Ottawa National Forest
Trail Description: Challenging trip through a northern hardwood forest, over open gravel roads as well as closed, overgrown logging roads. There are many beaver dams to navigate around.
Trailheads: Summit Peak Road (Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park)
Parking Areas: Summit Peak Road, South Boundary Road, Forest Road (FR 360)
Trail Surface Type: Gravel, native surface (clay, sand)
Width of trail: Varies from 14 feet along open roads to 4 feet along closed roads
Trail Length: 27 miles
Difficulty: Most difficult - flat but challenging
Hazards (type & location): Beaver ponds; crossing the West Branch of the Big Iron River (no bridge); and deep ruts in various locations
Uses other than mountain biking: Some parts of the trail are open roads used by commercial vehicles; some closed roads also currently being used as parts of the North Country National Scenic Hiking Trail.
Trail Markers: Blue mountain bike sign with arrows when needed
Scenic Overlooks: Bridge over Big Iron River. The EHLCO trail begins along South Boundary Road at the intersection with Summit Peak Road in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Parking is available at this location. The trail heads northeast for approximately 1.1 miles along the South Boundary Road where it turns east along a closed, gravel logging road (FR 39 on topo map but is unmarked on the ground). Within 0.5 miles you will encounter the first of many beaver ponds that are adjacent to (or flooding across) the trail. You'll get at least your feet wet many times during your ride, especially in the spring or after a heavy rain. Continue riding another 1.5 miles on this rutted but mostly open route. When you reach a junction, continue east on a closed native surface (dirt) logging road.
As you ride east, and eventually south, you will enjoy several stream crossings and beaver ponds, until you reach a beautiful undeveloped picnic area nestled in a clearing next to yet another beaver pond. Notice the variety of northern hardwoods, aspen, and white pine on this remote section of trail. You have come about 4.7 miles so far. Continue 3 miles east along an overgrown logging road that has been cleared just enough to get through on your bike. You can expect to carry your bike many times along this section.
At approximately 8.5 miles into your ride you will have to cross the West Branch of the Big Iron River for the first time. There is no bridge and fording can be hazardous (or impossible) during high water flows. Check for conditions prior to embarking on your trip! If you have made it this far, the toughest part of the trail is behind you.
Traveling another mile along cleared logging roads brings you to the main branch of the Big Iron River where you can cross on a bridge constructed for the North Country National Scenic Trail. It's smooth sailing along the access road used during the bridge installation, then on to another rough section of trail before reaching Highway M-64. Ride the paved shoulder of M-64 for 3.4 miles to the southwest until you reach the junction of FR 360. FR 360 is an open, gravel logging road that may have considerable traffic depending on the season and resource management activities occurring in the area. This 8.3-mile segment should be free of beaver ponds, brush, and other impediments encountered earlier. ENJOY!
You will have to ford the West Branch of the Big Iron River for the second time near the end of this segment. This ford is much smaller and can be crossed virtually any time during the biking season. As you turn north on FR 368 you will encounter at least 5 beaver ponds during the 1.7-mile ride to South Boundary Road. Getting around (or through) these beaver dams is possible most any time of the season, but figure on getting your feet wet. The remainder of this segment is pleasant riding on hardened surface. As you reach the South Boundary Road you have only 1.2 miles of blacktop remaining to finish your ride back at the Summit Peak Road. Please stop in at either the State Park or National Forest Offices to report any adverse trail conditions or just to let us know how you enjoyed the ride.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication