PETOSKEY, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – Of all the urban trails in Michigan, the pathway through the Bear River Valley stands alone for variety and beauty.

The Bear River begins its winding course at Walloon Lake before it splits the city of Petoskey. It ends as a small waterfall on the waterfront at Little Traverse Bay. This trail follows the course of the river from the Lake Street Bridge to the Standish Ave Bridge. It stretches for over a mile and has any number of recreational opportunities. It may be named bear, but this trail is as gentle as a lamb.

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The pathway is quite wide and paved. The trail winds along the river through steep bluffs and forested hills and includes several overlooks. There are wide grassy areas to pause for a picnic, and there are benches and convenience facilities as well.

After rounding the first bend in the trail, it is hard to believe that this gorgeous spot is in the middle of a city. The paved trail is so smooth that in the warm months it is popular with moms with strollers and other nature lovers on wheels. In the winter, you might want to bring snowshoes.

If you begin at the Lake Street end, you are only a couple of blocks from downtown Petoskey. The gazebo here is popular with bird watchers and those who like to watch the fishermen. Within just a short walk you enter the fairly deep gorge created by the river. This river was once a gentle stream flowing sedately to the bay. A few man-made changes, like the addition of large boulders, ledges, logs and tight squeezes have transformed it into a whitewater course unlike anything else in lower Michigan.

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In May and June, the Bear River is high, and the water churns and boils as it plunges and roars just a few feet from the paved pathway.  Watching the kayaks rip along is great fun for young and old.