn more about their efforts and how you can get involved here.

Stay downtown and check out the Downtown Market. Modeled after open-air style European markets, you’ll find a variety of flavors under one roof. Try Social Kitchen & Bar for killer fries, or Slows for barbecue (by the pound) and hard cider.

From here, you have some options. For the anglers, rent yourself a fly rod from Nomad Anglers and hit the city. There are a few urban fishing hotspots, but the best are along the river path behind the Amway Grand.

If fishing isn’t your thing, lace up your running shoes and hit the Grand River Edges Trail. Following the banks of the river downtown where there are a few options to connect to Kent Trails and Millennium Park. There’s also 2.2 miles of paved trail in Riverside Park. For a tour of the city by foot, take the trail from Fulton Street to the 6th Street Bridge, passing the original rapids and some of the main attractions in town (like the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum).

Founders Brewery has great food and great beer.Founders Brewery has great food and great beer. Founders Brewing Co

For dinner, head to Founders Brewery. Founders is the crown jewel of the Grand Rapids brewing scene: it was named the third best brewery in the world in 2013 by RateBeer.com! Dinner is ordered at a deli-style window separate from the beer ( but the roving wait staff will help you out in a pinch). The All Day IPA is a standby, or the Dirty Bastard for those who prefer dark beer with a strong punch.

Where to Stay

Airbnb is by far the best value and best experience here. Staying downtown is always fun, but look into the Heritage Hill and Eastown neighborhoods. Both are filled with historic homes that have a ton of character and easy access to the best restaurants and bars in the city.

Day Two

Sunset on Lake Michigan.Sunset on Lake Michigan. Tom Gill

No trip to Michigan is complete without playing on the Great Lakes. More like a freshwater ocean, there’s a reason why Michiganders devote their summers to water sports. With easy access and abundant resources, Ludington State Park is one of the best places in The Mitten (that’s Michigan’s shape, fyi) to experience the water.

Before driving up to the state park, grab a hearty diner breakfast at Real Food Cafe. Show up early because here’s usually a line out of the door (that’s how you know it’s good) and bring cash because they don’t take cards.

Stop by a grocery store and put together a picnic lunch for the day, then head about 90 minutes north via I-96 W and US-31 N. With more than 20 miles of trails, Ludington State Park is a great spot for hiking or trail running along the Sable River, around Hamlin Lake, or through the dunes out to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The 112-foot, black and white striped tower is open for tours daily between May and November.

If you’re hoping to really maximize your time on the water, Ludington has something for all level paddlers: you can take a canoe out on calm Hamlin Lake or kayak in Lake Michigan. The canoe track is perfect if you have less experience, while paddling out on Lake Michigan is essentially sea kayaking without the salty brine. You can rent canoes and kayaks at different locations within the park.

When you’ve had enough (or are soaked), head to Jamesport Brewing Co for dinner. In the late 1800s, the building was a saloon for sailors on the Great Lakes. The owners continue the tradition today with good beer, tavern food and a chance to kick back after a day of rambling. You really can’t beat it.

Stay in Ludington long enough to take in a sunset from the dunes along Lake Michigan. You’ll have arguably the best view in the state, and while we’re not saying it will be the defining moment of the entire trip, it just might be.

Day Three

Start your day with breakfast tacos at Donkey Taqueria.Start your day with breakfast tacos at Donkey Taqueria. Steven Depolo

On day three, rise and shine for breakfast at Donkey Taqueria. Tacos in the Midwest? You betcha! Well-known for its margaritas, locals know that Donkey also packs a punch with its breakfast tacos. Don’t be thrown off with the all-white building with no sign—if they advertised it, there would be no seats at all.

For the afternoon, you’ll need a bike and Grand Rapid Bicycle Company can hook you up with a decent rental. A hard tail mountain bike with big wheels or a gravel rider is optimal for what’s to come.

The White Pine Trail is Michigan's second longest rail-trail.The White Pine Trail is Michigan’s second longest rail-trail. cgulker

The entire White Pine Trail trail runs 93.5 miles through the state, and just over eight of those miles connect Grand Rapids to Rockford, home to excellent mountain biking. It’s a pleasant trail that you could certainly blaze through if you’d like, but you may want to take it easy considering the afternoon ahead.

The best part is that the trail takes you straight to lunch at Rockford Brewing Company. Michigan is not a stranger to good beer (as you well know) and Rockford is a big part of that reputation. Try their “elevated” tavern food while you sample a selection of beers. Just remember to drink some water – you’ve still got an afternoon of biking ahead!

There are a few mountain bike parks to choose from: Merrell Trails, Luton Park, or Cannonsburg Ski Area. Cannonsburg is a ski resort in the winter, which means it has the most ups and downs, but Luton and Merrell are both well-designed for optimal flow, with a series of manmade and natural obstacles. Both are maintained by a hard working and vigilant group of trail volunteers and mountain bike associations.

To close out your weekend, you have to hit up Brewery Vivant for dinner. This Belgian-style brewery was converted from a funeral home to a dining establishment, so the stained glass and exposed wooden beams shine with old European charm (and trust us, it’s not as weird as it sounds). From escargot to goat pot pie, it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong here, but don’t leave without trying the duck nachos (perhaps their most famous and coveted menu item). Local tip: the weirder it sounds, the better it’ll taste. Trust. Pick up a souvenir growler of Big Red Coq IPA or a four-pack of Undertaker dark ale for home. That is, if you don’t decide to move to Grand Rapids right then and there!

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by Founders Brewing Co