Travel back in time and explore the history of Michigan's iron mining industry on the new Iron Ore Heritage Trail. The first 28 miles of this 48-mile "path through the past" was completed in 2013 from Kawbawgam Road to Winthrop Junction. The remaining 20 miles of trail to the former mining town of Republic runs on the abandoned Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad. This western section of trail is currently under development, but is open to both motorized and non-motorized use.
Kawbawgam Road to Winthrop Junction
The completed 28-mile eastern section of the trail follows along the Lake Superior shoreline from Kawbawgam Road to the historic iron ore dock in Marquette harbor. It then travels west, on a gradual uphill grade, to the mining communities of Negaunee and Ishpeming, passing by several museums, abandoned mines, historic sites and scenic natural areas. A series of interpretive signs keep you informed along the way.
If you don't have time to ride the entire 56-mile round trip, but would still like to experience the most historic sections of trail, we recommend the 38-mile round trip (19 miles each way) from the Marquette iron ore dock to Winthrop Junction and back. It's mostly uphill on the way there and mostly downhill (easy) on the way back.
Begin your journey at Lakeshore Parking Lot and head west on Spring Street to where the paved path begins at Marquette Commons. After a couple of miles, the trail surface changes from asphalt to finely screened limestone. The uphill grade begins to level out as you reach "Pellet Pavilion," a pitched roof under a railroad trestle that protects the trail from iron ore pellets (taconite balls) that occasionally fall from passing rail cars. Stop and pick up a free souvenir. West of M-35, a spur of the trail takes you about a half mile north to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. When you reach Maas Street, you must travel a short distance north on Forge Road (around Negaunee Cemetery) to reach the museum entrance.
The trail surface changes to asphalt as you approach Negaunee. Follow along Rail Street past the old Negaunee Train Depot to Jackson Mine Park. As the trail passes through an abandoned mining town, you will come to the site of the Jackson Mine, the first open pit iron mine in the Lake Superior region . Stop and check it out. You will continue to see lots of other abandoned mines, equipment and buildings on your way to downtown Ishpeming.
In Ishpeming, you will see three towering mine shafts dominating the landscape. At Lakeshore Drive, a northern spur of the trail takes you to the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum - a good place to learn the local history or start your journey from the west. The trail continues west ofIshpeming for another two miles. Just before the end of the trail in Winthrop Junction, you will come to an observation deck overlooking a lake. This is the flooded remains of the Section 16 Mine. As you gaze across the water, you will see the mountainous tailings of the mighty Empire Mine (still in operation) off in the distance - the world's largest open pit iron mine.
Winthrop Junction to Republic
The 20-mile section of trail from Winthrop Junction to Republic is being developed as funding becomes available. It is currently open to hiking, and rideable with fat bikes and mountain bikes, but mostly used by ATVs and snowmobiles. A 2.5-mile section of trail from downtown Republic to the Republic/Humboldt Township line was upgraded with finely screened crushed aggregate in 2015 and well suited for most bikes. West of Winthrop Junction, the trail travels through a scenic mix of woodlands and several wetlands, passing over and along Carp Creek, Larson Creek, the Escanaba and Black rivers, and Bruce Creek. About half way to Republic, the trail runs along the edge of the still-active Humboldt Mine.
Republic/Champion Grade Trail
The 7.5-mile Republic/Champion Grade Trail is a spur off the Iron Ore Heritage Trail that begins about 2.5 miles north of Republic and runs north to Champion, home of Van Riper State Park. The state park is located about 1 mile east of where the trail begins in Champion behind the Oasis market and gas station on M41.
This motorized, multi-use trail is primarily used by snowmobiles and ATVs, but suitable for fat tire and mountain bikes. It travels through a thoroughly scenic area of vast wetlands teaming with waterfowl and seasonal wildflowers, passing by Fish Lake and Tower Lake and following along the Black River for most of its length. The ride from Champion to Republic is an even 10 miles for a 20-mile round trip. A nice pleasant day ride.