Bike camping from Ann Arbor to Pinckney Rec Area

COVID-19 shattered my “fun aspirations for 2020” list, but one survivor is bike camping. I’m planning that trip (this weekend). It will be my first time camping via bike so I’m reading up and asking questions. In particular I’m focused on getting there and back, with two kids and our gear. Here are some notes on routes and logistics, to help me & others in the future and to see if anyone has other ideas.

Where to Bike Camp around Ann Arbor

The closest campsite to Ann Arbor that I’m aware of is Crooked Lake Rustic Campground, at Pinckney Rec Area. I’ve camped here via car several times so know what I’m getting. But I’m curious to know of other camping options within ~25 miles from Ann Arbor.

Getting There via Bike

For this post, let’s assume a starting point of Michigan Stadium. Google Maps suggests taking Dexter-Ann Arbor road to Dexter, then Island Lake Road to Dexter Townhall Road. Total 18.5 miles. This is the route I use to drive there.

Default path from Google Maps

For the Dexter -> Crooked Lake leg, I thought that the Hudson Mills Metropark bike trail would be nicer than Island Lake Rd & Dexter Townhall. Going through the Metropark requires riding 2.6 miles on Dexter-Pinckney and North Territorial roads, though. That intersection is marked by a ghost bike honoring Mary Ruble Burrows, who was struck and killed on a bike there in 2012. This adds a little distance, 19.3 miles total.

Taking the Hudson Mills Metropark trail

North Territorial strikes me as a scary place to bike, especially if I’m going slow and carrying my kids. I asked a few cyclist friends, who asked their cyclist friends, and they agreed that they’d change the whole route as I’d drawn it up. For Dexter -> Crooked Lake, they preferred the original suggestion from Google, taking Island Lake Road to Dexter Townhall. One of them replied, “North Terrortorial and Dexter Pinckney tend to scare even dedicated cyclists” – the “Terrortorial” spelling underscoring his point.

And then for getting from Ann Arbor to Dexter, they suggested Huron River Drive instead of Dexter-Ann Arbor Road. I’d been wary of this because it adds another ~2 miles. It felt like a tossup, safety-wise. Dexter-Ann Arbor is definitely busier and faster, while HRD has some sharp curves.

They convinced me that HRD was the way to go. I certainly can’t argue with it being a much more pleasant ride than Dexter-Ann Arbor, and after all, this is supposed to be a fun journey for my kids and me. And I’ll try Island Lake Road and Dexter Townhall on the way out. Perhaps I’ll do North Territorial on the way home, when I’ll be on the road early and have fresh legs to sprint down that section and get to the Metropark. Here’s the route I’m looking at, 21.1 miles from Michigan Stadium.

The final route

No matter what combination of roads I take in the above scenarios, they all go through downtown Dexter … right by Dairy Queen and A&W! A stop for an ice cream or float is the literal sweetener I’m offering my kids in exchange for sitting on the back of my bike for 2 hours. We’ll stop there both ways and stretch our legs. Downtown Dexter is 12 miles from Ann Arbor, 9 miles from Crooked Lake.

If I were going with adults on their own bikes, I’d consider adding a stop at the Dexter Blueberry Farm, bringing the total mileage to 24.8.

E-Bike Battery Management

My e-bike motor is older and lower quality. Yuba switched to a top-end Bosch powertrain starting with the 2nd generation of Spicy Curry bikes, but I have a first-generation floor model. My original battery is depleted and even the “new” replacement battery I got this May does not have amazing range. I haven’t pushed the new battery all the way but my guess is that if I ride on the lowest assist level, it’ll be mostly empty from the outbound trip. I’ll also bring along my old battery, which now dies after about 7 miles.

Option 1 is to use the battery sparingly. This would look like no assist on flats, level 1 on slight hills, and level 2-3 on steeper hills like Miller Road, N Maple Road up from HRD, and the gravel hills at Crooked Lake. If my default mode is no assist, it will feel so slow. I’m used to 15+ mph with constant assist and unassisted I expect to go more like 8 mph, pulling 100+ pounds of kids and gear. But I’ll have battery available both ways.

Option 2 is to charge at my friend’s house. A friend lives on North Territorial and it would only add a mile each way to plug my main battery in to charge while I camp, then retrieve it on the way home. I’d then use my old battery for the final stretch to the campsite.

The ideal would be to charge at the campsite. Crooked Lake does not have electricity at sites. I’m not sure if Silver Lake Day Use area nearby has outlets. Would a friendly ranger at the Pinckney Rec Area headquarters (where you sign in on the way to Crooked Lake) let me plug my battery in for a few hours in their hut? I might go with Option 1, bringing my charger along in case this is an option.

2 thoughts on “Bike camping from Ann Arbor to Pinckney Rec Area

    1. While biking I saw one end of that new B2B section starts at Zeeb. Where does the other end of it rejoin HRD? Does it separate from HRD to go through a metropark? I looked at the project website and map but couldn’t decipher it.

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