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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.
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.
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. 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.
From west to east, parking is available at:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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