A few months back I happened across this page on fat-bike.com about Ken Blakey-Shell and Scott Quiring riding part of the Little O ATV Trail on fat bikes and wanted to try it myself (Video 1 · Video 2). A mutual friend put me in touch with Ken, and within a few days I’d received a boatload of excellent information about where to ride in the area. Ken encouraged me to share the info, so I’m posting it here for public consumption. While I haven’t ridden any of these trails yet myself, the routes sound excellent and something I hope to do in mid-June.
I’m really excited about riding these. Back-country rides like this are something I love, and new trails to explore sound wonderful.
Here are the suggested routes as Ken emailed them to me. I’ve edited these slightly add links, GPX copies of routes, etc, but it’s otherwise his words:
Little O ORV Trail / North Country Trail
The Little O ORV Trail (PDF Map) / North Country Trail (NCT) figure 8 just north of M10 is the easiest and least technical. It is 50% NCT and 50% moto trail with a around half of the moto trail being super good and the other half of it being only ok. The moto trails are fairly sandy and are best on a 4″ tire fat bike setup although 29+ and 26×5″ work OK too. Regular MTB is a no go. The moto trails are wider (4 wheelers use them too) with lots of banked corners and whoops. There are some extended downhills that are super fun. The other half of the ride is on NCT which is awesome in its own right. There is some significant climbs on this loop but it is all pretty gradual and none of the downhills are very sketchy. I normally start and finish on the northern end of the 8 but you could just as easily start at Timber Creek on M10 and ride NCT a little ways to connect up with the figure 8 loop.
- This is the shortest route cutting out part of the upper 8. If pressed for time, fitness… this gets all the best parts: Strava · GPX
- Strava link for just the figure 8: Strava · GPX
- Strava link for the figure 8 plus some extra NCT starting and finishing just north of the Sable River: Strava · GPX
- You can also start from the NCT Freesoil Trailhead on 8 Mile Rd but that makes for a fairly long ride: Strava · GPX
North and South Caberfae Loop
The other two routes I recommend are between Manistee and Cadillac. One route is north of M55 and the other is south of M55 and both start at the Caberfae Snowmobile Trailhead. Both routes are a combo of moto trail and two tracks. The moto trail is a lot more technical than anything I have seen for MTB trail in the LP – I often describe them as the most non-IMBA approved trails in the world. They go straight up and down hills, have tons of water erosion caused trenching, exposed roots and rocks and are really challenging on both the up hills and down hills. There are tons and tons of whoops and bermed corners. Unlike the Little O which is a wider 2 track type trail, these trails are tight singletrack. Quiring and I find these trails to be the most fun of any trails we have ridden in the state but you have to like a challenge to fall in that camp. 29+ is the ideal setup but 4 or 5″ fat bikes work great too. You may be able to ride a regular MTB but it would be tough. You can combine the two loops if you want into a monster ride but you need to be in top shape (both upper body as well as normal riding shape) because you are going to get worked. Both loops are equally good so it is a coin toss which to do. I normally break people in on the north loop first because you start out on one of the best downhills around as soon as you start riding the ORV trail.
Here’s some heavily annotated map snippets that Ken has graciously provided. The base image for these comes from the National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps of the Manistee National Forest: 758 Manisteee National Forest, North Trail Map and 759 Manistee National Forest, South Trail Map. I strongly suggest buying the base maps, as the additional context is necessary to find your way to the trails and for understanding the area. These maps appear to be a great compilation of road, ORV trail, and North Country Trail maps all in one. No other map that I’ve seen as clearly shows how they all overlay; something which is incredibly useful for hikers and mountain bikers alike: