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Twice as Nice: Riding the John Muir and Emma Carlin Trails
Last Updated: 2/26/2013
A pair of high-quality trail systems near both Madison and Milwaukee make these trails the most popular in the state. Add top-notch trailhead facilities, ample rider services in area communities, plus the attractions and hospitality of the region and you’ve got an unbeatable riding destination.
Over the years, the Muir and Carlin trails have been continually improved to cope with the intense use that fills their parking lots on any good riding weekend. A big part of the attraction is mostly one-way trails in the challenging terrain of the beautiful Kettle Moraine State Forest.
The one-way trails make the experience seem almost private. You may pass or be passed by a few people, but you won’t believe you’re sharing the trails with a thousand other riders. The rugged terrain, hills and kettle-like depressions make for some tough riding, and may not be for everyone. But for riders looking for challenging, technical riding - this is the place. (The red-signed loop near the John Muir trailhead does offer some easier pedaling for those just getting the hang of it.)
In recent years, local WORBA members have put in thousands of volunteer hours reworking the trails from erosion-prone cross-country ski trails to purpose-built, single-track trails. From a strength standpoint, they’re now easier to ride because they traverse the elevation rather than attacking it. Much of the challenge now comes from tight turns, narrow passages and rough trail surface.
You can support the trail work and have even more fun by entering the annual Kettle Moraine Fall Color Festival usually the last Saturday in September or the first in October. Riders compete individually in timed runs. This festive, limited entry event raises lots of money for trail improvements.
The conversion from XC ski trails to single-track is nearly complete. Included in the project was the construction of a parallel trail in the 5-mile Connector Trail section to eliminate two-way bike traffic. If you ride the outer loops of the Muir and Carlin trails and the Connector, you’ll log 25 miles. Do it twice in one day and you’ll become a mountain biking legend.
You’ll want to save some energy to enjoy the area’s hospitality and attractions. The tiny village of La Grange is a popular gathering place; its General Store caters to riders with food, beverages, bicycle service and rentals. The nearby towns of Whitewater, Palmyra and Eagle are also great spots for R&R and dining.
Near Eagle you can visit Old World Wisconsin, the State Historical Society’s showcase of pioneer architecture and culture, 866/944-7483. Craft demonstrations, ethnic settlements, costumed guides, tram service, food and special events make this a fun peek into Wisconsin’s pioneer past.
So there it is – challenging riding, popular spot, close at hand, lots to do. Sounds like a perfect Kettle Moraine weekend.
For more information:
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit