Leelanau News and Events

Two New Beginner Mountain Bike Loops Open at Leelanau's Palmer Woods Forest Reserve This Week

July 30, 2021

Four miles of new mountain bike trails are now officially open to the public at Palmer Woods Forest Reserve, the Leelanau Conservancy announced yesterday.

Palmer Woods is the conservancy’s largest property, at 1,075 acres, and the Conservancy’s only property that allows mountain biking.

The conservancy acquired the 721-acre working forest, located just over a mile from Big Glen Lake in 2016, and purchased a 350-acre addition in 2020 after a massive fundraising campaign. Just under six miles of intermediate-level Phase 1 mountain bike trails were built beginning in 2018, and “Palmer” became a mountain biking destination darling of those serious about the sport, thrusting Leelanau County into the biking spotlight across the Midwest

Now, the focus of the Phase 2 trails at Palmer Woods is to expand the options for mountain bikers of all ability levels. There are two new loops: Ursa Minor, a 1-mile coaching or warm-up loop; and Ursa Major, a 3-mile cross-country loop. Both are rated beginner level by International Mountain Bike Association standards. A 4-mile intermediate level loop is also currently under construction and will open this fall. Upon completion, the new Phase 2 trails will more than double the length of the current trail system — offering 14 miles of mountain bike trails in total.

Chad Jordan, the conservancy’s property maintenance specialist, says that Ursa Minor is perfect for brand-new riders and adults just getting into riding natural surface trails. It's also “a great loop for anyone to warm up and test out your tire pressure,” says Jordan. The trail includes “skill stations” — mini-loops that allow the rider to practice fundamental trail riding skills inspired by the coaches at Norte, who offer the Youth Mountain Bike Team. 

Ursa Major is three miles in total, a true beginner loop with a subtle grade to provide a good cardiovascular workout. The trail will also be ridden in alternate directions on different days of the week, which creates two unique experiences on the same trail, with the benefit of a one-way trail.

Becky Hill, director of natural areas and preserves says, “I’m excited to bring in more beginners and people of all ages. Seeing a child gliding along the Ursa Minor Trail and yipping with glee is such a heartwarming thing. At the same time, we have some folks in their 70s who ride the trails several times a week and can’t get enough of it.”

“One of the best things about the bike trails at Palmer Woods,” adds Tom Nelson, the conservancy’s executive director, “is the awe and wonder this new audience is experiencing in our majestic forest. We’re fostering future generations of champions for conservation, and it’s truly fabulous.”

Pictured: Chad Jordan riding by Sheen Watkins; Cody Sprattoran by Drew Palmer.

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