Mountain Bike the Mitten (New Trails Alert)

April 7, 2024

Most avid mountain bikers that visit the Mitten roll into Marquette or Copper Harbor, both epic trail systems. Copper Harbor is an IMBA Silver-level ride center, and Marquette is just a little behind with a bronze designation. What does that mean? IMBA ranks large-scale mountain bike facilities and/or trail networks offering something for every rider, regardless of the level. It might be backcountry adventures, expert-only or family-friendly, and these areas mean you can romp for days and encounter the best the sport has to offer. It’s time to mountain bike Michigan.

Mountain Bike Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Being a Michigander, I am a massive fan of my home state’s trails, especially in the Upper Peninsula. We make trips from the lower peninsula every spring or summer to get our share of UP riding. Most visitors are surprised that the Great Lakes region serves up plenty of tech, rock, and some punchy elevation. The Lake Superior shoreline is a game-changer, with perfect geology for epic trail building AND, bonus, views of one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. It makes for a superior combination. 

And, next time in the UP, plot your bike trifecta with an added stop. Between the two IMBA giants is a growing forest that houses the RAMBA Trails, home of the Range Area Mountain Bike Association. This 80-mile trail network winds between the towns of Ishpeming and Negaunee, a short drive from Marquette and many stunning Lake Superior views. Plenty of newly built trails await with a mix of forested cross-country to chunkier sections of more technical riding. This is on our 2024 new trial punch list – see you soon, RAMBA. 

Bike Northern Lower Michigan

Palmer Woods

Just west of Traverse City is a relatively new multi-use trail system home to 17+ miles of singletrack, with more to come in 2024. The flowy and forested trails sit on over 1000 acres managed by the Leelanau Conservancy. It’s Josh and my new go-to favorite. I realized why I like it so much, the same trail builders (Spectrum) that served up DTE Foundation Trails near Chelsea/Ann Arbor… created that same fun factor at Palmer Woods

Boyne Forest Trails

Northern Michigan has plenty of single track to choose from, but we are always seeking shiny and new trails to ride. Another must-add to the spring riding list is Boyne Forest, between Boyne City to the south and Petoskey to the north. There are three loops and 15 miles for all levels of riders. Plus, Josh is super stoked with the new Dare Ya, a professionally built downhill line with a sequence of nine jumps and features. You’ll find him sessioning this area, perfecting his maneuvers in the air. I gave this system a nod for a great variety of cross-country to more challenging sections. Stay tuned; more still to come, thanks to the stewardship of the Top of Michigan Mountain Biking Association

The Dragon Trail at Hardy Dam

Of course, we have our local trail staples because geography and time create barriers to time in the saddle. So, you’ll find us at our local rips like Mosquito Creek or Owasippe near Muskegon, and in Grand Rapids at Merrell Trails and at Canonsburg, next to the ski hill. Shout out to our local trail organizations: MEMBA and WMMBA. We’ve also been making plenty of day trips to The Dragon to try and tame its 45+ miles of rolling ridgeline. It’s convenient to Grand Rapids and about an hour’s drive from our home in Spring Lake.

There’s also a sweet spot to plot an overnight stay with trail access at the Dragon Adventure Basecamp. Camp or stay at their newly renovated cabin, ride the onsite trails and crack a cold one at their outdoor beer garden while relaxing by the fire pit. 

We love riding the Dragon because it’s so damn big! That’s what turns my crank about this trail system, its sheer size. It’s one of the few trails I can pedal the trail longer than the drive it took me to get there! The Dragon lays in wait for your visit – you can access the trail through several existing county or state parks, such as Sandy Beach, Big Bend, Brower Park, or Newaygo State Park, to name a few. Check out the blog from 2022 here. 

Locals, see you out there, and visitors who are thinking about a Great Lakes pedal…. We’ve got you covered, top to bottom, upper peninsula or lower. The Mitten is sweet. Hands up or down, find your trail. 

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