Oakland County’s Paint Creek Trail: Michigan’s First Rails-to-Trails Project



A light drizzle did not slow the Spring Charity Bike Ride on the Paint Creek Trail.

Cyclists, joggers, trail-trekkers and baby-carriage pushing parents flocked to the Paint Creek Trail on the first warm weekend of May. The trail opened in 1983 as the first rails-to-trails project in the State of Michigan, and today it remains one of the most popular multi-use trails in Oakland County.

The trail runs north from the City of Rochester to the Village of Orion, an 8.9 mile route built eight-foot wide with crushed limestone on a former Penn Central Railway bed. Its route embraces the banks of Paint Creek, a cold water trout steam. The trail has multiple access points and excellent signage. It meanders through woodlands, past wetlands and patches of prairie, while offering a tempting taste of the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

Last Saturday I joined 500 to 600 others for a Spring Charity Bike Ride on the Paint Creek Trail, as well as a section of the Clinton River Trail, in support of local rail trails. In addition to be being fun, despite a slight drizzle, it was refreshing to see how far trail connectivity has progressed.


The Rochester River Walk Trail connects the Paint Creek Trail with the Clinton River Trail.

Paint Creek Trail (PCT) is not a trail to nowhere; quite the opposite. This trail is in the forefront of the expanding Oakland County Trail Network for non-motorized, environmentally friendly travel in Oakland County – and beyond. It’s a short jog from the north end of the PCT to the Polly Ann Trail, a 14.2-mile trail which crosses into Lapeer County in the far northeast corner of our county.

The south end of the PCT links seamlessly with the 16-mile long Clinton River Trail, via a short spur trail, the Rochester River Walk. The River Walk begins adjacent to the Rochester Municipal Park and passes next to the trail-user friendly deck of the Paint Creek Tavern just before going under Rochester Road. The River Walk includes historical interpretive signs and meanders past the flower gardens of the Rochester Hills Public Library, joining the Clinton River Trail.

That’s just the beginning of this rails-to-trails success story. The east end of the Clinton River Trail connects with the Macomb Orchard Trail, a 24-mile rails-to-trail project that leads to Stony Creek Metropark and continues to the City of Richmond, while the western end of the Clinton River Trail connects to the West Bloomfield Trail.  The Clinton River Trail is a critical link of the proposed Great Lake to Lake Trail that will span our state from South Haven on Lake Michigan to Port Huron on Lake Huron.


As the weather warms, trail users may encounter the Oakland County Sheriffs Office mounted division.

In the month of May, the Paint Creek Trail takes on a special aura of wildness. Naturalists and nature-lovers know where the trail-side wild things are. As other cyclists zipped by my cycling companion and I, we dawdled to take in scenery.

Great clusters of bright yellow marsh marigolds edged the marshes, shadbush trees were laced in delicate blossoms, amorous toads trilled from wetlands, turkey vultures soared the thermals, and warbler migration enriched shrubs with spring song. Of course we stopped at the historic Paint Creek Cider Mill for hot cider and donuts.

Paint Creek Trail Manager, Kristen Meyers, greeted trail users at the cider mill. Meyers said, “We receive over 100,000 visitors annually because of our easy accessibility and commitment to provide a natural, scenic, and educational recreation experience for all users.”

If that day was any indicator, she better raise her usage figures, for the trail was bustling from end-to-end, before and after the event. Without a doubt she is correct on the ease of accessibility and the great recreational experience offered by the family-friendly Paint Creek Trail.

Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

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