Mountain biking was invented in Marin County, California, in the mid-seventies. Since then, its popularity has increased to the point where mountain bikes are, in some places, the default bike. From the hills and mountains of California and Colorado to the rocky drops of Pisgah in the Southeast, bikers long for off-road adventures that get the adrenaline flowing and the muscles burning. But there’s a secret stash of trails in the Midwest’s northernmost reaches, where those in the know flock for epic kickers, death-defying booters, and unparalleled flow.
A peninsula within a peninsula, the Keweenaw Peninsula in Northern Michigan is on of the last true frontiers in the continental United States. And it’s on the Keweenaw that mountain bikers are creating some of the best trails in the country.
Surrounded by Lake Superior, the largest lake on earth, the Keweenaw is an outdoor lover’s dream. Many of the trails offer views of the Big Lake, which looks like an ocean to anyone who stands on her shore. By Midwest standards, there is plenty of elevation to be had by those looking for a two-wheel adventure. There are also plenty of off-trail activities, including excellent fishing, wooded hiking trails, beautiful beaches and picturesque campgrounds.
Cool local towns include the twin cities of Houghton/Hancock, the historic village of Calumet, the sleepy waterside village of Eagle River, and the Keweenaw’s northernmost outpost, Copper Harbor. The area’s development is mercifully minimal, dotted with hidden gems perfect for aprés-bike: craft breweries, a wood-fired pizza parlor, an impressive whiskey bar, and the best smoked barbecue you’ll find in the upper Midwest.
What were we talking about? Oh, yes —riding mountain bikes. Behold our list of the top trail networks in this far northern mountain biking mecca:
This Nordic skier’s wonderland turns into a favorite destination for local mountain bikers in the warmer months. Just a few minutes from downtown Calumet, this trail system has over 22 miles of purpose-built single-track trails. Swedetown is not overly technical, allowing for beginner riders to gain confidence as they build their skills. This doesn’t mean experts won’t have fun bouncing over the whoop-de-doos throughout the hardwood and pine forests of the area. Also, you can ride your bike straight over to Shute’s 1890 Saloon for a pint after you’ve been fully mudded.
With two distinct trail areas and over 18 miles of marked and unmarked singletracks and widened ski trails, this moderately difficult trail system is perfect for an afternoon of riding. River views, hemlock shrouded ravines, dirt jumps, dragon bridges, corkscrews, and mustache rides are all available at this coed outdoor adventure area. Plenty of lodging options, restaurants, and bars are all in found in nearby Houghton.
This bike trail system is located just north of Hancock on M-203. With several different loops to choose from, mountain bikers will find bridges, bogs and streams along this wooded singletrack destination. These trails would be designated as ‘beginner’ by most riders. In the winter, Churning Rapids becomes a favorite destination for fat-tire snow bikes.
We’ve saved the best for last. Copper Harbor is at the top of the world. At the very tip-top of the Keweenaw Peninsula lies a small town that is home to restaurants, hotels, a small brewery (Brickside) and one of the IMBA’s 15 Silver Level Ride Centers in the world. According to the International Mountain Biking Association, “Ride Centers” represent “the pinnacle of mountain biking communities.”
Considered by the IMBA as one of the top 20 or so trail systems on earth, Copper Harbor is now a world-class destination for mountain bikers looking to ride some of the best trails ever made. With a variety of gateway, cross-country, flow, and gravity trails, there is something for every rider. Over 35 miles of trail are easily accessed from anywhere in town.
Two-thirds of the trails are designated intermediate, with the rest advanced and expert-rated. Riders can expect sustained climbs and descents of up to 600 feet. The singletrack trails include hard-packed dirt, bedrock, cobbled rock, roots, boardwalks, and bridges. Riders enjoy scenic Lake Superior views and sections traversing old growth forests, inland lakes, and streams.
Ride the Copper Harbor trails all day, refuel at the Harbor Haus and then walk over to Brickside Brewing for a pint or two. Don’t forget to check the space weather forecast and head down to the beach for a midnight encounter with the northern lights. There’s nothing like finishing up a day on world-class trails with nature’s own laser light show.
If you love mountain biking and are ready for a road trip adventure, plan a trip to the Fresh Coast. With some of the world’s greatest mountain bike trail systems, pristine natural surroundings, and no crowds (yet!), the Keweenaw Peninsula has everything you could want for an unforgettable, action-packed adventure.
Looking to go further afield? Check out these three can’t-miss mountain biking locations from around the world.