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Best Biking Trails in Gaylord, Michigan

From mountain biking EPIC trails in the Pigeon River Country State Forest to leisurely rides along the newly finished Iron Belle Trail extension (part of the North Central Trail), Gaylord has a pathway for all cyclists.  We’ve even drawn from our own experiences to put together a few of our favorite routes on the pavement to help you tour the best locations throughout our county.

In need of a rental? E-Bike Adventures is located in downtown Gaylord, just off the North Central State Trail. Their fleet of e-bikes are designed to make traveling and exploring the outdoors easier and more fun! Click here for easy to understand DNR regulations on e-bikes.

North Central State Trail

With the recent addition of the Iron Belle Trail extension completed, the North Central State Trail now runs a full 73 miles from Waters to Mackinaw City.  A former railroad line that was refurbished and improved with a crushed limestone surface, this crown jewel of trails is a haven for bikers, runners and walkers of all ages. The view along the trail showcases some of the prettiest landscapes in the north. Farms, forest and open fields share the scene with sparkling lakes, rivers and marshes buzzing with wildlife.  The new extension along Otsego Lake offers even more dramatic views, along with opportunities for a quick dip to cool off and several exceptional restaurants for refueling.  

Routes from one town to the next and back are great short rides – most are 20 miles or less. Do just one hamlet-to-hamlet jaunt, or combine several for a longer adventure. Just keep in mind that the trail is primarily downhill between Gaylord and Indian River, with a net elevation loss of a very gradual 777 feet.

North Central State Trail

Gaylord to Vanderbilt

Length: 7.6 miles

Expect to see lots of open farmlands and two unique tunnels. Another photo-worthy highlight is passing under Congdon Bridge, just north of Gaylord.  Once you arrive in Vanderbilt, fuel up at the Elkhorn Grill, 8294 Mill St. Open seven days a week, this restaurant is known for its great burgers, pizza and spirits. 

North Central State Trail

Gaylord to Waters

Length: 11 miles

The recently completed Iron Bell Trail extension runs from Gaylord to Waters with lovely views of Otsego Lake.  Cool off with a quick dip at Wah Wah Soo‘s public access site or relax along the expansive strip of sand at the Otsego Lake State Park.  Along with stunning lakeside scenery, some of our favorite local restaurants are accessible along this pathway, including Porter Haus and Bennethum’s.  Once you’ve reached Waters, the Keg Bar serves up tasty dishes and cold beverages, too.  

North Central State Trail

Vanderbilt to Wolverine

Length: 10.9 miles

A gorgeous section of trail, this stretch has four miles with no road access as you pass through Stewart’s Creek Marsh. Pause to take in the wildlife and hear musical bird calls. This section of trail also crosses the Sturgeon River twice and the west branch of the Sturgeon near Wolverine. You’ll arrive in the quaint village of Wolverine at the picturesque riverside park. Keep going up the hill to the Whistle Stop, 4853 Webb Road, on the east side of the expressway and across the street from Shultz’s Party Store. Enjoy a full menu, though we recommend one of their delicious subs. 

North Central State Trail

Wolverine to Indian River

Length: 9.6 miles

Running parallel to the Sturgeon River, this is a gorgeous section of trail with a rustic campground two miles north of Wolverine – Haakwood State Forest Campground – if you’re interested in an overnight stop. Another mile north of the campground you’ll find the Rondo Canoe Access site, where the trail crosses the river. Stop here for a scenic picnic spot or even a swim in the river.

Spend some time in Indian River, which is home to Burt Lake State Park. This is still near the trail, which also connects to the North Eastern State Trail in this location and features a modern campground and beach. Devoe Beach, a popular stretch of public shoreline on refreshing Burt Lake is also nearby. Stop for ice cream at Dairy Mart, 3448 S. Straits Highway, across from the trailhead and the Chamber of Commerce building. A nearby canoe livery, Big Bear Adventures, offers bike shuttle service. 231-238-8181.

Aspen Park

Length (paved):  1.8 miles
Length (single track):  6.2 miles

Featuring 100 acres of woods, tennis courts, paved and unpaved trails for walking, biking and in-line skating, Aspen Park is the answer for family adventures close to downtown Gaylord.  Don’t forget to stop by the boundary shared with the City Elk Park to view elk, sika and fallow deer herds.  The entire park is lit until 11:00 p.m. year round, which means the fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down!  If mountain biking is more to your liking, then you’ll be impressed by the series of undulating trails developed in cooperation with the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association (NMBA).  Along with lovely scenery, a quiet pond and natural charm, Aspen Park is truly a must see!  

Get Active

On The Pavement

If you haven’t experienced road biking in Gaylord, then you’re in for a surprise! With the highest elevation of any city in the Lower Peninsula, over 90 inland lakes and the headwaters of 5 major rivers, you will delight in the scenery. The gently (and sometimes not so gently!) rolling terrain offers some of the best vistas and challenging riding in Michigan.

On The Pavement

Northeast Route

Time: Approximately 2 – 2.5 hrs.
Length:  26 miles

This route is a part of the former Starker Mann biathlon and includes great scenery! It covers rolling farmland dotted with a variety of trees, crosses the Sturgeon River, has a few challenging climbs and the potential to see lots of wildlife.  Park at the downtown trailhead completed in fall 2021 or the overflow parking area at the soccer fields off North Ohio Street, then head north to Morgan Road. The road winds around to the right, becomes Winters Road and crosses Old 27 North.  Cross Old 27 North on to Whitmarsh Road and head due east.  This is a nice flat area, and the farther east you go, the better your chance is of seeing elk and deer. Turn right onto Peanut Hill Road, which turns into Winnie Hill Road and you will pass the Tradition Golf Course and begin a long climb through the woods. Take a right on Marquardt Road, where you will pass Treetops North. Enjoy a long descent and some gorgeous farm country with gentle streams. Stay on Marquardt Road and after a long climb, take a big turn and the road becomes Wilkinson Road. Going past the main entrance of Treetops, stay on Wilkinson Road until it takes you to M-32 and right back into town. This is a hilly, challenging 26-mile route with plenty of memorable scenery.

On The Pavement

Lake Route

Time: Approximately 90 minutes.
Length:  18 miles

Riding around Otsego Lake is always fun! You can park at either the Otsego Lake State Park or Otsego County Park. This very enjoyable circular route winds around the largest lake in our county, is scenic and hilly in places, and has countless views of the lake. You will have plenty of chances to stop on this route, which is about 18 miles long. If starting at the State Park, head south on Old 27 to Mancelona Road. You will then turn on West Otsego Lake Drive, heading north on a fairly newly paved road with nice wide shoulders. It is a bit hilly on this side, where you will also pass Beaver Creek Properties.  Follow the large curve, which brings you to Old 27 South.  From here, a right turn takes you back to your starting point.  Riders will also appreciate the option of taking the North Central State Trail extension running along the east side of Otsego Lake now.

On The Pavement

East Route

Time: Approximately half-day.
Length: 40-45 miles

If you are looking for an extensive, scenic and relaxing ride with an opportunity to stop for a tasty meal or beverage, then take this route! Bordering the Pigeon River State Forest, wildlife abounds on our southeast route. Starting in town, head east on M-32 then take a slight left onto Wilkinson Road. After passing Treetops Resort, you will come to a large curve.  Stay right on the curve to remain on Wilkinson Road, which rolls up and down through gorgeous farmland. Stay on Wilkinson until it eventually takes a hard left turn and brings you to the Sparr Road intersection. Turn right on lovely Sparr Road and go for a long distance. At the intersection with Meridian Line Road, turn right. This is a beautiful, but lengthy, uphill climb.  Turn right on Heatherton Road to visit the peaceful community of Johannesburg. Consider stopping at The Old Depot Restaurant or Paul’s Pub to refuel.  When finished, turn onto M-32 and head south for a short distance.  At the large curve, turn right onto Finnegan Road, which eventually intersects at Turtle Lake Road.  Stay right on Turtle Lake Road.  When you reach the corner of McCoy and M-32, turn left on McCoy Road to head west. Your journey on the wide paved shoulder will take you past Dixon Lake, a picturesque lake with a great public access site. Stay on McCoy Road to the Krys Road intersection, then turn right and follow to M-32. A left on M-32 will return you to downtown Gaylord. It is approximately 40-45 mile route with plenty of scenery and gorgeous farmland.

On The Dirt

Take the whole family on a gentle outing or challenge yourself to a nationally-recognized gauntlet on our All Outdoors mountain biking trails. Check out some of our local favorites and find your trail.

On The Dirt

Pine Baron Pathway 

Length:  6.25 miles

If a short, family outing is what you’re looking for, the Pine Baron Pathway, situated in the Mackinac State Forest, is only six miles from the heart of Gaylord. To reach it, take Otsego Lake Drive west to Old Alba Road, continue west to Lone Pine Road and go north to the trailhead. This system of gently rolling to flat terrain has four short loops which average two miles each. The total outside loop is only 6.25 miles. There are several benches along the way for resting, as well as some nice clearings that are perfect for a trailside picnic. All the trails are clearly marked and easy to follow through peaceful pine forests and mixed hardwoods. Wildlife abounds, so keep your eyes open for the natural inhabitants of the Pine Baron Pathway.

On The Dirt

The Groen Nature Preserve 

Length:  17 miles

The Groen Nature Preserve is a gift to the residents of Otsego County and has 764 beautiful acres. Current activities include hiking, biking, equestrian, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.  The entrance is located at Heatherton Road in Johannesburg. A former lumber camp, this serene preserve still contains remnants of the camp and sawmill, along with natural attributes including rolling hillsides and a pristine lake. Opened to the public in 2012, this lovely park offers both flat and rolling terrain and suits all skill levels.

Click here for a recap of the Groen Nature Preserve’s unique history.

On The Dirt

High Country Pathway

Length:  80+ miles

High Country Pathway is an 82-mile loop that meanders east through Pigeon River CountryThunder Bay State Forest and Black Lake State Forest. Perfect for the ambitious mountain biker, the terrain is varied, taking in scenic vistas, challenging hills, stream crossings and thick growth.

This extensive and rustic trail was recognized as having “Epic” status by the International Mountain Bike Association in 2021.  This list of impressive trails is created each year by IMBA through a public nomination process and showcases trails that provide a true backcountry experience.  There are only 53 trails in the world recognized by IMBA as “Epic,” 42 are in the United States and the High Country Pathway is the only one in the state of Michigan.    

On The Dirt

Shingle Mill Pathway

Length: 3/4 mile – 12 miles

If you’re looking for just a taste of the High Country experience, check out the Shingle Mill Pathway. This popular trail system begins at the Pigeon Bridge Campground just off Sturgeon Valley Road, 11 miles east of Vanderbilt. The shortest of the five-segment pathway is 3/4 mile and the longest stretches for 12 miles. Trail difficulty increases with the length of each section, with some steep terrain along the 6, 10 and 12-mile stretches.

Click here to experience the Shingle Mill Pathway firsthand.

On The Snow

Who said biking was only a summer activity? With fat tire bikes, you can now traverse roads and trails through snow without any trouble. Imagine mountain biking meets cross country skiing! With the additional surface area on the wheels of these bikes, you will be able to bike through most winter weather with much greater ease, provided you bundle up before going out. Fat tire biking also provides additional comfort for the rider by absorbing much of the shock from holes and bumps on the trails. This is yet another great way to experience our one of a kind northern Michigan trails.

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