Riding the North Coast: Best Mountain Biking in the Midwest?

What do you get when a group of hardy souls that thrive among the northern wilderness and are accustomed to -40 degree winters with annual snowfall of over 100 inches, turn their love of the outdoors to mountain biking? The answer is some of the most spectacular riding destinations in the States. Nestled along the North Coast of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan trail builders have been quietly constructing flow trails and groomed fat bike routes and are stringing them all together using grass roots support and hard work.

Hawks Ridge MTB Trail Duluth Mn Julian earning his turns at Hawks Ridge Trail in Duluth MN 

On a recent September trip we made our annual pilgrimage to the North Coast to further flush out the riding in Duluth MN, Superior and Bayfield WI. Each of these places has it's own charm and character but they all share a border with the largest fresh water lake in the world. Known locally by it's native name Gitche-Gumee, or great sea, Lake Superior's waters glow crystal blue and is home to King Salmon, shipwrecks and the busiest fresh water shipping port in the world. 

Hawks Ridge MTB Trail Duluth MN Nick and John navigating Hawk's Ridge Trail, Duluth MN - photo by Dave Schlabowske

We started our adventure in Duluth MN, which earned first place in Outside Magazine's Best Places to Live in 2014. With a historic industrious and revived downtown complete with breweries, coffee shops and great dining, it doesn't take much time in Duluth to realize why Duluth received top honors. Mix in an ever growing purpose-built mountain bike system, chair lift served riding at Spirit Mountain, hiking, skiing, camping and fly fishing all accessible right out of town and you have an outdoor enthusiast dream! 

Spirit Mountain Lift Serve MTB Trails Duluth MN Lift serve at Spirit Mountain, Duluth MN - photo by Dave Schlabowsky

The trail building in Duluth has been spearheaded by the COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores). If you're travelling to Duluth definitely check their website first. Trail maps are available and they are the go-to resource for local knowledge. On our last trip heavy rain had closed many trails, but several COGGS members steered us to the Hawks Ridge Trail which has stunning overlooks and because it is a ridgeline trail it is one of the first to drain and dry out.

Mt. Ashwabay MTB Trails Bayfield WI

What goes up must come down! Spirit Mountain, Duluth MN - photo by Dave Schlabowske

To the south of Duluth is Superior WI. Together with Duluth the twin ports of Duluth and Superior make up the largest freshwater port in the world. With fog hanging heavy we decided to make the best of things by riding Wisconsin Point. At three miles long this natural sandbar makes for terrific beach riding. Recent rains changed the normally crystal water of Lake Superior muddy brown with rain water flowing from the rivers. 


Wisconsin Point beach fat bike riding Superior WI Wisconsin Point - Superior WI - photo by Dave Schlabowske


Thule T2 fat bike rack on Ford F150 Grabbing breakfast in Duluth. The fog lifted as we headed to the trail making for a magical morning!

Next stop on our North Coast trip was Bayfield WI. Located on Chequamegon Bay, Bayfield is a quaint lakeside town that gives the feeling of a New England harbor. As the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Park Bayfield offers stunning hiking and kayaking, and access to the famous ice caves, weather permitting.

Moon rise over Cequamegon Bay in Bayfield WI Super moon rising over Chequamegon Bay, Bayfield WI

We've had the good fortune of riding this area in Summer with temperatures in the 80's and in Winter with temps of -8F. With a little luck this Winter will give us access to the caves again. This is by no way a guarantee as Lake Superior can bring the ice in and out without much notice. Last year the caves were accessible for just a few weeks despite extremely cold temps.

Fat bike Madeline Island ice caves Bayfield WI Fat biking the ice caves off Madeline Island - photo by Dave Schlabowkse

There is some terrific road riding on Madeline Island, a short ferry ride from town. Just outside of town is Mt. Ashwabay, which has an ever improving series of trails developed by CAMBA. Trogador is by far our favorite trail on this system. It's technical, involves climbing and descending and you're rewarded with a spectacular view of the bay for your efforts.

Mt. Ashwabay MTB summit Bayfield WIJohn at the Summit of Trogador, Bayfield WI - photo by Dave Schlabowske

Although we've made this pilgrimage several times there is much more to explore and new trails are being built all the time. Beyond the spots we hit this trip, Marquette, Michigan and Copper Harbor also offer world class riding and will definitely be part of our next North Coast adventure!

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