Superior National Forest


Smooth Ride? Rough Ride? The Superior National Forest has all kinds of roads and trails for fat tire biking. These selections range from a 6-mile soft ride to 40 miles of hard gravel. The first set of routes are centered along the banks of Lake Superior from Tofte up to Grand Marais. For the second set, head inland to the Ely area. With luck you may see a majestic moose!

Grind those gears! But stay out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Tofte-Grand Marais Area

Timber/Frear/Cross River Lake
Distance: 30 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

Challenging forest roads through birch and aspen groves make up this loop. Forest roads (FR) 348/347 have sections with large rocks and encroaching brush. Several area lakes are accessible from these loops.

A shorter loop around Cross Lake (FR 170/357/1226) offers a hard surface for beginners. The two-lane gravel road may have some "washboards" to test your skills. You'll meet traffic here, so use caution.

Parking: Nearby gravel pits or boat access lots. Gravel pits are located at the intersections of FR 170/357 and FR 170/1226. Whitefish and Cross River lakes both have parking areas.

Cross River/Fourmile/Wringer Lake
Distance: 40 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

Located on the south side of FR 170, these loops circle several lakes and offer a variety of riding experience. Roads 170/346/1223 are more secluded and challenging to ride. Birch and aspen line the roads, with patches of spruce and pine plantations mixed throughout.

Sugarbush Trail
Distance: 17 miles
Surface: Soft, some wet areas

Ski trails that receive little summer season use make up the Sugarbush loop. Bikers will find high grass and wet drainages along the route. Sugar maple, birch/aspen forests, along with several open vistas add to the beauty of the ride. Most intersections are signed with "You are Here" maps. Note: These loops intersect with the Superior Hiking Trail that is closed to mountain bike use.

Pancore Lake
Distance: 25 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

The Pancore Lake loop combines narrow, gravel surfaces (FR 338) with some rough conditions. Although traffic use occurs, it's a fairly secluded ride. As an extra bonus, you'll find blueberry patches scattered along the route.

Pike/Mark Lake
Distance: 42 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

A double loop route combines easy and difficult riding experiences. The upper loop (FR 1265/331) is a rough road surface with little traffic. The lower loop (FR 332/161) is a slightly higher standard road, but still rocky. The east and west ends of the loop are well traveled, so be alert.

Devil's Track Lake
Distance: 25 miles
Surface: Mixed hard & soft

Most of this loop is a trail and avoids vehicle traffic. A short section is a county road, so watch for traffic. The route passes Devil's Track campground with camping facilities, water, outhouses, and access to the lake.

Distance: 15 miles
Surface: Soft

Ski trails converted to year-round use offer a variety of loops to discover—some with steep hills. Stop by the Gunflint ranger office for a map.

Eliason Tower
Distance: 12 miles
Surface: Mixed (Gravel and wet, soft areas)

Enjoy the picture-perfect beauty of a maple forest. Experience a wide range of biking conditions from easy gravel roads to big hills to low grassy areas.

Greenwood Lake
Distance: 25 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

A day-long ride through remote pine and spruce forests awaits you on the Greenwood loop. Stop at Greenwood Lake for a picnic or refreshing swim. Several roads run through the area. Bring a good map and compass. Use caution, too. There's active logging in the area.

Lima Mountain
Distance: 20 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

Forest surface gravel roads connect severe lakes for a biking adventure. FR 1378/15' crosses the Brule River and bends southward to end at the East/West Twin Lake camp ground. Forest Road 1379, a spur off FF 1378/152, is a 1 1/2-mile ride past Little Ollie Lake.

Beauty Lake Trail
Distance: 6 miles
Surface: Soft

A challenging ride will take you over hills and past scenic overlooks to end at Clearwater Lake. For a change of scenery on the return trip, take the spur that follows the old railroad grade.

Old Gunflint Trail
Distance: 5 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

A smooth ride on hard gravel awaits you. You'll pass several old logging areas and two lakes. Plan to enjoy the view or take a break at Iron Lake Campground along the route.

King's Road
Distance: 2 miles
Surface: Hard gravel

Located just west of Gunflint and Loon lakes, this old logging road winds through prime moose country. The two-mile route is well-packed and gives cyclists a chance to ride side by side. Two short, steep grades and rolling hills offer riding challenges. As you approach the Cross River bridge extension, watch for wildlife since the vista opens on a well-used moose bog. A short spur (1/2 mile) off the main route leads to the campsite at Ham Lake.

Ely Area

Hidden Valley Recreation Area
This is the only off-road trail system on the Kawishiwi District, and it is the only one not directly associated with a campground or lodge. All Ely motels are within three miles of the trailhead, where there is a large parking lot at the base of the ski hill. Here you'll find a delightful 12-mile network of loops In the hilly, wooded outskirts of Ely. Designed for cross-country skiers, the system consists of one large loop around the perimeter and several smaller loops weaving through the center of the area. Maps are available at the Voyageur Visitor Center (1/2 mile east of Ely on Hwy 1691).

Fenske Lake Area
The Fenske Lake Campground, ten miles north of Ely on the Echo Trail, is a good starting point for three bike routes.

One route starts 1/4 mile north of Fenske Lake, where Forest Road 459 (a good gravel road) veers east from the Echo Trail and leads 4.3 miles to Forest Rood 457. North of Picket Creek, which is a BWCA Wilderness entry point, the road is rougher and there is far less traffic. It continues northbound to the edge of the wilderness and then you must backtrack to your origin. Along the way, you'll see several spur roads that invite exploration. Be sure to respect private property.

The second route begins 1/4 mile south of the campground and follows an old forest road west from the Echo Trail to Hanson Lake and beyond. You're not as likely to encounter motor traffic here, as you negotiate the small rolling hills that characterize this area.

The third route affords an opportunity to explore a small network of old and new logging roads just north of County Road 644, which intersects the Echo Trail 1/2 mile north of the campground. Timber harvesting in this area produced backcountry roads that are ideally suited for mountain biking. Trails cross over rolling hills covered with second-growth Jack pine and aspen and pass through flat black spruce forests. Openings in the forest created from logging operations enhanced wildlife habitat, providing more desirable sources of food for deer and moose. Watch for both!

Fernberg Tower Area
This trail system lies along the Fernberg Road. Several forest and county roods intersect with the Fernberg, affording bikers an opportunity to explore the forest, ride to the summit of a forge hill that once held the Fernberg Lookout Tower (now a Lake County radio tower), and visit several lakes. Road surfaces include gravel and natural surface. There are a couple of big hills along the way to offer a challenge. Several lodges along the Fernberg serve as good base camps. If you venture onto the Fernberg Road, use extreme caution. This road receives considerable traffic during summer months and shoulders are narrow.

Nickel Lake Area
The Spruce Road provides access to an area of rolling wooded hills, grassy bogs, and occasional beaver dams stretching southeast from Forest Road 181 to August Lake.

Parking space is found in an old grovel pit lust beyond the turnoff to the Gobbro Lake (BWCAW) entry point. From there you can explore old forest roads and snowmobile trails that fringe the wilderness boundary and afford access to four isolated lakes and an abandoned granite quarry that operated during the 1920s and 30s.

The five-mile natural surface road from the quarry (near Heart Lake) to August Lake offers a delightful route for bikers with less than a half a day to spare. The South Kawishiwi River Campground can serve as the base from which to explore this interesting region. Ambitious bikers with plenty of time might want to combine the trails in this Nickel Lake area with those of McDougal Lake described above.

McDougal Lake Area
McDougal Lake Campground serves as a base to explore a wonderful network of old forest roads that lie north of Highway 1.

Beginning at the intersection of Highway 1 and the Bandana Lake Rd. (route 383), a 13-mile loop circles Pike Lake and rejoins the highway 1.4 miles west of the Bandana intersection. This loop can be combined with Forest routes 386 and 173 for a loop of about 31 miles round-trip from the campground. Road surfaces vary from gravel (mostly) to natural surface to blacktop. You can access eight lovely lakes along the way and, if time permits, take a short side trip from the Tomahawk Rood (173) to an overlook atop Jackpine Mountain (too overgrown to see much in summertime!). Ambitious bikers could also combine all or part of these loops with the trails described in the Nickel Lake Area.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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