Udell Hills used to be the place downhill skiers went to defy gravity in Manistee County. The ski lifts are long gone, but what remains is a boon to any mountain biker: nearly 50 miles of trail - 26 miles of which is mountain-bike-dedicated single track - snake up, down and around hilly terrain that's tucked beneath a lush canopy of pine and hardwoods and peppered with plenty of stunning vistas. Much of the Big M trail is looped, so it's possible to cruise all afternoon without ever doubling back.
Get gear at Pine River Paddlesports Center (9590 South M-37, 231-862-3471) in Wellston. Then it's time to head for the hills. Fat-tire folks hungry for a challenge will love Big M's Catamount trail. Multiple lung-busting climbs and long, fast descents await, plus a link to Cappers Corner, also called Capper's Peak, which boasts a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Manistee National Forest. The Sky Pilot offers a narrow trail, fast corners, plus a fun jump and easy landing at bottom, making it a favorite among local riders.
Not feeling so hardcore? No problem. The Lumberjack is relatively wide and flat, save for a small downhill about a mile in. The Corkpine trail is another one folks looking for a mellow cruise will love. If your courage climbs over the course of the ride, consider finishing with a roll along the Bushwhacker, a good chunk of which zips along the hillside. Just be warned: One of its downhills has the unofficial name G. Bomber because of its steep grade.
The Big M is located about 18 miles east of Manistee and 7 miles west of Wellston. The trailhead is 3.5 miles south of M-55 on Udell Hills Road. Take note of directional signs at the start of new trails; some are one-way only. Pick up the required $3 parking permit at the lot's fee station. Trails are open to biking April 15 to September 30. (Trails are groomed for cross-country skiing when the snow flies - usually late December through March.) For more information call the Manistee Ranger Station at 231-723-2211.
Lynda Twardowski is assistant editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in June 2006, and was updated for the web February 2008.