As the largest state east of the Mississippi River, Michigan is a massive outdoor recreation destination that’s just begging to be explored by mountain bike. Despite boasting more than 3,000 miles of shoreline–second only to Alaska in the United States–Michigan also lays claim to all types of terrain and is perfect for singletrack exploration. The state’s highest point, Mount Arvon, located northwest of Marquette, is nearly 2,000 feet high, and it’s not unusual for glacial moraines in the “flat,” southern part of the state to rise hundreds of feet high.
With high-profile trails like Copper Harbor and South Marquette gaining a reputation nationally, Michigan is steadily growing beyond its roots as a regional mountain bike destination. For those who may be considering a trip to Michigan, here are five trails that are not to be missed, plus three up-and-coming trail systems to keep on the radar.
Big M Trail (Manistee)
The Big M trail system is located near the far western side of the state’s lower peninsula in the Manistee National Forest, and boasts sinuous singletrack snaking its way through forested, rolling hills. This 20-mile, cross country-style trail system is home to the Founders’ Lumberjack 100 dirty century race held in June of each year. Mountain bikers will even find 18 miles of groomed, fat-bike-only trails available at Big M during winter months.
“Some of the best terrain in Michigan. Big m features a variety of trails [and lots] of topography […]. Good flowing singletrack and some wide trails mixed with doubletrack. The NCT section and the outer loop offers some excellent riding. Good climbs and fun descents through the beautiful Manistee National Forest. Shout out to Shoreline Cycling Club for their maintenance efforts.” – jjbreithaupt17
Copper Harbor Trail System
If you haven’t heard of Copper Harbor yet, you must be living under a rock feature, perhaps not unlike one of those found at the Copper Harbor trail system. Despite its ultra-remote location at the tippy-top of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Copper Harbor is drawing mountain bikers from all over the world due to its quality singletrack and unique wooden trail features. Riders report the Copper Harbor trail system offers something for all types of riders, from beginners to enduro-junkies. Mountain bikers also give the town of Copper Harbor a big thumbs up thanks to its small town vibe and craft beer scene.
“It’s far away but there is NOTHING like Copper Harbor. The UP is so scenic and you really get the feel of it all in Copper Harbor. Great little town right on Lake Superior with some AWESOME trails. VERY well worth it!!!” – Colton Lock
Fort Custer Recreation Area (Augusta)
Singletracks trail reviewers have ranked Fort Custer one of the top five trails in Michigan, and with good reason. With more than 20 miles of singletrack trails rated from beginner to expert, Fort Custer Recreation Area is a big draw for Central Michigan riders and even weekend warriors from Indiana and Ohio. All the trails at the Fort Custer Recreation Area are said to feature excellent flow, and more advanced riders will appreciate the technical sections found on the Red Loop.
“Rhythm abounds, flow is excellent, little fun features with unique character dot every trail, some larger features are great for a little play, overall a fantastic trail system and destination for a day.” – sissypants
Potawatomi Trail (Pinckney)
Potawatomi is conveniently located near Ann Arbor and less than an hour from Detroit, making this 20-something-mile-long trail network a popular spot with beginners and more advanced riders alike. The local club, Poto MBA, does a great job building and maintaining the trails to keep things fresh for the regulars. Potawatomi Trail coordinator and Poto MBA board member Jason Aric Jones says, “The Potawatomi is the Old Gray Lady of Midwestern singletrack trails. Originally cut by the Boy Scouts in the mid-60s, it has undergone numerous face lifts and sustainable reroutes, but maintains its characteristic rocky and rooty, sweeping flow over its 18-mile length.”
“Poto in my opinion is the best trail in the Lower Peninsula, at least in the southern portion. It has a little bit of everything, the climbs are technical and challenging, but the downhill sections are very rewarding. There are a few sketchy sections with rocks and roots so if you are a beginner, be careful. I would also recommend a full suspension bike if you have one. Yes people ride rigid bikes there, but it is certainly not as enjoyable. I usually register about 18.5 miles and around 1,200 feet of elevation on my Strava Android app. Several bridges with great views!” – Charlie Pantera
And for riders who enjoy Potawatomi, Jason Aric Jones has another local trail recommendation. “When you are done riding the Poto’, check out the new, nearby DTE Energy Foundation Trail, just 6 miles west of Poto. The DTE is a 5-mile loop, new school, mech cut flow trail (soon to be 10 miles by June, 2017), cut by Spectrum Trail Designs, the crew who cut the famous Brown County Indiana trail system.”
Noquemanon Trail Network (Marquette)
Also known as the South Marquette trails, the Noquemanon trails in Marquette, MI are quickly building a strong reputation among mountain bikers in the Midwest and beyond. The Blue Loop is generally considered the most technical of the three main loops, with tricky climbs and rocky descents. The Red Loop boasts freeride options as it descends a mixture of singletrack and doubletrack trails, while the Yellow Loop climbs the Marquette Ski Hill. Trail builders have combined wooden structures, rock work, flowy berms, and kickers to create a truly memorable trail experience for everyone who visits.
In addition to the 40-or-so miles of trails in the South Marquette system, the North Marquette system offers another 15 miles of mountain bike trails.
“This place is amazing. I spent a week riding this trail. […] This trail challenged everything I knew about this sport. [The Yellow trail] is a dream-like nirvana of mountain biking bliss. The rocky descents are so much fun. […] Go into this experience willing to try, try again and you’ll never look at any other trail the same.” – needa29er
Trails Less Traveled
Arcadia Dunes: The Arcadia Dunes trail system is located along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and features excellent, undulating flow over hardpack trails.
Iron Belle Trail: This ambitious, 791-mile bike trail connecting Belle Isle Park in the city of Detroit with Ironwood on the west side of the state’s Upper Peninsula, is currently about 70% complete. While much of the route is paved, there are plenty of camping spots along the way, making the Iron Belle Trail an excellent choice for bikepacking.
Michigan Tech: The trails at Michigan Tech offer up a ton of variety, from “seemingly never-ending downhill” runs to “rocky, curvy, rooty trails.” The system features more than 20 miles of named trails, though route finding can be a little tricky for first-time visitors.
With more than 200 unique mountain bike trails in Michigan, the state offers a nearly endless variety of singletrack for adventurous riders to explore!
Your turn: What are your favorite bike trails in Michigan?