When you think of mountain biking, your mind probably wanders to places like Colorado, Arizona and Utah rather than the Midwest. For those in the know, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan are singletrack nirvana. All offer truly epic trails. And rest assured, when you roll out from any of these trailheads, you’ll not only find great views, but also technically demanding terrain to test the limits of both body and bike.
Getting to the Copper Harbor trails, on the northern-most tip of Michigan off the coast of Lake Superior, might be a hassle, but the 20 miles of singletrack boasts several major, leg-sapping climbs. You might be gasping for breath, but at least you’ll be breathing in the pure, crisp scent of the surrounding pine forest. On The Edge is a trail that links turn after turn, leading you into a virtual maze of wooden bridges and structures. The screaming descent on the Flying Squirrel isn’t for the faint of heart, as the smooth dirt quickly gives way to snarled roots and rock gardens.
Just a two-step away from Nashville, Montgomery Bell State Park’s 20-plus miles of singletrack offer a welcome natural distraction from Music City. Trails throughout the hardwood forest are well marked and color-coded by difficulty. Riders fly down both Chain Reaction and the Esses, railing the bermed turns and launching down thrilling descents. Other sections are throwbacks to the sport’s earlier days—a bit choppier with less discernable flow.
Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest between Lexington, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee, Sheltowee Trace is 260 miles of multi-use trail, about half of which is open to mountain bikes. The Laurel Lake Trail parallels the gorgeous lake and eases riders into the challenging nature of the Trace. Cane Creek Trail passes by the picturesque Van Hook Falls. But beware: it will make you work for those views with some steep climbing. Most of the trails feature multiple log and creek crossings, as well as hike-a-bikes around massive boulders. The bulk of the trails were designed for hiking, not biking, giving riders a more backcountry experience.
Photo by Robert Annis
Located less than an hour south of Indianapolis, Brown County State Park features more than 28 miles of immaculate, mostly beginner and intermediate singletrack. It’s nearly impossible to keep your tires on the ground while pedaling Green Valley and Limekiln; the trail flows so fast, even the meekest rider will be catching air. But BCSP isn’t all smiles and lollipops. The rocky switchbacks heading up Hesitation Point have caused a bit of consternation for many an experienced rider, and Walnut Trail can be deceptively difficult as well. Schooner Trace may be the hardest trail in the Midwest; if you dare tackle it, bring a backup helmet.
Middle of winter and jonesing for a mountain-bike ride? It’s always 60 degrees inside this massive 350,000 square-foot cavern on the outskirts of Louisville. The 12-miles of trails range from huge BMX-style jumps to tight, rocky singletrack to deep, bermed turns that will have you pedaling with your shoulders parallel to the ground. Despite opening just this February, an expansion is already underway—park staff are in the midst of creating a 50,000-square-foot jump park and riding school. When coupled with the Floyd’s Fork outdoor mountain bike park currently under construction, several experts believe Louisville could be on the verge of becoming one of America’s next mountain bike meccas.
After spending nearly a decade as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, Robert Annis finally broke free of the shackles of gainful employment and now freelances full time, specializing in cycling and outdoor travel journalism.