By Mike Terrell
It may be hard to think of Mackinac Island as a mountain biking destination when you think of the crowded village, fudge shops, horse traffic, and the flat, paved ride around the exterior of the island.
However, once you leave the village and climb up into the interior of the rock-bound island, beyond the fort and Arch Rock, the crowds and aroma of cooking fudge quickly disappear. You may see a horse-back rider, but they have their own set of forest trails. Its a totally different look at this historic, hump-backed island.
After disembarking the boat head over to the islands Chamber of Commerce information center located along the main street near the ferry docks and pick up a map of the island with all the interior trails. Most of the trails are marked with trail signs and are fairly easy to follow. Youll see old stone walls and foundations, an old soldiers garden area cleared in the late 1700s, Skull Cave, and little known treats like Cave-in-the-Woods and Crack-in-the-Island. Ive found island residents that didnt know these formations existed.
THE QUIET INTERIOR
During the summer, ferry boats deposit thousands of visitors daily on the island, but you may encounter only a handful up in the forested interior. Most stay in the village area.
The first mile-and-a-half is paved along the eastern bluff of the island. Head up to Huron Road and follow it to Arch Rock and Leslie Avenue; a narrow strip of twisting pavement that hugs the bluff offering views of Lake Hurons steely blue waters and more islands off in the distance. Its a cruising delight.
Soon you encounter North Bicycle Trail heading off to the left and the off-road adventure begins. Follow it to Blodgett Trail and eventually head right on Soldiers Garden Trail, which is a fun, rock-bound ride with dips and small jumps. In about a mile you cross Leslie Avenue and drop down onto Tranquil Bluff Trail, which rolls along a bluff above the north end of the island.
It meanders along the bluff for over a mile. Wild flowers abound along the trail and Lake Huron glimmers through the trees. Often you can hear flatlanders peddling along the paved road below as they circle the island. Along the way you pass Eagle Point Cave, marked on your map. Rocks, roots, and off-camber climbs and descents keep the peddling interesting.
CAVE & CRACK
About five miles into the ride Tranquil Bluff Trail drops down onto British Landing Road, which you follow south back towards the village for a short distance to Lydia Trail that exits right off the road. Follow a series of intersecting trails to access Cave-in-the-Woods and Crack-in-the-Island.
Lydia Trail crosses State Road and becomes Straits Trail. At the Y-intersection follow the left fork, this becomes Nikis Trail. After a short distance it Ts with Partridge Trail. Go left and in a little over a half-mile you come to the two unusual geological formations.
Cave-in-the-Woods shows old lake lines when a great inland sea called Algonquin covered the present Great Lakes. Just in back of the cave is Crack-in-the-Island, a deep fissure in the islands limestone base.
Continue on the single-track and exit back out onto State Road just north of the islands airstrip. Turn right and follow it to British Landing Road. Cross it and follow Leslie Avenue for about a half-mile to Scotts Trail. Follow the single-track south to Jupiter Trail, turn left and end up at the paved portion of North Bicycle Trail and Sugarloaf, a huge monolith rock, and Skull Cave. It is considered sacred by Native Americans. Its a little over a mile back to the village.
While it may not be as spectacular or quite as isolated as Grand Island near Munising, the mountain biking on Mackinac Island is surprisingly rugged and pristine. Most visitors never see the real island.