Where the Heck is Iron Mountain, Michigan?
Iron Mountain is right on the border of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. If you were driving from Green Bay to Marquette, this would be pretty close to your halfway point. Surrounded by tons of forestland, lakes, and rivers (including the Menominee River that divides WI and MI), it's a fantastic jumping off point for exploring hundreds of miles of winding, rolling gravel roads. But what really makes it a great destination is the wide spread of amenities in the several little towns all tucked closely together including Iron Mountain, Kingsford, Norway, and Niagara.
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History Lesson on Iron Mountain
The area was originally inhabited by the Menominee and Chippewa tribes before being discovered by French explorers in the 17th century. The city was founded in the mid-1800s, during the height of the iron mining industry in the region. The first mine in the area, the Chapin Mine, opened in 1879, and was followed by several others, including the Cornish, Murphy, and Quinnesec mines. The city grew rapidly, and by the turn of the 20th century, it had become a major center of the iron mining industry, employing thousands of workers. In addition to mining, the city also had a thriving lumber industry, with several sawmills located in the area.
The decline of the iron mining industry in the mid-20th century led to a significant economic downturn in Iron Mountain, and the city's population declined. However, in recent years, the city has made efforts to diversify its economy, and has attracted a number of new businesses and industries. Today, Iron Mountain is a popular tourist destination, with several recreational opportunities (like gravel 😊) in the surrounding area, including skiing, snowmobiling, and hiking.
Where to Ride Gravel From Iron Mountain, Michigan
Would it be wrong to say that everything in the U.P. is just a little bit different? You've got pasties, winter-hardened yoopers, and a whole buncha gravelly goodness that they just never got around to paving. And lucky you, because whether you're stopping on your way to Marquette or going all in on a memorable Iron Mountain gravel weekend, they have the terrain, wild rivers, and endless network of janky old logging roads to get lost on. Add the fantastic variety of brewery pizza, rooftop vibes, and ice cream in a barn, and you've now got yourself a destination to bring the whole crew up north for.
Out and Back to Solbergs | 13.4 Miles
This one starts at the DNR gravel pit but you can also start right from town if you’re needing more miles. It’s pretty simple: go to Solbergs, have lunch or supper, and ride back. It’s a perfect slow social gravel ride with a midpoint destination. Solbergs is your typical small town bar with hunting vibes and deer heads. There are no pasties but they’ve got burgers, fries, and a fish fry on fridays. Link to Map.
Two Lakes Loop | 13.9 Miles
Enjoy the lakes and stay close to town. Lake Antoine is mostly paved and includes a bike lane so you’ll see a lot of runners and families with kids. Lake Antoine also has a campground and a natural spring where you can get water. Once you get to Fumee Lake, you’ll find more gravel and double track around the lake. There are no motorized vehicles around Fumee Lake so it’s pretty peaceful and if you’re wanting some singletrack action, there are mountain bike trails on the north and south side of Fumee Lake. Link to Map.
Old Carney Lake | 27 Miles
Start downtown and roll the pavement until you hit the gravel on Old Carney Lake Road. This route includes the popular Rock Dam Falls which is worth a stop. After that you’ll go by Rock Lake and Carney Lake. Carney Lake has a campground but Rock Lake is more clear and better for taking a swim. Link to Map.
Lone Wolf Short Course | 35 Miles
This lollipop route starts at the DNR gravel pit. Follow the nice, mostly hard packed gravel roads with a few pavement connectors. This route follows the West Branch Sturgeon River and has a lot of pretty views of the water. Link to Map.
Norway Truck Trail | 41 Miles
This is named after the road that takes you into Norway after meandering around in the Copper Country State Forest. Once you get to Norway, your ride is 75% over but it just might be worth stopping before heading back via Fumee Lake and Lake Antoine. Norway has some mountain bike trails as well as attractions such as hiking trails to see the river and falls at Piers Gorge, and True North Outpost with zipline and white water rafting plus there are a few places to grab a bite. Link to Map.
Lone Wolf Long Course | 51 Miles
Starting at the gravel pit, this route is similar to the Short Lone Wolf but instead of looping back, you’ll continue south to the upper pine creek area and the outskirts of Norway before the last few big climbs of the route. If you ride this and find that you’re feeling the spirit of the lone wolf, that’s probably because it passes the storied spot where James Morrow and his friend saw the iconic lone wolf, and the rest is history. If you only had time for one route, and want all the best gravel in a perfect distance, this is it. Link to Map.
Norway, Niagara, & Wisconsin | 52 Miles
Connecting all the small towns, this is nice and accessible gravel route from anywhere in the area. You’ll do the entire Norway Truck Trail and also connect Old Carney Lake Road and go right by Strawberry Lake. When you get into town, this route cuts through the golf course and then rides some singletrack for a little bit and also runs right by Piers Gorge. There is some pavement connecting the towns and a big climb coming back to Kingsford. When you’re in Kingsford, feel free to stop at 51st State Brewing or Contrast Coffee. Link to Map.
Big Loop | 96 Miles
Well look at you, you made it all the way to Way Dam Lake (and you might need the campground that's there). This route also follows the Ford River which is really beautiful in the fall and cuts through Felch for a stop at Solberg’s for a drink or burger. Link to Map.
U.P. Sport & Spoke
Iron Mountain's lone bike shop and it's perfectly located downtown to start your rides with a public parking lot right behind the shop. They're a Salsa and Trek dealer and are right next to Moose Jackson with Spiros, Jean Kay's Pasties, and Odd Fellows also right there. Grab some maple syrup energy, a spare tube, and get even more local riding tips from the team there. They helped put this gravel guide together and are experts on gravel adventures.
Where to Stay
Pick one of several little country cabins that line the Menomonee River where you can even go fishing with a Wisconsin license since it’s right on the border of the two states.
Pine Mountain Resort
The beautiful resort has onsite dining, drinks, golf course, and pool. If you’re there in the winter, they also have downhill skiing as well as the largest ski jump in North America.
Marriott Towneplace Suites
This is a brand new extended stay all-suite hotel in downtown Iron Mountain with free hot breakfast.
This campground has been around for 40+ years and is nestled along the Menomonee River. They have RV and tent sites as well as a few glamping options.
Lake Antoine Campground
Right on the shore of Lake Antoine this campground is also close to downtown. They have swimming, boat launch, RV, and tent sites.
Where to Eat
Spiros Downtown Restaurant
This place is, you guessed it, right downtown. It’s a favorite spot for food with a great menu and the best burgers. They have outdoor seating and a tasty wine selection.
They offer seasonal courses and farm-to-table dishes highlighting the agriculture all around Iron Mountain. They have a constantly changing menu based on what's growing, and offer a beer and wine selection that is otherwise unavailable for hundreds of miles.
This is a nice place for lunch and also has a coffee shop with over 15 custom roasted international blends of coffee and a full espresso bar and European style bakery.
This one is located a stone's throw from Iron Mountain in Kingsford and is where you’re going to find the best steak as well as an early model of Henry Ford’s Model T.
Jean Kay’s Pasties
Don’t you even think about going to the U.P. without sitting down for a pasty. If you’re new to pasties, the most popular is steak or steak with rutabaga and they’ve even got breakfast pasties for your dawn patrol gravel rides.
Carlos Cantina is a family owned and operated Authentic Mexican restaurant located inside the beautiful historic building in downtown Iron Mountain that also houses Sol Blue. Carlos Cantina offers guests a casual, family friendly atmosphere including a wide variety of Mexican beer and a full bar.
Crispigna’s Italian Market
Using the same family recipes for over 90 years, you're gonna fine authentic Italian foods, and specialty meat and cheese (gravel charcuterie ride anyone?). You may also want to grab a fresh roll from the bakery and shove it in your jersey pocket on your way out of town.
The Ice Cream Barn
It’s right on the highway. Easy in, easy out. Live animals, ice cream, and an actual barn. You always gotta stop for ice cream, so do it.
Where to Grab Drinks in the Evening
51st State Brewing
This is Kingsford and Iron Mountain’s first brewery and the name is inspired by the U.P.’s various attempts to secede and become it’s own state. Enjoy the patio here and possibly the area’s best best pizza.
Housed in a historic downtown building, this is your central taproom with beer, spirits, and food.
Honestly is there anything better than a rooftop bar in the evening during the summer? Grab some food from the bar or from Carlos Cantina then gather around the fire.
Where to Grab Coffee
In Kingsford, this is where the yooper coffee spirit is fully alive. You’ll need a stiff smack in the face with a cupa caffeine before the early morning rides and this is where to get it.
With a European style bakery and custom roasted blends and espresso bar, you should have some fun exploring Moose Jackson’s craft coffee.
Organic Grounds Coffeehouse
Located in Kingsford, Organic Grounds serves coffee, espresso, gluten-free treats, and healthy organic options.
Off the Bike
I haven’t done it, but I can tell you that bike fishing is a thing and Iron Mountain has it. You’re more than welcome to strap your folding fly rod to your bike and go searching for trout streams or just take a day off the bike and see if anything is biting.
A beautiful gorge shaped by the Menominee River, Piers Gorge showcases its unique beauty with cascading drops resembling "piers" over rock ledges. These drops form four sets of rapids, with the largest one named Mishicot Falls, standing approximately 8 feet tall.
Accompanying the pretty scenery is a well-maintained hiking trail that stretches alongside the ledges and drops, extending for a distance of 1-2 miles along the river. There is an elevated overlook that provides a great view of the falls, while those seeking a closer experience can venture down to the water. This area is also popular for white water rafting.
Millie Mine Bat Cave
This is a deserted vertical iron mine and now serves as a sanctuary for one of the largest bat colonies in North America housing up to 1 million bats. Don’t worry though; the mine shaft entrance is protected by a specialized steel grate that prevents humans from accidentally falling in while allowing the bats to come and go freely.
51st State Brewery
Yep, we already mentioned this one but it’s worth a stop and a mention here. Bike right over after a ride, grab some local brews on the patio from the place that has occasionally wished it was just its own state.
Fumee Lake Natural Area
Fumee Lake Natural Area spans over 1800 acres and boasts unique features, including Fumee Lake and Little Fumee Lake, offering five miles of untouched shoreline. Home to eagles and loons, it serves as biking, hiking, picnics, and wildlife viewing.
True North Outpost
An adventure HQ located in Norway with options for guided trips, gear and rentals, for outings including white water rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, a more.