Northern Tier Route Options - CycleBlaze

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Northern Tier Route Options

George Hall

Having made a last-minute change to the N Tier, I'm awaiting the ACA maps and commencing to plan a bit by scouring journals.  There are some options with regards to the "usual" route that one could take.   Perhaps if some of you have traveled part or all of these options, you could offer your perspective - at this time our trip "plan" really doesn't exist - other than we are starting in Bar Harbor and heading west more or less on the N Tier - so at this point I am wide open to suggestions!

A major option would consist of diverting from the N Tier near Niagara Falls and skirting around the N side of Lake Erie and taking the ACA "Lake Erie Connector" route to Lake Michigan, ferry across the lake and ride the ACA "North lakes" route to eventually hook back up with the N Tier.    Or instead of taking the ferry across the central portion of Lake Michigan, one could go north to Mackinaw City and take a shorter ferry ride and then travel west to hook back up with the N Tier. 

And then it appears that there are options on the N Tier itself - in MN one has the option of taking a S route  from Dalbo to Fargo (that appears to be the shorter distance) or a N route that goes through Walker.

If you have any advice or opinions on these potential options, and especially so if you have ridden them, please comment.  I'm sure we would be happy to just ride the N Tier route, and that is our default "plan" at the moment, but would we be missing out on better scenery/experience by not taking the N diversion around Lake Erie and ferry across Lake Michigan?   Is there any special reason we would want to take the N route through Walker, MN vs. the southern route?  Thanks for any advice,

Buddy

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1 week ago
John PickettTo George Hall

I've done some of the options. 

I did a loop ride beginning and ending in Ludington. I have also ridden the Northern tier across Indiana and Illinois into Iowa. And I rode the S route in Minnesota.

Riding north from Ludington in the lower Peninsula takes you along bluffs over looking the lake, through several charming towns, into serious cherry pie country, past enormous sand dunes. Mackinac Island is a very very cool place to visit. The ride across the UP is not the most exciting but there are some very nice views of the lake and, if you decide to do so, you could bounce up to Lake Superior for bragging rights. The food to try in the UP is something called a pastie. (Meat pie from Cornwall.) The ride into Wisconsin is pretty isolated. Lots of green. Also, cheese.

The ferry ride across the lake from Ludington is like being on a cruise for a few hours. If the lake is calm, as it was for me, it was an opportunity to rest up and have breakfast. Once in Wisconsin the first 20 miles are rather busy but after that you enter the north woods and it's darn nice.

For more check out my UP Bike Tour https://www.cycleblaze.com/journals/upbiketour/

Going the southern route across Indiana has its advantages. First you can stay for free in Monroeville which has laundry, cots, showers, and an log book signed by hundreds of bicycle tourists from around the world. Much of the ride across Indiana is flat. If you like corn and soy, you'll be in heaven.

Illinois is much the same but I recall it being a bit hilly in parts. 

I took the NT in Iowa for a day or two but bailed to Wisconsin when I found my rim brakes were not up to the task of slowing my bike while riding downhill in a rain storm. Lovely area though. I followed the River Road in Wisconsin which was flatter than Iowa but had more traffic. 

In Minnesota, most of the S route is along rail trails. They are very well maintained and you will make decent time. The N route allows you to ride to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. I didn't ride that.

One oddity about the Northern Tier in Minnesota is that it goes east back to Wisconsin from St. Paul. You could probably find a more direct connection to the rail trails on the S route if you went northwest through Minneapolis.

One thing to look out for is BIG FOOD. I had a couple of meals in Wisconsin that were enormous. (So were the local patrons by the way).

Most of these routings are covered in my Any Road Tour (from DC to Portland)

https://www.cycleblaze.com/journals/anyroad/

I hope this is helpful. Have fun. Be safe.

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1 week ago
Leo WoodlandTo George Hall

Hi Buddy

  We regretted riding the south bank of the Great Lakes. Not only was there a lot of traffic, especially middle-aged crises on motorbikes, but rich people had bought the view and we saw the water only occasionally. I don't know if the north is better but I doubt it would be worse.

As for diversions, we were pleased to turn off for Titusville in Pennsylvania. It's where the first oil wells were dug in the USA and so in one way where modern history was born. It sounds mechanical and industrial and not worth the visit but it's not and we were pleased to have gone.

We also turned off to visit a delightful old chap called George who, in his 90s, rightly claimed to be the oldest "ice cream jerk" in the country, running his own ice cream parlour all his life and telling kids to give him a break "because I'm new in this job." It was a lovely visit and a highlight. He's died since but he remains an example of why it's valuable to search on the interweb for what's remarkable about towns you'll go through or near the route and worth the trip.

I remember we also enjoyed the underground town at Havre. And chatting with Indians in the little museum on a reservation in a town whose name I forget but which many cyclists hurry through because they'd heard it called Stab City - as though people are going to rush off the sidewalk to slit the throat of passing cyclists.

  I've recounted all these diversions and many more here on Cycleblaze. Look for the Great American Sticky Bun Hunt (or a title like that).

  If there's anything else, just ask.

happy days

léo

leowoodland@neuf.fr

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1 week ago
Henry DaltonTo George Hall

16 million years ago, half of Washington state was covered in a giant lake of lava. At the end of the ice age around 14,000 years ago, giant floods carved huge canyons into the basalt resulting from those lava flows. And as recently as 1980, one of the six giant volcanoes in Washington erupted. And somehow, the Northern Tier route avoids all of these amazing geological landscapes. It's a fine ride, probably better than anything in about 35 states, but there are better ways to cross Washington. 

I'd recommend this route: 

You'll see Lake Roosevelt, Grand Coulee Dam, columnar basalt and flood-created coulees, Dry Falls (an ancient giant waterfall), gingko fossils, and Mt. Rainier from breathtakingly close. And you'll finish in Seattle instead of inconvenient Anacortes. 

The roads from Kettle Falls to near Vantage are mostly pretty quiet. You'll have to ride on the wide shoulder of Interstate 90 for a few miles (it's legal), then hitchhike across the bridge to Vantage, but there's a popular viewpoint just before the bridge and I can't imagine it would be hard to find someone with a pickup to haul you across. WA 410 to Mt. Rainier is somewhat busy, but it mostly has a good shoulder, and the views once you get to the mountain are worth it. I've mapped a route around the south side of the mountain, which takes you to a variety of cool sites but involves more climbing, but if you're ready to be done you can turn north and coast all the way to Seattle.

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1 week ago
Rachel and Patrick HugensTo Leo Woodland

Hi Leo,

We are working on our route, and don't have the NT maps, so excuse some of my questions. The South bank section are you referring to Cleveland to Erie to Buffalo? 

I'm looking at connecting Rails to Trails across OH and PA, at Titusville did you ride the Allegheny River Trail?2

Rachel

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1 week ago
Leo WoodlandTo Rachel and Patrick Hugens

Hi Rachel

  We followed the conventional Northern Tier route from Buffalo, round through Cleveland and on from there. I think there's an alternative that runs to the north of the lake, a route that I've heard is more scenic and with less traffic, though I have no first-hand experience.

  I don't know what that alternative route is called but

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1 week ago
Leo WoodlandTo Rachel and Patrick Hugens

Hi Rachel

  We followed the conventional Northern Tier route from Buffalo, round through Cleveland and on from there. I think there's an alternative that runs to the north of the lake, a route that I've heard is more scenic and with less traffic, though I have no first-hand experience.

  I don't know what that alternative route is called buta look at the ACA catalogue will tell you. In any case it wouldn't be hard to find our own way.

  Finding our own way was what we did to visit Titusville. If you look at our journal, the Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt, you'll read where we went, what it was like and how we rejoined the Northern Tier afterwards. It wasn't such a long diversion and I don't remember that we missed anything much on the bit of the Northern Tier we didn't ride.

Later in the route, the ACA carefully takes you just clear of an eccentric place where an enthusiast has collected a load of old buildings and constructed his version of a Wild West village. It's all in the journal. And so is the visit we made to the nuclear-missile bunker near Binford.

  Happy hunting, and happy riding.

léo

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1 week ago
Henry DaltonTo Henry Dalton

I don't remember if your trip includes camping or is all motels. Campgrounds are well spaced along my alternate route. If you want to camp in the Colville Reservation, check to make sure the covid restrictions have been lifted (they're all closed now); you may need to stop at the store in Inchelium to get a permit before you go to the campground. Don't stealth camp in the reservation (it's your chance not to steal their land). There are opportunities for legal wild camping along Banks Lake and in the national forest lands along WA-410, but not inside Mt. Rainier National Park. The campgrounds in the National Park have hiker/biker sites that always have room (at least they do in non-covid times), even if the campground is otherwise full.

If you're doing an all-motel trip, there are motels, resorts, cabins, and B&Bs that are well spaced for most of the route, but some areas have only one option so you'll want to make reservations ahead of time to be sure. Crossing Mt. Rainier NP would be kind of tricky, I imagine the lodges in the park fill up long in advance. You might want to go as far up WA410 as you can find lodging, then the next day ride over beautiful Cayuse Pass and go down to Packwood (several motels). Then the next day, backtrack to the park and ride via Paradise to the west entrance (lots of motels). That breaks up the two big climbs on the profile into two days.

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1 week ago
George HallTo John Pickett

John, this is extremely helpful, thank you for replying.   You rode parts of what ACA calls the "North Lakes" route, and it sounds like that portion would be a good route.  To get there from Buffalo we would take the ACA "Lake Erie Connector" route, I need to research that one a bit as it passes not far from some very populous areas.  Sounds like there's some good parts about taking the southern route around Lake Erie as well - it's good to have options!  We will definitely take the south leg in MN and ride the rail trails. 

Buddy

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1 week ago
George HallTo Leo Woodland

Leo, thanks for the info, much appreciated.   I've got some journals to read now, both yours and John's.  One option I hadn't considered would be to take the Lake Erie Connector around the N side of Lake Erie, and then take the ferry to Sandusky to get back to the south side and reconnect to the N Tier - that way we would avoid some of the traffic issues on the S side that you mentioned (assuming the N side is better, that remains a bit of an unknown at this time).   But if we did that we would miss PA altogether.  Oh well, that's the fun of planning!  Thanks again,

Buddy

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1 week ago