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Bicycle Industry

What makes a Destination Trail System?

by Scott Chapin

August 5, 2015

Copper Harbor is one of the best destination trail systems in the country for singletrack bicycling. Image © 2010 Carolyn Tiry (https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolyntiry/4595671531), used under Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode).What is it that separates a few great local trails from a “destination trail system?” I was thinking about this while riding singletrack on the Makwa Trail near my home of Hayward, Wis. In fact, it was ALL I thought about for about two hours. That, in itself, is amazing considering everyone knows I have severe ADHD (kidding….well-not really).

For me, Copper Harbor is a perfect example of a destination trail system. If you are not aware of where Copper Harbor is, get out a map. It’s at the beginning of U.S. Hwy. 41 on the very tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is, literally, the end of the road, with the other end at Miami. There are not any large cities nearby, but they have created an incredible trail system that is worthy of a multiple night stay.

Later this month my wife and I are heading there for a mini-vacation. This will be my 18th or 19th time I’ve made the four-hour drive in the last dozen years. And, here are some of the reasons I keep returning:

  • Incredible, purpose-built singletrack. These are some of the best in the United States, period. You’ll find eight-to-ten-minute descents, banked curves, wonderful flow-trail and some very advanced downhill runs….even a full-DH course. There are enough trails that it takes a couple days of full riding to do them all.
  • They keep adding and enhancing the trail system. Every time I come back, there is something new to pique my interest. They also have a vision and plan to implement their vision. This takes support not only from riders, but also from the community, and they have both
  • Great places to stay, whether it is camping, hotels or a B&B. They have two large campgrounds which tend to be very busy every time I have been there.
  • Good “bicycle friendly” restaurants. I am, admittedly, a bit of a foodie, and for a small town, they have some great places to eat like the Harbor Haus, The Mariner, and Keewenaw Mountain Lodge. Those are my favorite dinner choices. There are also a couple solid breakfast places.
  • A brewpub! The Brickside Brewery is a recent addition, and a good one.  It has a fun atmosphere and caters to the thirsty mountain biker.
  • User-friendly navigation and maps. Let's face it: no one likes to get lost.
  • A bike shop! Yes, having a local bike shop is something some trail systems do NOT have access to. The fact is that people break stuff, and it really sucks while you are on vacation. Sam and his crew at Keweenaw Adventure Company are super helpful and will do their best to repair your bike as soon as possible.

Like many destination trails, hosting events is one of the best ways to introduce people to your trail system and community. Copper Harbor Trails Club hosts races and other bicycle events, which are getting quite large. In fact, that’s how I learned about the trail system 13 years ago.

If a town like Copper Harbor, with 75 full-time residents, can create a mountain bike mecca, I think others can do the same. It just takes vision and some drive.

One thing that is missing with many destination trail systems are easier options for beginners. Something as easy as providing a couple gravel loops can go a long way. Many people go to Copper Harbor and bring their spouse or significant other and/or kids, who may love to bike but are still just getting comfortable riding singletrack. Providing an easier, non-technical option will make everyone on the trip happy.

Personally, I always do a gravel ride when I go there as there are some great routes with wonderful scenery. I had to figure those out myself. Why not map those?

What are your favorites destinations? Tell me in the comments section below.

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Image © 2010 Carolyn Tiry, used under Creative Commons.