I ‘m pleasantly surprised to find my vintage, olive green Schwinn fits snugly in the back of my tiny 2014 Ford Fiesta. I precariously shut the hatchback, squeeze my bags into the front seat, and hit the road to head north on U.S. 31 toward South Haven. 

My destination isn’t a Lake Michigan rental house or cozy cottage alongside the Black River. Instead, it’s a large canvas tent tucked away in the woods — fully stocked with a king-sized bed, wood-burning stove, mid-century modern furniture and all the amenities you could need for an outdoor getaway.

And on my journey, I’m headed on a bike ride along a historic rail trail running between two iconic industrial towns on Michigan’s west coast.

When I see the exit sign for South Haven, the excitement starts to set in. Peeling off the highway, I drive 20 minutes east toward the rural outskirts of downtown, turning onto backcountry roads and winding through cornfields, until I see a tiny wooden sign at the start of a long gravel driveway that reads: “Off Map.” 

I have arrived. The adventure begins.

Staying Off Map

One of Michigan’s newest glamping destinations, Off Map offers campers a more refined option for sleeping in the woods. Twelve canvas tents, which look like hotel rooms inside, provide creature comforts including a memory foam mattress, battery-operated fans and lanterns, and matching armchairs and side tables. 

On the remote, 75-acre property, glampers have access to six individual bathrooms with showers inside, a communal fire pit with complimentary s’mores, and a modern geodesic home used as a community kitchen and gathering space. Free breakfast is served to all guests, and on weekends during peak season, local and regional musicians perform around the campfire with a 360-degree backdrop of lush meadow and forest.

I go to bed early on my first night, because I have a big bike ride ahead of me the next morning. It’s not hard to fall asleep to the sound of chirping crickets in the tall grasses and the trees rustling in the wind.

The next morning, I wake up with the sun beaming through the unzipped screen windows and an unobstructed view of nature through the floor-to-ceiling screen door.

Biking the Kal-Haven State Park Trail 

After enjoying a homemade parfait with cinnamon-coated granola and a strawberry rhubarb compote, and a steaming cup of coffee on the front porch of my glampsite, I unload my bike and head to the trail. It’s an 8-mile journey one-way to South Haven — and the trailhead sits just under a mile from Off Map. 

The 33-mile Kal-Haven State Park Trail is an old railway route that operated between the late 1800s to 1900s, and today, it serves as a multi-use trail that connects Kalamazoo and South Haven. In the winter, snowmobilers fly down the tree-lined track, and in the summer, bikers, hikers and joggers enjoy the shady pathway.  

It takes about 45 minutes to reach town, and along the way, I enjoy the views of farmland peeking between the colorful trees as I travel on the crushed limestone and dirt path.

Exploring South Haven 

The path drops me off a stone’s throw from downtown. It takes me only a few minutes to ride to the main stretch of town and I explore the city by bike before heading to Admiral Jack’s Bar for a fried-perch sandwich lunch with a spicy bloody mary on the side. 

The beaches in South Haven are beautiful any time of year. I bike down to South Beach and people watch before locking up my bike and taking a walk along the pier to the iconic, bright red South Pier lighthouse. And after, I head up to Newcome Beach, a small public strip of sand about a 10-minute bike ride north.  

The trail less traveled

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path experience that gets you into the outdoors and exploring nature, this is it. Whether your travels take you along the whole route or just a short cruise, a West Michigan adventure along the Kal-Haven Trail, with first-class stays at Off Map, is one for the books.

5 stops near the Kal-Haven State Park Trail

  1. Three Blondes Brewing — Women-owned and -operated brewery with tasty eats.
  1. Newcome Beach — Quiet, public beach just north of downtown South Haven.
  1. Bumbleberry Acres — U-pick blueberry farm with farm animals, baked goods and local treats.
  1. Black River Books — Independently-owned and -operated used bookstore with more than 40,000 books.
  1. Barden’s Farm Market — Locally grown and regionally sourced grocery market.

Article written by Erica Zazo
Featured image by South Haven/Van Buren County CVB