Iron Ore Heritage Trail

Michigan

6 Reviews

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Iron Ore Heritage Trail Facts

States: Michigan
Counties: Marquette
Length: 47.7 miles
Trail end points: Republic Township and Kawbagam Rd, just south of SR 28 (Chocolay Township)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone, Dirt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 7763524

Iron Ore Heritage Trail Description

The Iron Ore Heritage Trail traverses 47 miles across the Marquette Iron Range in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. The rail-trail, which was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2018, shares and celebrates the area’s rich mining history with interpretive signage, artwork and connections to museums along the way. On your journey, you’ll see many relics from a bygone era: mining shafts, forges, furnaces and other historical structures.

The trail follows several former railroads, some dating back to the 1850s, built to carry the iron ore from the mines to the Lake Superior harbor: the Marquette and Western Railroad; the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway; the Soo Line; and the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad.

Currently, more than half the trail—28 miles from Ishpeming east to Chocolay Township—is fully complete, about half paved and half crushed granite and/or limestone. This section is non-motorized in warm weather and a snowmobile trail from December 1 to March 31 each year.

From Ishpeming west to Republic, the route is an unimproved dirt trail open for hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and ATV use. This section of the trail travels west from Ishpeming through the townships of Clarksburg, Humboldt, and Champion. In the community of Republic, the trail follows along the northern edge of a pond to its endpoint at a parking lot off Republic Ave.

The western terminus of the upgraded section is the ski town of Ishpeming. The trail is paved through town and a short spur takes trail-goers along Lakeshore Drive up to the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum, a former mining site featuring buildings and structures from the early 1900s, as well as artifacts, photographs, and mineral collections.

From Ishpeming, the paved trail continues 2.5 miles east to Negaunee, crossing an area that was fenced off by a mining company for decades. This area has the very first iron ore mine of the Lake Superior region, the Jackson Mine, dating back to 1845. On the east end of town, be sure to take the spur to the Iron Industry Museum, which overlooks the Carp River. 

As of fall 2022, the trailhead in Negaunee has a wonderful new picnic shelter, bathrooms with running water, and a filtered water refill station. A part of Jackson Mine Park, the trailhead's improvements also included the Jim Thomas Pavilion—named after a Negaunee native who was a dedicated advocate for the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.

From Negaunee, the trail continues its eastward journey 12 miles to Marquette, connecting with the Marquette Multi-Use Path, which offers an additional 19 miles of paved trail to explore the city. This section of the trail includes Pete's Pass, which is a paved, multi-use underpass that takes the Iron Ore Heritage trail under US-41 and provides a safer highway crossing. Marquette is the largest community on the trail and a major port on Lake Superior. The trail continues southeast along the waterfront to end at Kawbawgam Road in Chocolay Township. 

Parking and Trail Access

Parking is available at a number of locations along the trail. View the TrailLink map for all options and detailed directions. From west to east, parking locations include:

  • Ishpeming: Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum (105 W Euclid Street)
  • Negaunee: Iron Industry Museum (73 Forge Road)
  • Marquette: Welcome Center (2201 U.S. 41), Marquette Commons (112 S. 3rd Street), Public Parking lot (301 S Lakeshore Blvd), and Lions Field Recreation Area (Michigan 28 & S Hiawatha)
  • Chocolay Township: Kawbawgam Pocket Park (Kawbawgam Road, just south of M-28 East)

Iron Ore Heritage Trail Reviews

Awesome Trail

Awesome trail. Both paved and good gravel sections. We are five relatively fit men and women ages 64, 65, 66, 67, and 70. Our 70 year old rode a fat tire e-bike, but the rest of us had regular road bikes. We parked in Harvey and rode the trail to Negaunee and back, a 30-mile round trip. The constant uphill climb from Marquette into a breeze from the west was a challenge but the scenery is wonderful! We rested and ate lunch at a sweet café in Negaunee, the Midtown Bakery and Café, and then headed back. Since our return was pretty much all downhill, we finished 30 minutes faster than the first half of the ride. I really recommend this trail.

Uphill climb

I rode the Iron Ore trail from downtown Marquette west on a rented hybrid bike. I was unprepared for the constant upward grade. Once the trail turned from paved to gravel, it got more challenging. After about an hour, covered with sweat, I was still short of Negaunee, so I turned back. I coasted every one of many miles back, never pedaling, and always with the brake ready. If you're looking for a workout, this trail is for you. It isn't what I wanted on a hot July day.

I did appreciate the historic signage along the trail. It seems that the grade was deliberate. Iron ore would be loaded, first on a plank road, then on rail cars, and easily transported downhill to the port. Then empty cars would go back uphill for another load. Makes sense!

Great vacation activity

Rode from Ishpenning to the Iron Ore History Museum and back. The trail is paved, well maintained, shady and secluded with little traffic on a Tuesday morning in July. There is one long, moderate grade from the museum back toward Ishpenning but doable with good gears even for this elder amatuer. Signage for jogs through towns could be better but Google maps will set you straight.

West End Ski and Trail in Ishpenning were great for renting bikes. Excellent bikes and service and a friendly, home town, experience.

Greenery and scenery

Rode from ishpeming to iron museum. Glad I read the reviews. Going up the steep section would've required dismounting. There was some confusion on signage since there were mtn bike and orv trails that intersected ioht. Loved the trail markers and the kiosks and interpretive signs were great. There is more parking than indicated in this writeup. Also more trailheads. Pleasant trail all around.

Accordion

Bird

Starting from the Republic end...not signed or marked, encountered off road vehicles and trucks w beer drinkers, beaver flooding make it nearly impossible.
These folks need to know that designating and maintaining a trail for non motorized use will bring in people. The way it is it's not worth the drive.

A heart building delight

As a former resident of Marquette and mining company employee, I was really curious about what the trail would show me. It turned out to be things I never knew existed.

I began my ride in Marquette knowing that it is a near constant climb toward Negaunee, where I began my return trip. I had ridden between the two towns a number of times on US 41/M-28, but that was 35 years and about 70 pounds ago. It really is not any easier on the rail trail.

Near Midway the trail separates from the original rail bed and goes alongside no longer using the earthen trestles and rock cuts. It gives the trail a bit more character and certainly some opportunities to coast. Most hills are short and not overly steep.

The return trip was much easier in that from Midway, I was able to coast into Marquette at twice the speed as my climb to the west.

The trail surface pavement was in excellent condition, the information plaques interesting, and the scenery varied from industrial sites to wetlands and wooded areas. The gravel surface was harder to ride in that the aggregate could have been finer and there were a few wash outs and loose gravel.

I would most certainly go again.

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