5 Best Mountain Bike Rides in Michigan

michigan mtb

Michigan is one of the largest and most-populous states in the U.S., ranking 11th and 10th in these categories, respectively.  It is also one of the most scenically beautiful states in the Union and an idyllic region for those who enjoy the sport of mountain biking.

The “Wolverine State,” as Michigan is known, is home to a great number of nationally protected parks and a diverse topography that ranges from the mountains of Arvon to the shores of Lake Erie.  Here outdoor enthusiasts will find a variety of superb mountain biking trails that cater to riders of all skill levels, five of the most popular and well-ridden of which are highlighted in more detail below.

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South Marquette Trails

The state of Michigan is famous for its wide variety of terrains, almost all of which are showcased on the South Marquette Trails. Located in the university town of Marquette, Michigan, the South Marquette Trail Network is generally considered one of the best collections of courses in the Midwest.  With three complete loops, ranging from 5-7 miles in total distance, there is literally something here for every level of rider.

The Blue Loop, also known as the Mt. Marquette Loop, is said to be the most challenging of the three courses, with plenty of grueling, technical climbs and several rocky downhill descents.  The Red, or Pioneer Loop, affords riders the opportunity to ride both double and single track on a variety of different terrains; while the Yellow, or Carp River Loop, begins with a mellow descent before transforming into a gradual climb to the top of Marquette Mountain.

The trails at South Marquette are managed and maintained by the Noquemonon Trail Network, a group of local mountain bikers who volunteer their time to keep the courses looking and riding their very best.

Copper Harbor Trails

Situated at the northern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the town of Copper Harbor, Michigan, the Copper Harbor Trails are an exemplary destination for the outdoor cycling enthusiast.  Nestled from the commotion, hustle and bustle of everyday life, the Copper Harbor Trails offer the perfect mountain biking getaway—a place that combines thrilling single track with the gorgeous natural beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The Copper Harbor Trails, deemed intermediate to advanced in terms of overall difficulty, are guaranteed to please even the most discerning riders. With obstacles that include berms, log jumps, water crossings and a seemingly endless supply of switchbacks, this single-track route is fraught with technical challenges and hair-raising descents that allow riders to reach top speeds—if they dare.

The Copper Harbor Trails system provides over 32 miles of scenic courses amid miles of untamed forestland overlooking Lake Superior—a setting that is beautifully dotted with unique geological features and splendid local foliage.

Norway Ridge

Located in the town of Alpena, Michigan, Norway Ridge features 7 miles of beginner-rated trails that collectively form multiple loops of fun double track with plenty of single track offshoots to keep riders entertained.

A relatively flat and stable course in terms of terrain, the trail system at Norway Ridge represents the perfect afternoon ride for beginners and families that are new to the sport of mountain biking.  The trail, which is both wide and meandering, is ideal for those looking to take in some of Michigan’s natural beauty without the risks posed by more advanced trail systems. Wooded forests, lakes, small creek crossings and a bevy of local wildlife add to the peace and serenity of this ride, and because the overall elevation gain is modest at best, those who tackle this trail can ride it from beginning to end without undue fatigue.

All in all, Norway Ridge is a perfect trail system on which to learn and hone one’s mountain biking skills.

Arcadia Dunes

Alternatively known as the C.S. Mott Preserve, Arcadia Dunes is a wonderful natural setting that is spread across 3,600 acres just north of the Manistee/Benzie County line in Michigan, one that is split in half by the state highway. The preserve includes 2 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, coastal bluffs with impressive perched dunes, hardwood forests and grasslands. The adjacent working farms, totaling an additional 2,500 acres, have also been permanently protected, making Arcadia Dunes one of the largest conservation projects ever completed by a local land trust in the Midwest.

The trail system at Arcadia Dunes stretches for 12 miles and is rated as moderate to intermediate.  The trail commences from the paved parking area at the C.S. Mott Preserve before beginning a gradual uphill climb that becomes semi-grueling in certain sections as riders approach the apex of the trail.  From there, they are treated to a panoramic view of the Lake Michigan coastline below, before beginning an all-single-track descent that is jam-packed with technical obstacles and impediments, each designed to test riders’ bike handling skills.  Side-hill berms, loose gravel and scary drop-offs are sure to test the nerve of those who choose to tackle the Arcadia Dunes trails; however, the off-the-charts entertainment factor and gorgeous scenery here is typically more than enough to keep riders coming back again and again.

Fort Custer Recreation Center

The Fort Custer Recreation Center, located in the city of Augusta, Michigan, hosts a fun and scenic array of purpose-built single track trails, collectively encompassing roughly 25 miles of track.  The course combines the area’s two main loops, the Red Loop and the Green Loop, into one ride, as suggested by the local mountain biking club.  The Red Loop is known more for its twisty, yet smooth riding, while the Green loop tends to be a little more technical, straight and wide. The trail surface is mostly hard-packed and fast dirt, but riders should always be on their toes for short sections of softer sand.

All of the trails at the Fort Custer Recreation Area are well marked with colorful signposts that are often named for the type of trail that is coming up. The trails here wind sharply in a very entertaining manner through what seem to be old trenches, before transforming into a more modern and quintessential mix of twisty smooth single track, short technical uphill sections, rapid descents and straight stretches of wide, flowing trail.

image credit: Camp Arcadia 

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