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Detroit’s Top Five Mountain Biking Trails

In a region that's undeniably spoiled by world-class mountain biking trails, here are the Detroit area's top 5 trail systems that climb higher and ride faster than the rest.

Michigan’s official state motto translates to “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” Well, Southeast Michigan’s wilderness motto should be “If you seek a pleasant hiking trail, look about you - because there’s probably a mountain biker ripping down it.”

Our suggested motto should honestly be codified since most of the Detroit region’s most scenic hiking trails were either originally designed or overwhelmingly adopted as mountain biking trails. A quick glance at our “Destinations” map and you’ll see that the data holds up. Our great outdoors are disproportionately blessed with world-class mountain biking trails - only rivaled in-state by the Upper Peninsula’s most scenic and rugged trails - thanks largely to the trail construction and preservation efforts spearheaded by organizations like the Motor City Mountain Bike Association, Clinton River Area Mountain Bike Association, and Potawatomi Mountain Bike Association.

Curating this list of Detroit’s best mountain biking trails was one tough hill to climb (a great problem to have). So, just in time for October’s colors to fully set in, here are the Detroit region’s five best MTB trails to send it down:


Trail Length: 17 miles

Climb: 876 ft.

Trail Rating: Intermediate-Advanced

Trail Sponsor: Potawatomi Mountain Bike Association

We don’t like saving the best for last here at Expedition Detroit. Credit’s owed where credit’s due, so the Potawatomi Trail - “Poto” - is presented right where it should be: first in line on our list as Detroit’s most sought-after, kick-ass, bucket list-worthy mountain biking trail. Found in Pinckney State Recreation Area, Poto provides riders with a grand tour of the park. The trail is also shared with hikers and trail runners, although it is an unspoken agreement that mountain bikers are at the top of the food chain for trail courtesy.

From the trailhead at Silver Lake (parking lot trailhead for all of Pinckney’s chart-topping trails), Poto’s deviates from the Silver Lakes Trail at 0.42 miles in and continues clockwise for 16.6 miles. The trail is a scenic roller coaster, trademarked with heart-thumping climbs and rewarding declines as you navigate around Pinckney’s series of lakes and the Portage River. Naturally, the trail’s most imposing challenge strikes right at the end - a nearly 100-foot climb with an 8% incline at mile 15.73. Survive the climb and you’ll be rewarded with a mile-long decline back towards the trailhead.

Bonus Tip: Looking to turn your ride into a de facto expedition? Poto offers riders with the ability to turn an MTB afternoon into a bike-camping weekend adventure. Pinckney’s two rustic campgrounds, located at Blind Lake and Crooked Lake, are directly accessible from the trail. New to bike-camping? REI has some epic gear to get you started.


Trail Length: 8.9 miles

Climb: 423 ft.

Trail Rating: Intermediate

Trail Sponsor: Motor City Mountain Bike Association

Single-track lovers, rejoice! Novi’s Lakeshore Park - formerly known as “Tree Farm” - has roughly 9 miles of fast, technical, and flowy trails for every level of rider. Starting at the main trailhead just south of Walled Lake, Lakeshore Park’s network of interconnected loops and segments with relatively little elevation gain provide for a seamless ride across variable terrain. The majority of Lakeshore Park’s loops are rated as “Easy,” although the “Expert Loop” accessible at the 0.7 mile mark, “the Crater” segment at the 3.7 mile mark, and the “Flack Attack” segment at the 5.1 mile mark entail more challenging terrain that’s fit for lapping. Be sure to spend some extra time at the pump track to test your balance and technical skills.

Bonus Tip: If you and your crew regularly ride Lakeshore Park, why not up the ante a bit with some harmless competition? Every summer the MCMBA hosts its famous tiki party + bike race, the “Tree Farm Relay,” for some 4-person team relay action over its trail network. Extra points are awarded for best costumes too, so riders have every reason to go all-out for this highlight event of the summer!


Trail Length: 9 miles

Climb: 713 ft.

Trail Rating: Intermediate-Advanced

Trail Sponsor: Clinton River Area Mountain Bike Association

One Loop to Rule Them All - that should be the official slogan of Pontiac Lake’s legendary MTB trail, although the Tolkien Estate’s legal team may beg to differ. Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area contains 9 miles of fast, elevation-oscillating, single track trail, with the main challenge of a 22% incline grade striking just 1.5 miles into the adventure. Each gueling climb is typically rewarded with a refreshing decline, although Pontiac Lake is also infamous for the tactical maneuvering demanded by some of its downhills (especially right after the 2 mile mark). The majority of the ride leads bikers over a series of rolling climbs and declines through the park’s northern string of lakes, with the final segment consisting of one long decline back to the trailhead.

Just as a fair warning, the immense popularity of this trail comes at a price. Pontiac Lake is not the trail for any riders seeking two-wheeled solitude in nature - its proximity to Downtown Detroit and the northern suburbs makes Pontiac Lake’s trail one of the most frequented in the Detroit region. Expect to share the trail with hikers, trail runners, and even equestrians in some segments. Always be courteous to others on the trail, and note that the trail right-of-way food chain goes like this: hikers < bikers < equestrians.

Bonus Tip: If you look at a map of Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, its main campground is located directly in the center of its famous mountain biking trail. This pristine example of exemplary park planning has made Pontiac Lake’s campground a favorite for mountain bikers looking to make a weekend out of their rides (Highland Recreation Area is also just down M-59, so it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine tackling both trail systems in a weekend). Party responsibly and aim to find the elusive balance between evening campfire drinks and morning tight turns.


Trail Length: 14.7 miles

Climb: 1,584 ft.

Trail Rating: Advanced