Looking for some kickass mountain bike trails?

It's time to explore Lake Superior's North Shore.

The North Shore of Lake Superior enjoys a well-deserved reputation for outdoor adventure. Hikers, paddlers, and beachgoers have partaken in the area’s natural spoils for generations.

When it comes to mountain biking, the challenge here is too much of a good thing. With so much terrain to work with and so few people, building and maintaining mountain bike trails can be a futile exercise against Mother Nature’s reclaiming prowess. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and with effort from local cycling communities, trail systems in Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay are already well established on the mountain biking maps.

As for the Superior wilds: patience, my friends, it’s a work in progress. But for those who fancy themselves mountain bike explorers, here’s where to go along Lake Superior’s North Shore. 


The phrase “it takes a village” definitely applies to mountain biking trails. In Sault Ste. Marie, the village is the local cycling community and the Hiawatha Highlands Trail Network is the fruit of their labour—and a tasty-looking fruit it is.

Located just on the outskirts of town, the 25-km mix of tech and flow checks all the boxes of what makes mountain bikers of all abilities holler with delight. It’s heavy on the twists and turns, with a steady supply of rocks and roots, plus the occasional waterfall or lookout for some added wow factor. With maps at trailheads and signage along the trails, finding your way around is a breeze.


This one is a local secret, and not for the faint of heart. Once you get over the spectacular views, what you find here is the biggest elevation drop north of Lake Superior. The trail drops a very challenging 200 metres in elevation over its 5-km length. The riders who frequent this trail typically sport full-face helmets and body armour—it’s definitely for the advanced-skilled rider. Then there’s the challenge of getting back, as what comes down must go up—the ride back to the top is a long one!


Located about an hour's drive north of Sault Ste. Marie, Pancake Bay Provincial Park is one of the few provincial parks in Ontario to allow mountain biking. The 14-km Lookout Trail definitely has a wilderness adventure feel to it.  As part of the backcountry experience, you can expect to get a bit muddy, fight of some encroaching tree limbs, and race a few mosquitos.

  • Information: Pancake Bay Provincial Park
  • Must-do: Hike the stairs to the lookout and take in the spectacular view of Pancake Bay.
  • Post-ride: Hit the beach, of course. Here you will find the finest sand beach along the north shore of Lake Superior.


The landscape surrounding the town of Nipigon is epic Lake Superior: water, rock, and forest. Thanks to Michael Elliott from Epic Adventures and his crew, the plan for the area’s mountain biking future is “build it and they will come.”

Last summer we stopped in at Michael’s latest work in progress, Kama Cliffs Trail. At 8 km in length, you might be put at ease by the single-digit length, but don’t let it fool you—this is Superior ruggedness at its best. The carrot at the end of the uphill grind is a spectacular view (check out the photo at the top of this page) and, of course, the ride back down.

Information: Epic Adventures<


There are a number of trails at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park available for mountain biking. While I would classify the ride as being at an intermediate level of difficulty, I would say the experience is an absolute must. After all, this is one of the jewels of Superior’s north shore. Bike and hike to the Top of the Giant Trail and Thunder Bay Lookout or combine park roads, trails, and backcountry campsites for a bike-packing weekend.


Zig-zagging amongst abounded mine shafts and sparkling white quartz, both remnants of the area’s silver mining history, the trails at Shuniah Mines do the Thunder Bay cycling community proud. The 41 km of single track offers all the challenges that will make an intermediate to advanced mountain biker grin.

While the older trails sport “old school” ruggedness, the newer offerings mix things up with flow trails, bridges, and jump lines. All together, it’s one fun package. Under the guidance of Mark Maranzan and The Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club, the future looks bright with plans for more trail, access points, and facilities.


There you have it: if the lack of mountain biking opportunities kept you from Lake Superior’s North Shore, the wait is over. The trails around Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie themselves are worth the trip. Add to that the thousands of square kilometres of wilderness in between, and yes, it might be a work in progress, but the area is primed for the adventurous mountain bike explorer.


About Martin Lortz

Martin Lortz is a freelance photographer/writer specializing in the outdoor lifestyle. Whether he is covering adventure motorcycling, kayak fishing or family oriented outdoor pursuits, his passion for capturing the beauty of nature and the people that partake in it, is evident in his work. His photos and articles have appeared in magazines such as Ski Canada, Explore, Bike, Mountain Life, Couloir, Kayak Angler and Family Camping, as well as in calendars, catalogs and brochures.

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