It’s a motorcycle riding truth that a yellow diamond with a twisty arrow up the middle makes a biker’s heart beat a little faster.
It’s no wonder, then, that the “Discovery Channel” named the Tunnel of Trees one of the nation’s top 10 motorcycle rides, not when it boasts the mystery of what’s behind its 137 curves that grace the 21-mile path.
The drive is not undiscovered. Forbes named it a gorgeous drive for car nuts, and a Motorcycleroads.com review noted this trip up the tip of Michigan’s ring finger—better known as Highway 119 — as the kind of drive in which you wonder what will be around the next curve. On 18 wheels, the narrow, forest-edged trip would be a “nightmare,” the review noted, while on two: “It is the road that you always dream of finding.”
Entering the Tunnel
The drive between Harbor Springs and Cross Village travels an ancient Native American path between bluff views of Lake Michigan and thick hardwoods. You wind past old-time cottages, former mansions of Victorian-age industrialists and deer grazing in clearings. Perhaps Michigan’s most famous fall color tour route, the drive is less traveled but equally scenic when spring trilliums bloom in thick patches at road’s edge or summer’s warmth colors Lake Michigan a particularly deep blue.
Dean and Nancy Loucks, motorhome and motorcycle fans in equal measure, met up with friends for a summer ride on one recent visit to Hearthside Grove. They loved the tunnels and scenery, they said, but also the ride of sorts through a time machine of Michigan history.
“The stops were almost like the gun-slinger stores of South Dakota,” Dean said, “those natural, authentic spots like the Legs Inn where tree branches are turned into artwork.”
The food was a highlight, too, says Nancy, who deemed “awesome” the smoked whitefish fresh from Lake Michigan.
The Tunnel of Trees has an official map, and it’s worth the read for the historical tidbits behind each stop and detailed descriptions of the hairpin curves. But it’s also hard to get lost when following a single road, keeping the lakeshore to your left heading north, to your right on the way back down.
If following the map, reset your odometer just north of Harbor Springs. You won’t be needing a break yet by the time you reach Pond Hill Farm, but stop anyway. You may smell the grapes in the hillside vineyard you pass en route to the gardens, animal barns, market store, cafe, microbrewery and wine tasting rooms. Hops grown on site infuse the creative micro-brews and the farm-to-table menu. And no one is too old to fire the squash rocket or feed a tiny calf.
Don your helmet and continue on, keeping a camera at the ready for a stop just north of Stutsmanville Road; there, a rare pull off is a good vantage point for capturing the panoramic view.
On a motorcycle, you don’t just view scenery, you become immersed in it, and that’s particularly true on a drive that winds between woods and lake, from low elevation to high. Watch for the few particularly tricky turns like Devil’s Elbow, 11 miles up. There’s a legend about an evil spirit that supposedly haunts the ravine come dark; more likely, it’s a tale one motorcyclist told others to be sure they’re scared toward safety.
Downtown Good Hart, 121⁄2 miles up, was originally named Crooked Tree or Opit-eaw-ing (half- way). This is fitting since this is exactly the midpoint be- tween Harbor Springs and Cross Village.
You can’t help but like the root of its current name, Good Hart, after a chief’s brother whose name translated to “good hearted.” It’s also indicative of the spirit of the cherry red Good Hart General store, which includes a “biker’s corner” on its website, offers to help you find mechanical help—or the best local beach. They make breads, cookies and pies fresh daily.
Legs Inn, another seven miles onward, is easily spotted by its stone and log exterior. Inside, find Polish food specialties, whimsical decor and a stunning Lake Michigan patio view.
At the ride’s end, those who love Hearthside Grove’s design sensibility will appreciate Three Pines Studio, a gallery inside a log Craftsman-style building, selling pottery, fiber art, quill boxes and more. The totem poles probably won’t fit into your saddle bag, but small items like jewelry—and all your drive memories—surely will.