Luton Park is, at its core, a trail with many layers…or loops as it were. That’s because it has a seemingly endless number of options to choose from. The entire trail is 9 miles long at its longest, but there are 6 different loops, all color coded for ease of use; blue, orange, black, red, green, and yellow. The blue loop is the center loop and the connector to the remaining 5 loops (imagine the center of a daisy). It’s about 2 miles long, and fairly uneventful. It is completely utilitarian, and it’s perfect in that it gets you the fun.
The first loop is the orange loop, which we the West Michigan Trail Runners, sponsor and care for. The orange loop is just short of a mile in length and is a great representation of Michigan trail running. Over that mile you will run through pines, meadows, and oaks with a switchback or two and a few roots and rocks to dodge. The hills are subtle, and it’s a great way to warm up for what comes next.
Up next is the black loop. At over two and half miles it is the single longest loop at Luton Park but it is worth the time. If the orange loop ranks a 5, then the black loop is a 10. You start with a nice climb before settling into endless switchbacks and rolling ridge trails. The forest here is mostly hardwood, but the trail finishes with what might be my favorite section of Luton Park. You come around yet another corner before you find yourself running along a creek bed. A log climb here, another twist and turn and you cross the stream only to head back the way you came on the opposite bank. This leads to a narrow chute through a section of pines before you are done and back on the blue loop. BE CAREFUL: the black loop crosses the blue loop and before circling back to join up. This is the only spot where you will take a left hand turn on the blue loop.
Whenever I get to the entrance to the red loop, I always think twice about turning. At 1 and a half miles it’s not the length that scares you. The red loop’s charm is in its hills and its difficulty. You usually exit the black loop a little tired and beat up, and if you do, the red loop will finish you off. Much like the black loop you start with a hill, except this is a real hill. And as soon as you finish climbing you start to drop. This continues for the duration of the loop. There are some good roots to dodge and some tight corners to navigate here which is made more difficult by the views. When you are on the red loop you can see the parts of the black, parts of the blue, and much of the rest of the red. This makes it mentally tough as you think you are done several times before you actually are. But when you reach the blue loop, you really feel like you accomplished something. The stretch of blue loop here is its best part. The trail runs right past a cool creek that offers a fantastic mid run dip on those hot days!
Once you are on the green loop you start to wish that you were done. It’s that time in every run where you make that mental decision to fight or flight…or walk or run. The green loop always reminds me of the orange loop but just a little harder. You see some oaks, aspens, pines, and meadows, but the hills are a little steeper, and the roots are a little bigger (and more numerous in one section). It’s only about a mile long but that mile is always a little rejuvenating for me.
Last in line is the yellow loop and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s a complete stick in the a$$. If you’ve chosen to run the entire trail you’re nearly done, you want to be done, and what is left in front of you is another mile of nothing but hills and turns. If you’re not going up, you’re going down. There are highlighted “skills” sections for the mountain bikers, a few short sharp drops and climbs (reminiscent of Robinette’s), and plenty of rocks and roots. And all of this is packed into a thin section of open woods between a small meadow and the giant meadow that surrounds the parking lot. This is also somewhat uplifting because you know that that big meadow is “the finish line” and now sense that you are finished.
Of course this is all a trick because when you arrive back at the blue loop you are left with a mile of open rolling hills before you are back in your car. The finishing stretch runs along the edge of the woods, which is home to the rest of the trail, and the meadow that is the only real view from the parking lot. While finishing you can actually see the parking lot twice before you are actually there! But before you know it you see the trailhead to the orange loop, the big barn on Kies, and then you start passing people who are headed out for their loop. You’re only job now is to figure out where you are going to grab your post run drink! Note: the trail leading to and from the orange loop is for two way traffic so stay to the right!
Last note: Luton Park is a multi-use trail system but it gets A LOT of mountain bike traffic. If you are unsure what this means to you, please read my blog post about sharing the trails with our mountain biking friends. Because it is part of the Kent County Park system, it is closed to hunters, and closed from dusk until dawn.
5860 Kies St., Rockford, MI, 49341