By Justin Steiner
Copper Harbor, Michigan, lies at the very northern-most tip of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, marking the northern terminus of both the M-26 and US-41 highways. This sleepy, little one-stoplight town boasts about 120 year-round residents, all of whom are far hardier than I to deal with the region’s yearly average 125 inches of snowfall.
While this region’s copper mining heritage may be in the distant past, the town’s most recent natural asset comes in the form of silver. Specifically, a Silver-level Ride Center designation bestowed by IMBA—one of just four Silver-level ride center designations in the world right now. These Ride Center designations are designed to highlight areas where professionally developed trail networks cater to riders of all skill levels, ensuring a good time for beginners through experts. Think of the Ride Center designation as an IMBA “stamp of approval,” where you’re guaranteed an awesome mountain bike experience.
Copper Harbor has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time, so my girlfriend Emily and I took advantage of a friend’s wedding as an excuse to drive north for a visit. We choose to base our Copper Harbor stay out of historic Fort Wilkins State Park, just a mile from the town’s main drag. This location offers ride-in, ride-out access for all of Copper Harbor’s official trails, as well as heated restroom/shower facilities and even WiFi. Check out copperharbor.org for more information about accommodations.
All the trail information you’ll need can be found on the Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) website. The interactive map includes elevations profiles and video footage of each trail from beginning to end. Locally, you can pick up a physical trail map and route advice at the Keweenaw Adventure Company. The Keweenaw folks even run bike shuttles up the mountain Tuesday evenings, Saturday and Sunday.
Trails range in difficulty from beginner to a double black diamond trail with large gap jumps. Three trails are gravity specific, one-way trails so even bigger bikes have terrain to run. With 24 miles of trails that can be linked in a variety of ways, we found plenty of riding to keep us occupied for three full days, while leaving a few trails to explore the next time we’re in town. Additionally, trail builder Aaron Rogers told us there are plans for expansion of both the gravity and XC riding in the area, including the Overflow Trail, a downhill trail running from the top of Brockway Mountain down into town. All trails are clearly signed in conjunction with the map, including difficulty ratings.
Back in April, Bell Helmets announced that Copper Harbor was one of three locations chosen to receive the 2013 Bell Built Grants. A total of $100,000 will be split amongst these three locations for specific projects.
At the end of each day’s riding we cruised into Copper Harbor’s new microbrewery, Brickside Brewery for a beer before heading back to our campsite. Emily and I both highly recommend their dry-hopped Fish Camp IPA.
Overall, the Copper Harbor experience was well worth the drive. Be sure to put this destination on your bucket list, and pick up a pasty at Toni’s County Kitchen in Laurium on your way north. Call a couple hours ahead and they’ll make you vegetable pasties too.
Keep an eye out for our Access column in Issue #172 (now shipping to subscribers and newsstands) for more background on this trail success story.