Midwest Biking: Michigan’s Fort Custer Recreation Area

Mountain bikers who live in the Midwest and are looking for a great trail network need to explore Michigan’s Fort Custer Recreation Area northeast of Chicago.

Located 160 miles northeast of The Windy City, near the town of Kalamazoo, Mich., the park’s 2,988 acres contain 28 miles of mountain bike trails. The trails here are superb: tight, twisting singletrack with plenty of technical sections allow the mountain biker a great alternative to the trails at Kettle Moraine, Wis. The trails are well-marked and maintained by the Michigan DNR and the Southwest Chapter of the Michigan Mountain Bike Association, the country’s largest mountain bike organization.

The Trails
With 28 miles of trails, mountain bikers have a great selection to choose from and access to all trails start at the trailhead parking lot.

The most-challenging and longest trail is the 8-mile Red Loop; the trail, located south of Eagle Lake, combines technical riding, short, but strenuous hill climbs and speedy descents. Upon entering the trail at the “Trenches,” one is greeted to the remainders of a World War I trench warfare training system. The ride is a gas and one can be grateful that the area was turned over to the DNR from the nearby Ft. Custer Military Training Custer.

After clearing “The Trenches,” riders will enter “Rocks and Roots” and “The Gravel Pit;” these two sections, full of technical obstacles, allow the rider an opportunity to miscalculate and sample some of the sandy soil of southwestern Michigan. The next three sections are favorites with climbers: “Cardiac Climb,” “CPR” and “Granny’s Garden” allow for small chain ring usage and long, leg-burning uphills. Those seeking a killer workout will not be disappointed.

And if you’re in the need for speed, “The Freeway,” “Table Top Chute” and the “Amusement Park” sections are sure to please. Some killer descents are possible, as well as some “air time” but remember to stay in control of your bike. The trails at the park are multi-use, so keep an eye out for other users. The Red Loop concludes with two waterfront sections: “The Peninsula” and “Crazy Beaver Loop.” The Red Loop is the most difficult of all the trails at the park and the best ride.

A moderate trail following the shoreline of Eagle Lake is the 7-mile Green Loop. While not as good as the Red Loop, this trail is certainly worth riding. Due to its proximity to the lake, the trail is scenic and two small waterfalls are crossed here. Riders looking for an easy workout, may want to head for the 8-mile Yellow Loop. Two other easy loops, both following the shores of Jackson, Whitford and Lawler Lakes are the 2-mile Jackson Hole Loop and the 3-mile long Whitford Lake Loop. Be on the lookout for turtles on these trails; they’re everywhere.

After The Rides
If you’re looking for a place to eat, the nearby Stake N’ Shake is a favorite with the fat tire crowd. If you’re looking for bike repair and equipment, head over to Team Active Cycling and Fitness in Battle Creek, 616-962-7688. Two other sites worth taking a look at in the nearby town of Grand Rapids, are the Gerald R. Ford Museum and the fat tire trails at Yankee Springs State Park, 616-795-9081.

Hour and Rates
The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; a daily $4 permit is required; an excellent trail map is available at the park.

For more information, contact:
Fort Custer Recreation Area
5163 Fort Custer Drive
Augusta, MI 49012-9618

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