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Casual Mountain Biking at Sand Lakes

Located in the Pere Marquette State Forest, Sand Lakes is designated a non-motorized “quiet area.”

On a cool, crisp northern Michigan morning, we were causally riding through the pines and maples in the Sand Lakes Quiet Area along a trail so wide that three mountain bikers could pedal abreast. We stopped often to watch the mist rise off the small lakes when, at one point, somebody quietly said, “I think there is a deer over there.”

This is the other reason some of us mountain bike.

Many people love off-road cycling because of the technical challenges of a well-designed single track. That’s why the 13-mile VASA Single Track is one of the most popular trails in the Grand Traverse area.

Then there are those of us who like to use our fat-tire bikes to sneak off into the woods and soak up the scenery. The closest trail system to the VASA Single Track is Sand Lakes Quiet Area, yet it’s a world away as far as mountain biking is concerned.

Take your pick – bunny hops and grueling climbs or wide trails, small lakes and maybe some wildlife.

Located in the Pere Marquette State Forest, Sand Lakes was designated a non-motorized “quiet area” by the Michigan DNR in 1973.

One of the 13 lakes in Sand Lakes Quiet Area.

The 2,500-acre preserve is a series of low, forested hills, interspersed with 13 small lakes that are connected to one another by a 12-mile network of trails and old fire lanes.

In the winter, Sand Lakes is a popular destination for cross-country skiers, while during the summer, it attracts backpackers and hike-in anglers who like to set up camp along the lakes.

Mountain bikers didn’t arrive until the late 1980s but already constitute the area’s largest number of user in the summer.

 “A lot of mountain bikers I know like to go in there and camp,” one rider we encountered said. “The campsites (on Sand Lake No. 1) make for a beautiful spot to spend an evening.”

On The Trail

To see an enlarged and updated map of Sand Lakes Quiet Area or to download it as a PDF Map Click Here.

For the most part, the trails form an eight-mile loop, with eight trailheads providing access, including one in Guernsey Lakes State Forest Campground.

But the most popular trailhead is a parking area at the corner of Broomhead and Sand Lakes roads, four miles south of M-72. Post 1 is located here and the rest follow in a clockwise direction, corresponding to a map produced by the DNR’s Forest Management Division.

From Broomhead Road the first lake, Sand Lake No. 1, is only 1.2 miles away and most of the ride to it is a gentle downhill through the woods.

The bright blue, almost luminescent lake contrasts vividly with its dark green shoreline of pines and hardwoods. Tucked inside the trees on the north shore are a handful of campsites and vault toilets.

Beyond Sand Lake No. 1, the trail swings through the northern half of the quiet area in what many believe is the most enjoyable stretch.

Between Posts 7 and 12, the trail leads you past a small, unnamed lake and then weaves its way through the rolling terrain where the ride is spiced with a few sudden climbs and quick turns.

At one point you follow the crest of a ridge, peering into the woods below, before emerging at a posted spur for Guernsey Lakes State Forest Campground.

The second half of the loop through the southern half of the quiet area includes long gentle grades, more openings in the woods where deer are often spotted and a few dreaded sand pits in the trail that can stop a mountain bike cold.

The loop ends by skirting around Sand Lake No. 3 before returning to the trailhead on Broomhead Road.

To see Sand Lake No. 2, Sand Lake No. 4 or Sand Lake No. 5, you have to be a little adventurous and follow the trail between Posts 7 and 19 and then old fire lanes that cut through the interior of the quiet area.

For more information, go to the Sand Lakes Quiet Area page on the MichiganTrailMaps.com website
Michigan TrailMaps.com Michigan's Premier Trail Resource Contact

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