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Copper Harbor: A Midwest Mountain Bike Mecca

This isolated hamlet surrounded by Lake Superior is home to some of the best mountain bike trails in the Midwest!

Mountain Biking Moderate, Difficult, Extreme

Photo: Greg Heil


When you finally reach the hamlet of Copper Harbor, you'll fully appreciate just how isolated this destination truly is. Copper Harbor lies at the northern end of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which itself is an outcropping off of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Being located at the end of a peninsula off of a peninsula means that Copper Harbor is literally at the end of the road: US Highway 41 ends just a couple miles beyond downtown Copper Harbor, near Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. From there, you have the choice of a rugged 4x4 road or a nonmotorized singletrack trail to reach the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

At this point, you'll undoubtedly have trekked many hours—if not days—to reach this remote mountain bike mecca. The closest major international airport is in Minneapolis, Minnesota—a 7-hour and 15-minute drive away. Lansing, the capital of Michigan, which the Upper Peninsula is theoretically a part of, is an astonishing 9 hours away. In fact, the Canadian border is much, much closer than both of those US cities.

Despite Copper Harbor's dramatic isolation, mountain bikers from across the nation flock here to ride the superbly-designed trails. The mountain bike scene in Copper Harbor was largely kickstarted by Aaron Rogers (not the football player), who began building trails here in 2005. Aaron Rogers eventually went on to found the Copper Harbor Trails Club, build trails full-time in Copper Harbor, work for IMBA's Trail Solutions trail building company, and then start his own company now known as Rock Solid Trail Contracting. With over 70 employees, Rock Solid might be the biggest trail building company in the world.

The array of trails found in the hills at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula offers an overwhelming number of ride opportunities. From long up-and-down trail rides to burly shuttle runs served by a local commercial shuttle service, the riding here is radically more diverse than you'd expect from a remote trail system in the Midwest.

"The riding in Copper Harbor is REAL mountain biking and really does not compare with anywhere else in the Midwest… if you have ever been to nearby Mount Bohemia to ski or snowboard its 900' vertical drop, you know what we're talking about!" writes CopperHarbor.org. "A series of rocky, undulating ridges and valleys punctuate Keweenaw County and are highlighted with old-growth forests, historic locations, pristine inland lakes and streams, mountain top vistas and rugged Lake Superior shoreline. Singletrack trails wind over bedrock, cobbled rock, rooty, hard-packed surfaces with lots of climbs, technical descents, berms, rustic bridges and boardwalks, and a total lack of sand. Constant elevation changes provide a Western-like riding experience and some riders have nicknamed it 'the BC of the Midwest.'"

The superb quality of the trails in Copper Harbor helped the area earn IMBA's Silver-Level Ride Center designation in 2012. It was one of the first destinations in the country to receive the Ride Center designation.

Copper Harbor has struggled with trail access issues in recent years, with the county government shutting down the classic double black diamond trails that originally helped Copper Harbor achieve its fame. Yet all is not lost. All of the intermediate trails remain open, and these are all still fantastic rides. Check out the "Flow Loop" for one of Copper Harbor's original, iconic trails, and the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge Loop for a fantastic XC ride from "downtown" Copper Harbor.

In part as a response to the trail closures, Aaron Rogers and Rock Solid Trail Contracting purchased a 525-acre plot of land, on which they are now building a fee-free bike park that is open to the public. The first trails to be completed on the land, Flo'rion and Whipsaw, are both bermy, intermediate-friendly affairs that allow less-skilled riders to roll through, while advanced riders can huck and send to their hearts' content. The latest installment (at the time of this writing) at East Bluff aims to bring back the challenge to Copper Harbor mountain biking: the Citrus Tech Trail is a rocky, challenging affair feature a massive slab of exposed bedrock!

Even more trails are being constructed in the Keweenaw Point Trail System, with the first two phases complete (as of the time of this writing) and the third planned for completion in the next trail building season. For an isolated hamlet with a population of 85, Copper Harbor's mountain biking scene has a lot going! Keep your eye on this Midwest mountain bike mecca as the trail system continues to evolve—they have big things in store!

Sources: CopperHarbor.org RockSolidTrails.com Singletracks.com WorldPopulationReview.com

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