We are excited to officially release the long-awaited Northwoods Route, a 600-mile-long circumnavigation of the western half of Lake Superior through northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Following primarily gravel roads, relatively smooth two-tracks, rail trails, and short sections of pavement through thick forests and along countless lakes of all sizes, we created this loop to be inviting to riders on both mountain or gravel bikes. And for riders looking for more technical riding opportunities - loaded or unloaded - along the way, the route includes singletrack alternates and trail networks in route communities along the way. The loop is closed by utilizing the passenger ferries that travel to Isle Royale National Park to cross Lake Superior (note that bikes are not allowed on any of the trails on Isle Royale!).
Each of the three states along the route offers unique landscapes and riding experiences, from the cobbly beaches and cliff lines of Minnesota, to the heavily eroded ancient mountain belts of Michigan, to the glaciated and remote countryside of northern Wisconsin. Small towns along all these segments offer regular resupply and lodging opportunities.
Singletrack alternates along the route include the 43-mile-long Duluth Traverse, the relatively new Jackpot Trail near Tofte, Minnesota (with more trail construction coming soon), and some of the most popular trails in the CAMBA trail system near Cable, Wisconsin. A dozen additional mountain bike trail networks along the route provide many more opportunities for singletrack riding.
“This was an especially rewarding route to create,” says Kurt Refsnider, Bikepacking Roots’ Executive Director and lead route developer. “I grew up in Minnesota and rode and hiked extensively in the Northwoods, and I had ambitions to do some bike tours in the region before I moved away. That never happened, but now we’ve been able to create an amazing route for others to experience and learn about the region by bike.”
In the summer and fall of 2020, several dozen members of our volunteer Route Test Team test rode sections of the route and alternative alignments to provide feedback and help refine the loop to provide the best possible riding experience. These riders also helped identify cyclist-friendly businesses along the route to include in the route guidebook.
In order to make trip planning as easy as possible and to help riders more deeply connect to the landscapes through which they ride, Bikepacking Roots has also developed a 70-page guidebook for the Northwoods Route. In addition to providing all pertinent logistical details, educational chapters explore the region’s geology, forest ecology, the recovery of the gray wolf, and the story of the world-class CAMBA trail system in northern Wisconsin. The introductory chapter by Alexandera Houchin, bikepacker and member of the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, shares her perspective on her homeland and the treaties through which that land was ceded to the U.S. Government.
More information about the Northwoods Route, the digital navigation and waypoint data, and the full 70-page route guidebook (in both e-book and print formats) are available here. Development of the Northwoods Route was made possible with support from Bikepacking Roots’ members and from Otso Cycles and Shimano, companies that both believe in the transformative power of bike adventures.
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Bikepacking Roots is a 8,000-member-strong 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes.
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