Long-Distance Trail Systems

For the purpose of this website, long-distance trails are those intended for destination travel or to connect a number of communities or points of interest. These trails are all “multi-use” in a sense, but in common parlance multi-use refers to accommodation of both motorized and non-motorized traffic on the same route. Most of these are either shared routes on existing roadways or “rail-trails” converted from abandoned railroad beds beginning in the early 1970s. Most of the rail-trails are skewed heavily toward motorized activities, bringing a risk of conflicts between different types of traffic. The only trail system described on this page that should not be considered multi-use is the North Country Trail, whose use restrictions are based on local permissions but generally permit only non-motorized use.

Aside from the long-distance trails shown on this page, numerous local linear and loop trail systems (mostly non-motorized) are described on individual county pages. The county pages also include printable county maps of trails, wide road shoulders, and related facilities.

Bergland – Sidnaw Trail: This 43.5-mile rail-trail is notable for its five bridges over tributaries to the Ontonagon River. The trail runs west-east mostly along Highway M-28, passing through Kenton and Sidnaw in Houghton County. The trail is host to relatively high annual traffic volumes mostly of ORVs and snowmobiles.

Bill Nicholls Trail: This rail-trailBill Nicholls Trail Photo is 41.5 miles in length and runs from Mass City in Ontonagon County to the city of Houghton along Canal Drive, ending at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge via Houghton Waterfront Trail. The Bill Nicholls Trail is primarily utilized by snowmobiles and ATVs but is also suitable for mountain biking. The trail traverses a wide variety of terrain and bridges the Firesteel River at three points. In Houghton County, the trail runs northeast from Winona to the Portage Lake Lift Bridge in Houghton/Hancock, roughly paralleling Highway M-26. At the bridge, the Bill Nicholls becomes the Jack Stevens Trail and follows U.S. 41 north to Calumet. The following Houghton County communities are located along the route of the two trails: Winona, Twin Lakes, Donken, Toivola, Painesdale, Trimountain, South Range, Atlantic Mine, Houghton, Hancock, and Calumet.

Crystal Falls to Iron River Trail: One of several Iron County multi-use routes, this trail is 25 miles in length and connects the two named communities along a route that winds north and south of Highway U.S. 2 through forested land. Unlike the other Iron County trails, this one is owned by the County rather than the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Crystal Falls to Stager Trail: This 11-mile part of the Iron County system winds east and west of Highway U.S. 2/141 from Crystal Falls south to the State Line Trail, with a junction near Stager Lake. The lake is just north of the Wisconsin border.

Iron Belle Trail (Facebook): In 2012, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder first proposed a state trail from Belle Isle (Detroit) to the Wisconsin border (later determined to be Ironwood). The concept has emerged in the form of two mostly separate trails with different user bases – one for hiking (1,259 miles) and one for bicycling (774 miles). In the Western U.P., the hiking trail generally coincides with the North Country Trail (see below), and the bicycling trail follows U.S. 2, which is designated as U.S. Bike Route 10. Both routes will largely utilize existing trail. However, new paved segments are being developed between Ironwood and Wakefield in Gogebic County. Statewide implementation is ongoing.

Iron River to Marenisco Trail: The longest trail in the Iron County system of multi-use trails, this one connects Iron River to the community of Marenisco in Gogebic County, with a length of 67 miles. This trail may eventually serve as the second part of a route joining the Wilderness Lakes Trails to Iron River.

Jack Stevens Trail: Another rail-trail, the Jack Stevens, is 14 miles in length and may be utilized by bikers, hikers, ORVs, and snowmobiles. The trail is paved within the city of Hancock where it begins at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, picking up at the end of the Bill Nicholls trail to the south. North of Hancock the Jack Stevens Trail is gravel, roughly parallels U.S. 41, and ends south of Highway M-203 in Calumet. Here the trail forks off into routes northeast to Ahmeek or southeast to Lake Linden/Hubbell.

North Country Trail Association

North Country Trail: Authorized by Congress in 1980, the North Country Trail is one of the longest in the United States, intended to stretch from North Dakota to New York with a length of 4,600 miles. This ambitious goal has mostly been realized, with the total of completed sections exceeding the length of the Appalachian Trail; however, gaps in the trail and sections running concurrent with roadways remain. The trail is administered by the National Park Service but is maintained largely by volunteers.

The trail system is intended for non-motorized, primarily non-mechanized transportation. Use permissions vary by area and landowner, but mountain biking and equestrian use are prohibited on many segments. Motorized use is generally permitted only on roadways serving as temporary connector routes. For these reasons, the trail is generally considered a hiking trail, though it can also be easily used for back-country skiing and snowshoeing in many areas. In the Western Upper Peninsula, the trail begins on the west end in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in northwestern Gogebic County. The trail passes through the middle of Ontonagon County, southern Houghton County, and southern Baraga County, though almost all of the Baraga County section is a temporary connector route.

A map of the North Country Trail’s Upper Peninsula segment is available here.

 

Pioneer Trail: This 22.3-mile multi-use trail meanders west and south from Victoria to Highway M-28 slightly east of Bergland in Ontonagon County. Much of the trail passes through undeveloped land of the Ottawa National Forest, which places restrictions on the types of motorized use permitted.

Powers Road Recreation Area: Multi-use trails totaling 25 miles in western Gogebic County are described on the county page.

State Line Trail: This trail connects Iron River southeast to the Crystal Falls to Stager Trail near Stager Lake, skirting the Brule River for much of its length (always on the Michigan side of the state border). The State Line Trail is 20 miles in length.

Wilderness Lakes Trails: This approximately 40-mile loop connecting the communities of Watermeet and Land O’ Lakes, WI offers a variety of trail uses and surface types traversing beautiful natural environs. More information is on the county page and here. This system includes the 10.5-mile Agonikak National Recreation Trail that reaches south from Watersmeet.

Other Resources

Information about rail-trails is available from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. This organization also operates TrailLink, an informational website about individual rail-trails.

Almost all trails of all types are listed by county with varying degrees of information at Learn and Serve Hannahville (www.uptrails.org).

Another source of such information is trails.com, which provides maps of many trails and a great deal of information about some trails.

MI-TRALE is an advocacy and development organization for Western U.P. multi-use trails with a focus on motorized and equestrian use.

Maps of and information about multi-use trails in the Western U.P., with a focus on ATV and ORV use, are available at VVmapping.com.

The Wilds of Michigan is an initiative to promote four-season tourism in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties in the far western U.P. The area’s rugged forested trails, both short and long-distance, are an important component of what the region has to offer.