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The Southern Unit of Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest is home to an extensive mountain bike trail system known alternatively as the "John Muir Trails" or "Emma Carlin." The two names come from the respective trailheads and trail loops at either end of the trail network.
Despite having distinct names, singletrack runs between the two networks, effectively creating a lengthy mountain bike ride that is quite rare in this region of the Midwest. In fact, many riders agree that the John Muir and Emma Carlin trails collectively comprise one of the premier mountain bike trail systems in the Southern Wisconsin / Northern Illinois region.
Easily accessible from three major metropolitan areas (Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison), the high-quality singletrack attracts thousands of riders every year.
To help keep up with the demand on the facilities and trail maintenance, out of state riders will have to pay $11 for a day parking sticker and $5 for a day riding pass.
However, if you're an in-state local and plan to ride here often, an annual parking pass is just $28, and an annual trail pass is $25.
While Emma Carlin might not offer the same level of bike optimization as the nearby John Muir trails, this network—especially the Green Loop—still provides a significant draw for mountain bikers in the region.
In part, the draw is due to a substantial amount of climbing for a trail in Southern Wisconsin.
Gaining 500 feet in 6.5 miles provides a respectable aerobic workout for Wisconsin mountain bikers. To achieve this aerobic workout, it feels like the builders purposely routed the trail in what would, by current standards, be considered a less-than-ideal fashion… but this results in somewhat demanding climbs. The singletrack corners are also tight and demanding.
While some corners flow quite well, in others the trail requires full attention as you snipe the front wheel through narrow holes in the thick trees.
Despite what some might characterize as an awkward and overly-strenuous up-and-down ride quality, Emma Carlin’s adherents are many, and the parking lot stays full all summer long!