Mountain Bike Trails in Michigan: for Novices and Expert Riders

In this article you will find the most exciting mountain bike trails in Michigan - from eye-pleasing landscapes to hardcore downhill terrains
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Last updatedLast updated: March 08, 2022
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Though it’s not the largest state in the U.S., Michigan has millions of acres of public land that you can check out for all of your recreational needs. Part of this public space is bike trails, with over 450 to choose from, depending on your skill level and the kind of ride you’re looking for.

With so many mountain bike trails in Michigan to choose from, it will be almost impossible not to find a few that interest you. You can try out a nice, leisurely trail along the lake or a thrilling downhill trail that keeps you on your toes and tests your endurance. You may even end up with a few favorites that you find yourself returning to over and over again. If you’re interested in biking in Michigan but aren’t sure which is the right trail for you, the following options may be some good ones to start with.

Best Mountain Bike Trails in Michigan

There are hundreds of bike trails in Michigan to choose from, so it may be hard to pick one, especially if you’re new to the area or a mountain biking beginner. The following trails are the best ones this state has to offer.

Arcadia Dunes

Arcadia Dunes consists of 2 different trail options. These include the Chestnut Loop, which is about 1.7 miles, and the longer 7-mile Dry Hill Trail. The latter is the more popular one, but for those looking for a shorter option to get started with, the Chestnut Loop is a great one to try out.

These trails take you through a hardwood forest, using the natural shape of the hills to provide riders with shorter elevations and challenging downhills, though they aren’t as difficult as some of the other trails you’ll find in the area.

The best part of the Arcadia Dunes trails is the views that you’ll get when riding through the gorgeous forested area. The routes these trails offer allow you to enjoy the scenery as much as you do the ride. You don’t even need pricey gear to make them worthwhile, so even a decent mountain bike under $600 or women’s mountain bikes under $500 can handle these trails.

Big M Loop

The Big M Cross-Country and Mountain Bike Trail Trusted Source Huron-Manistee National Forests - Big M Cross-Country and Mountain Bike Trail The Big “M” trail is a 37.9 mile loop trail system located in a canopy of hardwoods off of M-55 between Cadillac and Wellston. www.fs.usda.gov is 37.9 miles long, though only about 25 miles of this is used for mountain bikers. Some hikers use this trail, though they are rare when compared to those on bikes. Most of the bike trail is one-way, so you can’t pick and choose how your ride through it.

The Big M Loop is located in a hardwood forest that was once an old downhills ski area. The terrain varies throughout the trail, making it somewhat challenging, no matter what your skill level is. It includes some long, steep downhill sections that require riders to be somewhat cautious, due to the high speeds and fast stops needed in these areas of the single track trail.

As well as summer riding, you can also take to this trail in the winter, provided you have the right Fat Tire bike to handle the snowy ride. You can also leave the bike behind and try some cross-country skiing or hiking if you want to enjoy this area year-round.

Brighton Rec Area

The Brighton Recreation Area boasts 2 trails that start in the same place but which offer unique experiences, depending on which trail you follow. The Torn Shirt trail is a bit over 5 miles long and has steeper climbs and rougher descents, plus it includes some tricky twists and turns to give even the most advanced riders an exciting ride. It is the more difficult of the 2 mountain bike trails, so it is best left to the more experienced bikers.

The Murray Lake Trail ranges from 7 to 9 miles in length, depending on whether you travel the entire loop or take one of the shortcuts to reduce how long you’re riding. It offers a more moderate and flowy ride rather than a technical one.

At the beginning of these trails, there is a parking area for out-of-town riders to leave their vehicles and a restroom to ensure you can ride the full length of these trails in comfort. The close starting points also make it easy to jump from one trail to the other if you want to keep riding.

Copper Harbor

Those who live in the Keweenaw Peninsula area of northern Michigan, or those who don’t mind the drive from the southern part of the state, can check out the Copper Harbor trails. There are 9 of them to pick from, totaling 37 miles, so you can try out them all or just stick to the ones you like best.

There are several riding options available, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the perfect one to match your skill level and ride preferences. There are 3 black diamond options for the most experienced rides, as well as several technical trails to test your skills on.

Of course, most of the trails are family-friendly, so you don’t need to jump onto the more difficult trails unless you want to. Instead, you can stick to the scenic, leisurely rides. All of the trails are clearly marked, so you can avoid those diamond trails if you’re not interested in the higher challenge.

Though you can do some day trips for your mountain bike rides, Fort Wilkins State Park has powered campsites available, with accessible showers and a convenience store to keep you stocked on the essentials.

DTE Foundation

The DTE Foundation Trail is actually made up of 5 trails, though only 3 of them are completed and ready to use. There is also a plan to add 5 more trails to the system, so before long, there will be a wide variety of trails to pick from, making this a great up-and-coming area for mountain bikers to add to their riding list.

The 3 finished trails all have something unique to offer to mountain bikers, so you can pick the one that interests you most or try out all of them. None of them are overly long, either, so enthusiastic riders can likely make use of all of them in one day if they have the time.

The Green Lake Loop is the easiest option, with a length of about 5 miles. It includes some cool additions, like jumps, skinnies, and a wall ride, though you can avoid these if you aren’t confident enough to test your skills on them.

The Big Kame trail is slightly shorter at 4.75 miles and is somewhat more challenging, though still a good ride for beginners. It is a single track, with some small hills and one large one to put your muscles to the test.

The most recent addition is the 8-mile Wynn Loop, which is hillier, higher, and has some larger jumps for the more experienced riders.

Fort Custer

There are actually four mountain bike trails at the Fort Custer Recreation Area, so you can pick a favorite or work your way through all of them. They don’t have crazy names to remember, either. Instead, they are named after colors, including Blue, Green, Yellow, and Red. They vary in length, and though three of them are rated as beginner trails, they all have something interesting to offer.

The Blue Loop is easy, with moderate climbs and descents, though no technical sections. You’ll see an old homestead, travel over a small brook, pass some rental cabins, and even come close to the Whitford Lake and Jackson Hole.

The Green Loop is about 8 miles, with a few challenging sections and a nice view of Eagle Lake to enjoy. It also works its way around the old town of Lawler, using some of the former roads, passing a military boundary fence and an old mortar range. Those looking for a bit of history may enjoy this ride.

The Yellow Loop is another family-friendly trail, with 4.2 miles of scenic views and a few hilly areas but no technical sections, making it a great choice for novice riders.

The Red Loop is the most technical trail of the four, with higher elevations and a distance of 9 miles. There are twists, rocks, roots, and speedy descents, so this one is best used by those with more experience. You may also want to make sure you have a decent full suspension mountain bike beneath you. The Schwinn Bonafide is a popular choice for this type of trail, with a powerful suspension, lightweight aluminum frame, and durable high-profile double-wall alloy rims. Decent shoes, like the Adidas Five Ten Sleuth Mountain Bike Shoes, will keep your feet firmly on the pedals where they belong.

Highland Recreation Area

With 4 loops that total about 16 miles, the Highland Recreational Area has something for every mountain biker. Keep in mind that there are a lot of hills in this area, so you won’t be getting any leisurely coasting time in on any of these trails.

The A Loop is the intermediate trail and is the easiest of the 4 loops. It has some fast uphill sections and hilly, rooty descents to keep you entertained during the ride.

The B Loop is similar, though the hills are more frequent and somewhat steeper with a few tight switchbacks tossed in for more challenging rides. This one is actually an offshoot of the previous loop, so you can turn it into a longer ride while trying out both of these trail sections.

The C Loop is somewhere between an intermediate and a difficult trail. This single trail is tight and rocky, so you need to keep your wits about you at all times when riding, even though it is shorter than the A and B at only 2.4 miles. You can get to this one when you reach the southern tip of the B Loop.

The D Loop is the least traveled of the 4 and is easy to get to without riding through large sections of the other 3 trails. There is an exit off the A Loop that will take you to the D, so you don’t need to spend too long on the trail to reach it. Be prepared for a tight, tricky 3.8-mile ride that features plenty of sharp turns and rocky hills. There are a ton of natural obstacles to dodge on this part of the trail, so it is best used by only the most experienced riders.

Maple Hill

You can find the Maple Hill Trail in Kalamazoo at the Markin GlenCounty Park. This trail was machine-built, so you won’t find the rough natural terrain that you’d expect from natural pathways. Instead, this trail is a 5-mile single track of hard-packed earth, with fantastic drainage, even during wet weather, so you can ride from spring to fall, regardless of what Mother Nature throws at you.

This is a great trail for those of all skill levels, though you can expect a good workout from the 612 feet of elevation you’re going to be dealing with. There are some obstacles along the trail, like high banks, jumps, and tabletops, though you don’t need to ride over these unless you want to. Those who don’t have the skill level to handle those tricky areas can ride around them instead.

As well as the trail, there are several amenities available in the county park that you can make use of. You’ll find water, restrooms, and even changing stations, though there are some fees to make use of everything the park has to offer, including the trails. For those who only plan to ride there a couple of times a year, the $5 daily fee is reasonable. Regular users can pay the $25 annual fee to save a bit of money.

Marquette Trail Network

The Marquette Trail Network, also called the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN), consists of almost 2 dozen trails located around the town of Marquette. These trails vary in length and difficulty level, so you can find the perfect one to challenge your skills or give you a leisurely day with family and friends.

There are family-friendly beginner trails, like the Grom Loop or Easy Street trails, so you can take the kids out for the day for some scenic views and exercise. There are also several intermediate trails of varying lengths, like the Benson Grade, Blue Heron, and Freak N Nature. For those looking for extreme mountain biking, the No Dab, Down Dogger, or Scary Trail may give you the thrills you’re seeking.

The best thing about this network of trails is the sheer variety to choose from. The trails are located all over the area, so you can choose the ones that are most convenient to get to.

Merrell Trail

The Merrell Trail is about 8 miles from downtown Grand Rapids and is over 8 miles long. It is the only true flow trail in the area and machine-built for intermediate and experienced riders. It includes obstacles like boulders, elevated bridges, table-top jumps, and natural roots, with fast descents to keep you on your toes.

This one can be a bit tricky since it is a one-way trail, though the directions change depending on the day, so be sure to look into this before you start to keep everyone riding safely. It is even open for night riding for those who want an even bigger thrill. There are also a few different loop areas to try out, so you can alter your route as you see fit for an even more challenging ride.

Michigan Tech MTB

The Michigan Tech MTB system consists of three major trail loops, with varying distances, elevations, and difficulty levels for riders to consider. The Easy Single Track is only 4.5 miles long and has minimal ascents of 210 feet. It is great for beginners who are looking for an easy ride.

The Aerobic Adventure is the longest of the 3 options at 11.5 miles. It also includes hills, ravines, and waterfalls, with a total of 1115 feet of ascent to keep you working hard throughout the ride.

The Technical Trail Ride is another shorter one, matching the Easy Single Track in overall distance. It is a slim trail, with jumps, skinnies, and wooden features to put your skills to the test, so it is best for experienced riders who are looking for a challenge.

Novi Tree Farm

In the city of Novi, you’ll find Lakeshore Park, which is where the Novi Tree Farm mountain bike trail is located. It’s about 10 miles long, and though it doesn’t have any hills to test your skills, this is still a somewhat difficult trail for those who want a good workout. It contains log piles, rock gardens, varying crater sizes, and skinnies for you to work your way through.

If you need a break, there is also a kid’s single track mountain bike trail to try out with the younger members of the family. This gives them a taste of the harder trails without forcing them beyond their skill level. This easier trail also connects with the Novi Tree Farm trail, so you can switch it up if you want a shorter ride or just need a break from the harder trail.

Pontiac Lake

Pontiac Lake is located about 38 miles from downtown Detroit, so it is one of the most popular mountain bike trails in this area and has been so for many years. It is somewhat aggressive, including elevations of about 1000 feet total over the various hills along the 11 miles of trail.

It is a long single track with only 2 exit points, so you need to be prepared for a bit of a ride to get to either of them. The main exit point is at the gate by the park, which is located next to the lake. There are bathrooms and changing areas here as well, plus you can take a quick swim to cool off after your ride if you’re not too tired. The second exit point is somewhat hidden on the north side of the trail.

Potawatomi

Located about 20 miles from Ann Arbor, the Potawatomi Trusted Source Potawatomi – Poto MBA Here, 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, you’ll find three trails: the 17-mile Potawatomi Trail, the 5.1-mile Crooked Lake Trail and the 1.9-mile Silver Lake Trail. www.potomba.org is a 17-mile single-track one-way trail that is a blast to ride. It includes some smaller hills at the beginning to get you started and warm up those muscles. Further down the trail are larger hills with some rougher rooted terrain and longer descents with sharper bottom turns.

The varying terrain may not be for everyone but luckily, there are some connecting trails that you can take to shorten the route. The Crooked Lake Rustic Campground is located along the trail for those looking for a weekend getaway. There are also restrooms on the trail for added convenience.

Downhill Mountain Biking in Michigan

Though most of the mountain biking trails we’ve already described have hilly areas that offer some exciting descents, they also have plenty of inclines to deal with. If you’re more interested in downhill mountain biking in Michigan than the uphill battles, you may want to add the following trails to your list to try out. These start you at the top of the mountain, so the only way to go is down.

Boyne Mountain

Boyne Mountain is located near Boyne City, so it has a ton to offer those looking for an adventure. The mountain itself has chair lifts that can take you and your bike to the top of the mountain, so you can try out the downhill bike trails. There are several to choose from, including dedicated mountain bike trails and multi-use trails. Easy, difficult, extra difficult, and expert options are all available, with varying distances to give you the perfect ride.

If you don’t have a bike, there are some to rent, so you can try out this type of mountain biking before putting too much money into your own expensive gear. There is also a fee for the chairlift, though an Unlimited Daily Pass is only $20 for you and your bike.

The mountain and nearby city also offer a variety of resort options, including restaurants, hotels, ziplining, tennis, lounges, and some scenic tours. You can turn a downhill mountain biking trip into a weekend getaway with ease.

Crystal Mountain Gravity Park

Crystal Mountain Gravity Park has a variety of mountain bike trails available. There are 8 downhill runs for you to test your skills on, plus there are another 11 miles of single track trails of varying difficulty. There are fast, flowing options and twisted technical trails, so you can pick the ones you’re in the mood for on any given day.

Crystal Mountain’s on-site mountain biking trails also connect to the Betsie River Pathway, plus there are several other local trails close by, like North Country Trail, Arcadia Dunes, and Betsie Valley Trail.

You can rent everything you need for your trip, including adult or children’s bikes and burleys for the younger members of the group. Helmets are included with the bike rentals, though you do need to pay for these if you’re using your own bike. There is also an Instructional Mountain Bike Package available that includes your bike and helmet rental along with an hour-long instructional lesson.

Marquette Mountain

There are 8 different downhill trails to check out at Marquette Mountain. These range from intermediate to expert difficulties, so you can pick the ones that suit your skills or you can test yourself on a harder trail if you think you’re ready. Many of these trails even start at the bottom, so you can ride the full trail if you like or take the lift to the top to shorten your run and get a few more rides in.

There are mountain bike rentals available for those who don’t have their own gear. You’ll also need to pay for lift access, though there are options for single rides, day access, or seasonal use, so you can pick the best one to meet your riding needs. There are also trail reports available to make sure the one you want is ready to go.

Final Thoughts

Mountain biking is a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the scenic views nature has to offer at the same time. It can provide a somewhat leisurely ride or test your skills and endurance. This activity can even be fun for the whole family, encouraging bonding while getting everyone out of the house and away from their devices.

With so many mountain bike trails in Michigan, it’ll be easy to find at least a few of them that you’ll enjoy. They vary in difficulty, from beginner to expert, so no matter where you’re located in this state, you should have no trouble finding the right trail to give you the experience you’re looking for.

References

1.
Huron-Manistee National Forests - Big M Cross-Country and Mountain Bike Trail
The Big “M” trail is a 37.9 mile loop trail system located in a canopy of hardwoods off of M-55 between Cadillac and Wellston.
2.
Potawatomi – Poto MBA
Here, 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, you’ll find three trails: the 17-mile Potawatomi Trail, the 5.1-mile Crooked Lake Trail and the 1.9-mile Silver Lake Trail.
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