ATVing the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Riders can enjoy seemingly endless trails and forest roads through the scenic wilderness of the U.P.’s national and state forest lands. The Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan offers off-road enthusiasts nearly infinite riding possibilities, with hundreds of miles of scenic and historic trails.

The Bill Nichols Trail begins in Greeland in Ontonagon County and travels northwest for 35 miles to south of Houghton. Riders will enjoy an exciting trek across the Fire Steel Bridges; each trestle is well over 100 feet above the river!

Another route, the Hancock-Calumet, is a fun-filled trip between the two cities. An abandoned railroad grade from Iron River east to Watersmeet and on to Marenisco provides riders with a nearly 80-mile journey.


Imagine a multi use trail system that was built with the services and cooperation of the Michigan National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, corporations and private landowners, and you can well imagine the magnitude of one of the largest multi use trail projects in the Midwest. A truly remarkable cooperative effort between Federal, State, and Local authorities, itis a National Role Model project coordinated by the Ontonagon County-based organization of Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment of the Upper Peninsula, better known as TRALE-UP.

TRALE-UP was founded in the early 90’s by a group of ATV enthusiasts. Originally called the Ontonagon County ATV Club, the clubs founding members organized to ensure that the thousands of acres of Federal and State land would remain open to ATV’s In the Western Upper Peninsula, ATVs are the preferred mode of transportation to get to and from deer camps, stand, and blinds. Thus, it was important that ATV travel continue to be permitted on public land.

From securing ATV access to public lands to building a multi-use trail system, the driving force behind TRALE UP has been President Jim Firkus.  As the organizations “founding father”, Firkus has been the key to the success of bringing Federal, State, and Local Government as well as private parties together for the benefit of ATV riders.

“If the National Guard and the Reserve wants and needs the experience of building a road in the middle of nowhere, I know exactly where and how they can get that valuable training. By working with TRALE-UP, they’ll get the training and we’ll get their expertise, equipment, and most of all, the workers!” commented Firkus.

“The Guard and Reserve used their summer training in building roads, bridges, and laying culverts.  Everything they did was with the cooperation of the Forest Service and DNR  After all, these roads will become environmentally friendly multi-use trails that generations will be able to use and enjoy for many, many years.” Per Firkus.

The multi-use trail system has been planned to incorporate one of the nation’s must scenic areas, Ontonagon County, along with the region’s rich mining history. The trail system leads the ATV enthusiast to remote mining areas of the later 1800’s and early 1900’s. The trail system also features rest and picnic areas, and interpretive geographic and historical trails.

If this isn’t enough to show you why Ontonagon County’s multi-use trail system has generated the interest of people all over the U.S., read on.

With the help of the R.L. Ryerson Company and Polaris, TRALE-UP has been working with the organization Outdoors Forever. Outdoors Forever is a Michigan-based organization that works with different public and private organizations in building off road access areas for the physically challenged. An organization that has been an instrumental part of the planning and development of many facets of this multi-use trail system.

TRALE-UP President Firkus once again led the way in providing access for the physically challenged by building a wheelchair-accessible overlook to the remote Agate Waterfalls in Southern Ontonagon County, along with the beautiful “Deer Marsh” area in Baraga County.

According to Firkus, the R.L. Ryerson Company and Polaris not only provided ATV’s to be raffled off but also a Big Boss 6 Wheeler that was used to bring in tons of rock and other materials to build these sights for Outdoors Forever.

Ontonagon County’s multi-use trail system plans on linking up with the hundreds of miles of pre-existing multi-use trails, trails that include the use of numerous abandoned railroad beds and trestles. It is a trail system that has been built to be environmentally friendly.

Per TRALE-UP member Skip Schultz, “The trail system has more culverts to correctly move and drain water than the City of Milwaukee. It is amazing to see how much long range planning has gone into this trail system. The last thing TRALE-UP wanted was for someone to say we are hurting the beauty of the Western U.P.

From bluffs that overlook thousands of acres, to trails that wind through virgin forests, here is an ATV enthusiast’s ultimate destination. Ontonagon County recognizes the value of the growing ATV community as a valuable tourist attraction.

Before traveling in the Upper Peninsula please be sure to check the area maps that show routes and trails to be sure they are designated ATV trails.