Isn't it Time the Midwest Made an MTB Destination?

Forums Mountain Bike Forum Isn't it Time the Midwest Made an MTB Destination?

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    • #173455

      I’d been thinking about destinations in the Midwest for a weekend trip when it hit me. The Midwest doesn’t have a single real destination, but rather a lot of really good pockets of riding (Look at the newish article about the upper Midwest for more info on that). CAMBA has got you covered with XC, Marquette with Enduro, plus The Rock (outside of Milwaukee, and voted by singletracks the best bike park in the Midwest) and Duluth with DH. The one place that comes close to a destination is Copper Harbor, but there are two problems with that. 1.) It’s on a peninsula on a peninsula, so it doesn’t have tons of surplus space. 2.) All the trails it has only equal 20 miles, although there is variety.

      Here are the three options that I think are best to remedy this problem. First, destinations in the working (Duluth, Copper Harbor, Marquette, or Wausau) could step it up and finish trails that all types of riders could enjoy. Second, New trails could be built in a place that can have all types of riding (Like someplace in Ottawa National Forest in the U.P.). Lastly, you could have some mini-destination’s band together and advertise (Like advertising the U.P. as a destination).

      So the question is, where will the Midwest go from here? As the newish article pointed out, the Midwest definitely has something going so, where will it be going? Although I think usually Midwestern mountain bikers are not happiest about other states and mountain biking, (By that I really mean the U.P. The U.P. is guilty for taking a lot of the spotlight for Midwestern mountain biking although there is so much more out there) I think the need for a destination in the Midwest will band us together and make us the strongest we’ve ever been. Then, and only then, will we be able to prove to the world that you could take a week long vacation to the Midwest, do all different kinds of rides,and stay in one place.

    • #173562

      Interesting. I’ve only visited CAMBA, though I’m pretty familiar with the others.

      So here’s my question: Where are the traditional midwestern tourist destinations? By traditional, I mean the places people have been visiting for generations, long before the mountain bike.

      My feeling is that many of the current nationally recognized MTB destinations are places that have had decades to build out tourism infrastructure and that offer more to do besides biking. Think Asheville, NC (Pisgah) where even in the robber baron days, rich New Yorkers would take a train to visit for weeks at a time in summer. Or consider places like Vail which has been a top ski destination since the 1960s. Even Moab has been a tourist destination since around the time Arches National Park was designated a National Monument in 1929.

      As an outsider, places like Duluth and Milwaukee seem like they’re just towns where people live, not necessarily destinations where the tourists outnumber the locals 5 to 1. CAMBA country probably has a better ratio just because all the towns up there are so small. Ditto for Copper Harbor, though how the heck does anyone even get there? ūüôā

    • #173873

      The four biggest tourist destinations that have been around for awhile are Door County, Wisconsin (This is the oldest of the four, although according to singletracks and my experience, trails are few and not very good), The St. Croix ¬†National River way (funny how that’s right next to CAMBA), the U.P., and up near the boundary waters in Minnesota (Making trails might be a challenge because of the positively ridiculous amount of water). Out of those four I think the U.P. has the best chance as making it as a destination. Marquette, although just a little bit closer than Copper Harbor, is a lot easier to get to coming from Milwaukee or Chicago (6 Hour 25 min to Copper Harbor from Milwaukee, and 4 35 min to Marquette). If Marquette can get a little more variety in there and some more trail it might have a shot. Although Duluth doesn’t have the biggest amount of tourist, it is rising. I pretty sure it is now a launch pad to both Isle Royal National Park and Voyageurs National Park (boundary waters). I am also pretty sure it has a half descent bike park and a bell built grant.

    • #173975

      I’ve definitely heard of the UP as a tourist destination… but is there a central town where people generally stay/base their trips out of?

      I think another big reason places like Moab, Breckenridge, and Asheville are popular is they have good restaurants and bars to hang out in after a day of shredding! And it’s fun to stay close to where other people are staying–up in CAMBA country there are a ton of places to stay but they’re all spread out and secluded from one another. Lots of little towns but nowhere central (other than maybe Hayward.)

    • #174052

      Check out the work being done in the Wausau area.

      Nine-Mile is already a great park and there are plenty of entertainment and food options in the metro area. It’s also easy to access from any direction and some new areas should be opening in the next year or two.

    • #174351

      Wausau Could definitely pull it off. It’s one of the bigger cities up north (Minneapolis and Duluth are the other big cities). Nine Mile is a great start, but a lot more trail would be needed. Since The Nine Mile is mostly XC an option for both downhill and maybe enduro (Maybe) is rib mountain and definitely the ridge west of Rothschild (Suburb of Wausau) across the Wisconsin river (400 feet of elevation drop that fast is Wisconsin DH heaven. Having DH trails on Rib Mountain would be super easy, as there is a ski resort on one side (see what I’m hinting at) and there’s a state park on the other side.


    • #174493

      I’m not sure just how much riding is required to be considered as a “destination,” but this past summer, I believe I hit at least two which could be considered such, at least in my eyes. You mentioned two: ¬†Marquette and Duluth.


      Marquette has much more than just enduro. ¬†Marquette has no less than three trail systems in the immediate area. The largest, South Marquette, has a great variety in and of itself, including many miles of pure xc and genuinely gnarly Copper Harbor-style downhill. ¬†Add in mild xc at the North Marquette trails and big adventure riding at Harlow Lake, and you’ve got a well rounded destination. ¬†Plus there’s many more miles of classic xc just a few miles down the road at Ishpeming.

      I thought Duluth was wonderful and could easily have spent a few extra days there. ¬†Sure Duluth has the DH, but they also have tons of xc/trail/all-mountain riding. ¬†The Piedmont Trail is an excellent example of lots of trail with a variety of riding available with climbs, descents, hardpack, roots, and rocks. ¬†For slickrock-style riding, Brewer Park, right next door, is hard to beat. ¬†Add in Hartley Park, Lester Park, and Mission Creek, and there’s many miles of classic xc to go with the rest.

      I would add that I don’t think having trails of all types is necessary to being a great destination. ¬†Most riders like to focus on their favorite style of riding, so they will be happy to pick any destination that excels in what they prefer. ¬†Nothing says every area needs to have every type of riding. ¬†In fact, this may even dilute the experience for some riders. Many will appreciate an area that specifically caters to them.

    • #174680

      Good analysis here by folks. Cavermatthew is pretty on-point with what I was thinking.

      I think one of the issues with the Midwest is that, in general, there AREN’T really already tourist towns like there are out west, or even in the southeast or northeast. There’s some regional tourism in the area, but very few people travel from outside the Midwest to visit the Midwest. The boundary waters would probably be a major exception, but you can’t really mountain bike there, can you?

      I think the best spots to build potential MTB tourism are places that already do well at ski tourism during the winter. This is where Marquette, Copper Harbor, and the rest of the Keweenaw come in. I think these places are already doing a great job of becoming MTB destinations.

      I think Grand Marais (close to Lutsen Mountain) has good potential to be an MTB destination: beautiful spot, already set up for a decent amount of winter tourism, has the topography for it, and I’ve heard about locals building some good trails there. But they’d need a lot more trail.

      The one other spot that’s currently a big winter destination is the Ironwood, Michigan area, with Indianhead, Blackjack, Powderhorn, and Whitecap sorta nearby. They have hotels and stuff to support the traffic, and the topography to build GREAT trails. I think the topography around Whitecap is some of the best in Wisconsin. However, there’s no good mountain biking to speak of in that area… or at least there wasn’t when I lived in Wisconsin (I moved out west in 2007). Around that time, I did some riding up in and around Ironwood, and we rode some doubletrack, and one locals trail behind a hospital was unsigned, and ultimately not all that good. I think this area has the tourism and amenities part down, but without good trails, there’s no point.

      Broader Issues at Play

      I think the other issue affecting MTB tourism in the Midwest is that so much of the Midwest is still resource extraction-focused and agriculturally focused. The reason many MTB destinations have arisen in the Southeast, West, Northeast, etc. is because the resource extraction and ag. industries have more or less come to a grinding halt. In the Midwest, however, those are still the major industries. Most places haven’t yet had to try to reinvent themselves into something different, and are instead clinging to what’s always worked in the past. Some people are still barely making ends meet in that way, but in general, a lot of those areas (including the town I grew up in) are very economically depressed. I honestly didn’t realize how economically depressed my hometown was until I went out and saw the rest of the world… and I don’t think a lot of people living in those places realize it, either.

      Anyhow, that’s a really long, rambling response, but I think there are a lot of factors at play. As a result, I think that’s why you see midwest MTB travel focused on excellent trail systems like CAMBA, Cuyuna, Levis Mounds, and other similar ones that offer great trails–even if maybe they don’t have a good destination town to go with them. Finding places that “get” mountain bike trail building is relatively rare in the Midwest, and having high-quality trails is always WAY more important than any other amenities.

    • #174681

      But what the Midwest could use to gain an upper hand is fat biking. I think the Midwest is the best place for fat biking, because the Southwest, the Southeast, and the Great Basin region get barely any snow, and places at any descent elevation get snowed in completely. The Midwest gets snow, but is low enough that you can effectively smooth it out. If a new destination or a future destination made a descent amount of fat biking trails, a whole new type of destination could emerge, a destination with a lot of year round riding.

    • #174688

      Also I caught word of some trails trying to be built at Rib Mountain near Wausau. This means Wausau could be on to something. I looked around and found this thread on singletracks.

      Rib Mountain considering MTB trails

    • #174696

      Marquette and CAMBA, and others in the Midwest, have already created miles upon miles of groomed fat bike routes :

      have you ridden these places yet?

    • #174876

      No but I’m planning on going next month!

    • #175125

      Sweet, can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

    • #176331

      I think Marquette is the perfect Midwest bike destination, winter and summer!  With a bike path ride to 4 different trail heads featuring every type of riding one could ask for.   Harlow Lake with its beautiful scenic views and gnarly rooty and rocky trails, North trails with nice fast flowy singletrack for all riding abilities, South trails with their machine built roller coaster rides and interspersed with Enduro styled gnar, and the RAMBA trails with 43 miles of trails built with love by twisted singletrack minds!  The Marji Gesick 100, unarguably, the toughest 100 mile Mtb. race in the Midwest just showcased all of what Marquette County has to offer!  Now throw in the fact that there is at least 30+ miles of groomed Snowbike trails and you have the perfect 4 season Mtb bike destination.  Check out the Polar Roll fatbike race scheduled for February, truly the best in the Midwest!

      Not convinced yet? ¬†The food scene is as good as anywhere, 6 breweries, numerous hotels, campgrounds, VRBO’s, & 5 bike shops! ¬†Marquette sits on Lake Superior, there’s a reason they call it Superior, bring your kayaks ¬†and yes your surfboards!

      Duluth will definitely become a destination in the very near future.  Copper Harbor is great because of its uniqueness and location.  CAMBA has some great riding but until just recently they have been living off of their laurels in my opinion!

      Check out some of the riding in Marquette County on

    • #176355

      Wow that sounds pretty awesome. Hitting Marquette might be a good idea for a future weekend trip. Drive is ¬†a little far, but I think it is actually less than CAMBA. I’m guess there are far less country roads to drive.

    • #176363

      Don’t forget about Brown County in Nashville Indiana. The place is spectacular

    • #176373

      Well although after I did a quick search there looked ¬†to be some pretty amazing rides around Nashville, there are two major things running against it. First, most of the riding in those parts seems to be fast and flowy. This can fixed by making some more trails, because the topography of the region looks like it can make it. But this leads into the other problem. There doesn’t seem to be enough space to build the amount of trails needed to make a full blown destination. Even though there is a national forest there, towns within the forest could restrict the boundaries. But with a little tight and twisty it could probably make it.

    • #176493

      Cuyuna Lakes was an awesome weekend trip for me a few years ago. Plenty of trails and tech and they’ve added since I’ve been there. I don’t think they have any full-blown DH trails but is that needed to be a MTB destination? I don’t think you need every type of trail to be a destination, it just wouldn’t be a destination for everyone.

      Another bonus to Cuyuna Lakes is it’s only 2ish hours from the Twin Cities–a metropolis with some AWESOME riding in it’s own right with XC/flow and dirt jump bike parks–and Duluth–another destination with DH and the upcoming Duluth Transverse. I haven’t ridden in Duluth but have heard nothing but good things!

      I agree on Copper Harbor being waaaay out there. I lived in the Midwest and it was an 8+hr drive to get there (just not in the cards.) We’re possibly moving to Michigan next year and it’s a 9-hour drive!

    • #176517

      That’s not a bad idea!

    • #176518

      Lots of good information here, all except calling Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and ¬†Minnesota the Mid-West,, That’s that Great Lakes or the North country.


      The Mid-West by definition includes every state from the Ohio Valley to the Rocky mountains. Not really a useful term.

      • #211738

        Marquette in my perception is a mountain bike destination. ¬†There are lots of trails for all skill levels and styles (except lift accessed downhill), and it’s a true getaway, at least in the eyes of southern Michiganders. ¬†There are the South Trails, North Trails, Harlow Lake, Ramba Trails, and 3 hours away the Copper Harbor Trails, all of which are top-notch. ¬†The MTB clubs up there are super-active and there is always new trail in the works, plenty of classic races to pick from, and some of the best fat biking in the world in the winter.

        Then you’ve got all the breweries, natural areas in the vicinity (Pictured Rocks, Porcupine Mountains, Black River falls), coupled with the U.P. culture (hangovers from the logging and CCC days). ¬†True, it’s not a historic getaway, but you can’t get that in the midwest. ¬†Pick your checkboxes and do really well in particular categories–great for biking, great weather in the heat of summer, or great snow in the dead of winter.

        It’s not Whistler, Moab, or Denver, but that’s because the geography of the Midwest doesn’t have those breath-taking topographical dimensions (I wish!). ¬†So the best you can do is build a lot of great trails in a getaway city in a unique area that still has modest topography, and I think Marquette fits that description remarkably well.

    • #176640

      Think about this historically. Back when the USA was from the Atlantic to the Mississippi the Appalachians divided East and West so what was the Middle of the west then? Indiana and Michigan. Then Later on as states like Iowa were added, Wisconsin and Illinois became the Midwest. Soon enough the Mississippi to the Pacific was considered the West. So what’s the middle of the west? Nebraska and Kansas. So when thinking about The Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes as the Midwest what it really is, is a historical term that stuck.

    • #176667

      The term Midwest was coined around the 1920s,, shortened from 1880s term Midwestern which was W. Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas.    Michigan was never officially part of any region other than the Great Lakes region.

    • #176704

      Things evolve over time. ¬†Many words change meaning. ¬†Midwest is no different. Today, Michigan is generally associated with the ‘Midwest’ in generally or, more specifically, the ‘Upper Midwest.”


      There is overlap with the Great Lakes region, which surrounds the lakes, including the Canadian side.

    • #176763

      The midwest region you show is from the US census bureau. It use to be officially the North Central Region.

    • #176812

      Honestly, does it really matter what is and is not the Midwest? I understand that “Midwest” is in the title, but since it seems that we generally have been using the term “Midwest” to roughly refer to an area encompassing Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana, and that we’ve more or less understood that, then what’s the big deal?

      I suppose one could make the argument, “Oh, the Midwest actually includes this state, which has this amazing destination, so the Midwest does have an amazing destination,” but nobody has made that argument… so exactly how does redefining the Midwest apply?

    • #176842

      Very good point. Actually, now that I think about it, a great, great place would be the Black Hills! Although I was thinking of a destination deeper in the Midwest.

    • #177010

      I thought the mid-west was anything between New York and California? ¬†ūüôā

    • #177795

      What about the area around Wisconsin Dells? I searched and saw Devil Head Bike Park and Devil’s Lake. This looks like a really great start. Plus, it’s already the water park capitol of the world! I might check out that area one of these days…

    • #177797

      Duluthian here. I think the idea that the Midwest (at least the upper great lakes region) does not have a destination is not totally true. Ive been to Marquette, Cuyuna, Copper Harbor, built trail and lived in CAMBA country, and now ride and volunteer build in Duluth. I believe that while its true that these are relatively isolated areas, a vast majority of them are destinations themselves. To use the place I live as an example, Duluth is a city of 87,000. It has a great craft beer/liquor/food/arts scene, is already a tourist destination for its proximity to the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior, and has an incredible trail system.

      Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (, the local trail association, has already created an impressively expansive system within city limits. If variety is what makes a destination, then we definitely make the grade. So far, there are six separate trail systems that add up to over 50 miles of trail minutes from anywhere in the city that each have their own characteristics. Techy bedrock and steeps? Try Brewer, Piedmont or the Hawk Ridge Trail. Long, fast XC rides more of your style? Head down to Mission Creek or north to Lester Park. Maybe a DH guy? Spirit Mountain is the place to go.

      Additionally, COGGS and the City of Duluth are currently working on the Duluth Traverse, a grand plan for over 100 mile of interconnected, urban singletrack trails, stretching from the south to the north across the entire city. Imagine a trail that can take you to from one system to another without having to ride on roads or leave the bike trail. That sounds like a destination to me.

      It is true that we haven’t had nearly enough time in the upper midwest to establish ourselves like the west and BC has, but just because we don’t have a decades long reputation doesn’t mean we aren’t a great place to visit. I would encourage everybody to come up ¬†and see the great things that are happening here.

    • #177828

      It’s coming……

    • #177864

      The Black Hills have all the qualities of a great destination, but it’s a remains local secret. Miles of trails that range from cross country to DH trail, although the latter seems to be a dying scene with only memories of the days when Terry Peak ran the chairlift to service some super tasty runs. Cross country trail goes on for days! We have enough singletrack to host a 40, 50, and 100 races without using the same trail twice. We have an array of restaurants, breweries, and wineries that span several small towns throughout the Hills. We are home to the national monument Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Historic Deadwood, and the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We have several lakes, streams and a handful of caves. The abundant wildlife includes American Bison, elk, deer, bighorns, mountain goats, antelope, mountain lions, coyotes, fox, ect. ¬†Also one of the only places in the world you can see a black footed ferret in the wild. We even have a world class bikepacking race, the Black Hills Expedition that sends you on a 430 mile loop through all of beauty we have to offer. The only thing we are missing is you! I’ll be looking forward ¬†a rip upon your arrival, and don’t be afraid to bring your climbing buddies.

    • #177891

      I’m heading to Duluth this on Thursday to check it out. Hopefully I’ll find some good trail!

    • #177892

      You should have no trouble finding good trail.

      I recommend riding Brewer Park and Piedmont.  Both are excellent and unique and they can be combined into a great ride.

      Some give equal praise to Mission Ridge and even Spirit Mountain (if the lifts are running and you are into that).

    • #178596

      Ended up going to Copper Harbor instead of Duluth. Long story short, although Copper Harbor has some of the best trail I’ve ever ridden it is also one of the sleepiest towns I’ve ever seen in my life. They close for the season pretty quick up there. On Halloween weekend, there were only two restaurants open.

    • #179251

      Great things said about Duluth already but I’ll second those. Piedmont, Mission Creek and Brewer Park are all excellent. Just a bit farther north are gnarly trails around Tofte.

      But I can (and have) spent many weekends at Cuyuna. New trails are being built even as I write this and Crosby intends the area to be a mountain bike destination. I did the salsa oremageddon 50 mile last month and the race sold out in a short time.


      I’ve also ridden the Maah Daah Hey trail in North Dakota-another secret that is worth checking out, and tons of xc singletrack around Sturgis and Rapid City in South Dakota too. Hope to do the Tatanka 100 next year.

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