Where we gonna ride today, Dyl?

Today we are riding the Outer Loop at Big M! The outer loop is about 15 miles and depending on the conditions of the day, can take anywhere from just under 2 hours, to up to three and a half or more if conditions are like below! The outer loop, and all fat bike trails at Big M, are generously groomed by the volunteers of the ShoreLine Cycling Club. If you are able I strongly encourage you to drop them a donation so they can keep doing such a great job! You can also check their website for trail conditions.

There are several ways to get into the Outer Loop at Big M but we are starting from the main trailhead on Udell Hills Road. Don’t forget to bring a $5 bill to pay the Forest Service parking fee.

Loop Description

Ok getting after it now. I prefer to ride the loop clockwise, take off from the big map and head towards vault toilets, you should see a groomed single track. This route will follow the trail markers on the map at the trailhead. There are maps at every marker. As long as you stick to the trail you will see a map about every mile or two.

This route will follow the markers in this order; Parking Lot, 35, 34, 17, 13, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 4, Parking lot. The first half mile to mile trace the cross country ski trails, the trails are separated as indicated by the signage. 

Once you reach marker 34 you’ll split off from the groomed ski trails. Shortly after leaving the ski trail area you will get into your first big climb. This hill has many names and you may call it some of your own. At just over half a mile with a 7% grade you’ll welcome the following downhill twists and turns! 

As you wind down you’ll soon come out into a couple sections that were recently clear cut and the Fire Tower area. At marker 13 you can hand a right and add a couple extra miles and elevation with the Fire Tower Loop. The old Forest Service fire tower stands as a piece of history and there are some cool bulletin boards at the base. It’s a cool addition if you are up for a challenge. Continuing on to marker 30 will keep you on track for the outer loop. This middle third of the loop is fairly flat and takes you through some lowland pine plantations and a bit of swampy cedar land. Keep your eye open for deer, turkeys, and porcupines. There are black bear in the Manistee Forest but I’ve never seen one.

As you come to marker 26 you will be at the foot of Reindeer Hill! A quick punchy climb starts off the hill and then it gets much more manageable. Make sure if you have to walk part or all of this hill you step off the side of the trail to give other riders a fighting chance at pedaling the hard bits.

At the top of Reindeer Hill look to the North and on a clear day you can see Crystal Mountain all the way up by the NE corner of Manistee County! You can also look West to see the plumes from Manistee’s mighty industrial citizens about 10 miles away. This is also a great spot to have lunch and gather yourself for the final leg of your lap.

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After screaming down Reindeer Hill there is some more mild cross country style riding and snowmobile trail crossings before you come to marker 23. Here you can turn left or right to head back to the parking lot. If you turn left you will add a little more mild mileage and cover a majority of the beginner’s loop. Turning right is the most direct way back. Follow the trail all the way to where it intersects with a forest road. Turn down the forest road and follow it all the way to the overflow lot for the trail head. The trail passes the parking lot and continues past the groomer shed and you’ll be back at the parking lot. What a ride! 

What I love about the outer loop is the diversity in forest and trail style you get to experience in such a short amount of time. You get some challenging climbs in and some really fun downhills. Big M really exemplifies single track riding and the beautifully remote experience you can have just a few miles out of town. Come back to Big M when the snow is gone for a totally different experience. Use the parking lot for a staging area and explore some of the awesome gravel on Fire Tower Road and the other forest trails. Take a ride out to the Udell Rollways for some stunning views of the Big Manistee River and get to know Manistee County by dirt!

Dyllan Walker is a resident of Manistee and a volunteer contributor for the Manistee County Visitor’s Bureau. He enjoys riding any day of the year, be it by gravel, fat, road, or mountain bike and spreading the word about the Manistee area’s vast cycling opportunities.