Michigan State Parks: Kal-Haven and Van Buren Trails

A man and woman wearing bike helmets on the Kal-Haven Trail State Park
Covered Bridge over the Black River on the Kal-Haven State Trail

Van Buren Trail State Park and Kal-Haven Trail State Park are both linear state parks with trailheads in South Haven, Michigan.

Kal-Haven Trail State Park

Kal-Haven Trail State Park is a 33-mile linear state park that connects the cities of South Haven and Kalamazoo. The multi-use trail is for biking, running, walking your dog, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling when there are at least 4 inches of snow.

A man and woman in front of the Kal-Haven Trail state park entrance sign

The Kal-Haven Trail State Park is a rails-to-trails conversion on the bed of the former Kalamazoo & South Haven Railroad that ran from 1870 to 1970. Friends of Kal-Haven help with maintaining the trail and their website is full of information.

The hard-packed limestone slag surface is suitable for most all types of bikes – mountain bikes, hybrids, kids, touring, recumbents, etc. Although we might not recommend slick road bike tires.

Kal-Haven Trail State Park winds through lots of woods, farmland, blueberry fields, and over rivers and streams as it passes through busy towns and small villages. Two popular features of this linear state park are the covered bridge over the Black River and the camelback bridge east of Grand Junction.

A big paved parking lot with vault toilets and a covered shelter with picnic tables is at the South Haven trailhead. A very handy feature is the bike fix-it station. Also, before you depart, read the small display detailing the history of the railroad and the trail.

A bike fix-it-station at Kal-Haven Trail State Park
The fix-it station at Kal-Haven Trail State Park trailhead

Along the trail you’ll find designated pitstops. Depending on the stop you might find a vault toilet, hand-pump or picnic table. Maps available online detail these locations and amenities.

The Kal-Haven Heritage Trail Project was installed in 2019 to tell the story of the trail. Thirty-one informational signs along the trail detail the history of the railroad, the towns, and other interesting historical facts.

A historical interpretive sign on the Kal-Haven Trail

Van Buren Trail State Park

Van Buren Trail State Park is 14 miles of an unimproved old railroad bed that runs from the outskirts of South Haven to the city of Hartford. This linear state park actually connects to a 4.5-mile paved spur that runs between downtown South Haven and Van Buren State Park.

A man and woman with bikes on the Van Buren Trail State Park
The Van Buren Trail State Park near South Haven

The grassy dirt trail runs through open farmland, blueberry fields, dense brush, and wooded areas. Van Buren Trail State Park is a multi-use trail, suitable for mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the winter, and of course, walking or running. Note: no horses or snowmobiles are allowed on the paved section in South Haven.

The grassy, unimproved Van Buren Trail State Park
Van Buren Trail State Park

The biggest challenge is actually finding the trailhead. If you begin at the Hartford end there is a designated parking area. However, there is no designated DNR lot in South Haven. Visitors can use public parking lots in South Haven, or park at Van Buren State Park. From either direction, take the paved spur about halfway (2.5miles) to the split for the Van Buren Trail State Park. Be careful not to pass it, as there is not really any major marker announcing the linear state park. It mostly just looks like a gravel two-track off to the east side.

The split of Van Buren Trail State Park
Where the trail splits – dirt goes to Hartford, the paved portion to the Van Buren State Park (as facing south)

Overview

While these two trails are completely different from each other, they both are great examples of how Michigan has been able to repurpose the old abandoned railroad lines into recreation opportunities. If you wish to check out one or both of these linear state parks and need overnight accommodations, camping is available at nearby Van Buren State Park, located five miles south of South Haven.


We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We also have videos about Kal-Haven Trail and Van Buren Trail state parks. You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see each of the parks we visited on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.

5 thoughts on “Michigan State Parks: Kal-Haven and Van Buren Trails”

  1. An Introduction to the Kal-Haven Trail

    Designated a #PureMichigan Trail just last year, receiving a MATAG Award for its Heritage Project this year, the first linear State Park in the State of Michigan and Section One of Route #1 of Michigan’s Great Lake to Lake Trails system, the Kal-Haven Trail is your bet anytime of year but fall…. is magical.

    Running for 33.4 miles from Kalamazoo to South Haven you’ll walk/hike/ride through a tunnel of fall beauty passing small, rural villages, open countryside, deep forests, rare wetlands and farm fields along the way and all on a graded crushed limestone surface far from the rush of cars and traffic.

    You can visit the ghost town of Mentha, once the home of the worlds largest peppermint plantations managed by Kalamazoo’s AM Todd, and taste some genuine Todd’s Black Mitchum mint in a public mint bed on the side of the trail amid 2000 acres of open farmland.

    Stop in at local U-Pick Farms or visit accommodations along the way in villages like Kendall, Gobles and the mid-point in Bloomingdale with the last remaining original Depot structure along the trail constructed in 1870 and currently undergoing renovations.

    Or pass through places that used to be like Williams, Brown’s Station and Kibbee. Or Berlamont, where boxer Joe Lewis used to train, now a small Amish settlement. And don’t forget to visit our covered bridge near the South Haven terminus of the trail.

    Check out the Friends of the Kal-Haven Trail’s page here Facebook or visit our website at: kalhaven.org for maps and more information including free access to our Heritage Trail Program mobile app.

    The trail can be accessed at any cross road but parking lots are available at South Haven, Lakota, Grand Junction, Bloomingdale, Gobles, Alamo and 10th Street in Oshtemo (Kalamazoo) and maps are in boxes at several popular locations along the trail as well.

    Southwest Michigan’s premier tourist destination awaits your visit!

    Class 1 e-bikes are permitted.
    Class 2 e-bikes will need a permit obtainable from the Van Buren State Park office.
    Class 3 e-bikes are not permitted.

    PS: If you want to visit in winter, the trail is open to snowmobiles so long as there is at least 4″ of packed snow on the ground.

  2. Hi! We would like to leave a car overnight in South Haven so when we bicycle the Kal Haven Trail one-way from Kzoo to S. Haven the next day, the car is waiting for us. Where can we find overnight parking near the trailhead? Thanks!

    1. That’s a good idea, but I’m not sure about where you could park overnight. Since it’s just a vehicle you’re leaving and you’re not planning on camping, that should make it easier. We use iOverlander.com (and its app) to find overnight locations where we can stay, so give that a shot. You also might consider contacting the South Haven visitors bureau to see if they have any ideas. You can’t be the first people to think about doing this. Their number is (269) 637-5252. Good luck and enjoy the ride! -Ari

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