We’re riding single track through a thick stand of pines in the Kinross riding area 33 miles north of St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and lose the trail.
We’re crossing land that was forested maybe three years ago. It’s now covered with scrub growth hiding plenty of rocks that make for seriously technical riding. And the only clue that there might be a trail in the neighborhood is the surveyor’s tape tied to the occasional branch.
Fortunately, we have a good guide, because even looking hard, we can make out only the barest hint of tire tracks through the scrub.
Welcome to trail riding, Michigan-style. The state has the 3,100 or so miles of motorized-recreation trails.
The route we’re on is a 25-mile trail system. It’s just one of 19 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that together total nearly 600 miles, augmented by hundreds of miles of forest roads that can be used to connect trail segments. And that’s matched down south by the huge Michigan Cross Country Trail, which arcs across the entire lower peninsula.
It all adds up to an astonishing range of opportunities for trail riders. Instead of whooped-out, beat-up, crowded trails, you get narrow ribbons of sandy soil that keep you on your toes. Kinross is just one example.
As soon as we unloaded the bikes at a parking area off State Route 80 just east of Kinross, we could tell that the trails definitely aren’t overused. There’s another lot closer to the center of the trail loops, but this one has the advantage of being next to the restaurant by the main road. And since both lots are empty, we can take our choice.
We head to the trail entrance, take a right and plunge immediately into deep woods. In the first tenth of a mile, it’s clear that this is no ordinary riding area. This stuff is serious single track. It’s the kind of trail that could take penalty points from a good enduro rider.
Although there are some straight sections through picturesque meadows dappled with morning sunlight, once you get into the woods, they double back on themselves like a basket of snakes.
This can flat-out ruin your ability to anticipate the trail. In many places, you can see maybe 10 feet in front of your tire, then the trail simply disappears into the dense vegetation. When you get to that spot, you may find a slight bend to the left, or you may find a 180 that’s a little tighter than your wheelbase.
Every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of the rider ahead of you coming back in your direction, and you figure there’s a pretty tight turn coming up. But mostly, you see a wall of green, with some vague hint of where you’re headed next.
We play this chase-your-tail game all morning, punctuating the ride with stops to take pictures, check out bear tracks and snack on a late-fall crop of ripe blackberries that the bears missed.
The trail loops back to the parking area a couple of times. We’re winding through the trees and trying to figure out where the trail might go this time. For a place with no steep hills, this area makes me spend a lot of time in first gear.
Kinross offers a good introduction to Michigan riding. After a few miles in tight woods, you come out to a hidden meadow, then dive into the labyrinth of a managed pine forest, picking your way through trees planted tightly together in perfectly straight rows. And of course, it wouldn’t be Michigan if there wasn’t some deep, soft sand.
By the time we return to the truck in the afternoon, we’ve ridden every single mile of trail in the Kinross area, plus several of the feeder roads. And we saw only one or two other riders.
And there are 18 more riding areas like this just in the Upper Peninsula!
If you’ve got an off-road bike and a way to get it to Michigan, go. Opportunities like this are rare anymore.