Hanson Hills, in Grayling, is a tough trail to bike, but the gorgeous views and secluded landscape make it all worth it. Learn how Kandace Chapple and a few friends geared up to bike Northern Michigan’s untouched beauty.
The idea of mountain biking the infamous Hanson Hills in Grayling made me feel … well, let me just say it … wimpy. I have several friends in the area who cussed the hills (often) and warned me that the trail was a beast to tackle. There were tales of getting lost, rides taking days and oxygen-deprived prayers sent up on every hill. But I also heard stories of endless views and a sprawling, secluded landscape.
I decided to take a couple of friends to suffer with me and made the distinct mistake of bringing two friends faster than I am. I would be sucking wind the entire ride. But, one of them lived in Grayling and would serve as our tour guide. I knew at least we wouldn’t end up lost.
There are three loops to pick from, along with a mishmash of cut-across trails. You might snap a quick picture with your phone of the trail map at the trailhead for reference, although each intersection we went through was well-marked with clear signage.
At the trailhead, you’ll find a building (used for their skiing and tubing operations in the winter) with flush bathrooms, plus a beautiful pavilion for community events and a “Feed the Red Tube” asking for donations of $2 per rider.
Our tour guide decided we would tackle the Yellow Loop (10 miles), also called the Main Loop. This took us an hour and 15 minutes and included a few spots where I said I needed “pictures,” but really needed a chance to regain my lung capacity.
The Yellow Loop starts off flat and serene. A bait and switch, I would say, ahem. Because before long, we were into switchbacks and climbing for several minutes. There were no brutal killer vertical climbs, but the switchbacks were steady. There was only one uphill, righthand, sandy corner that caused two of the three of us to dismount with an oomph. Otherwise, the trail waited patiently for us to eke out every climb, and we were treated to fun little wooden bridges toward the end of the loop.
I soon had to agree with Hanson Hill’s reputation—it’s tough. We got our workout in and then some. But its other reputation held, too: gorgeous, secluded and untouched. The landscape offered one view after another, with every imaginable Northern Michigan tree on display. The high point of the trip, literally, was an M-93 overlook along the trail. The view was endless—and I really did take pictures that time.
Back at our cars, we decided to do the Green Loop, a three-miler dubbed “Easy Rider,” to see what they had for the kids. Even our trail guide hadn’t done this one before. So off we went, thinking we’d knock this out as a cooldown.
Let me just stop right here and say that this trail is not a kids’ trail. This is a flatter trail, but it has its challenges. And … The Killer Root. (I named it, and if you ride it, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.)
The Killer is a gnarly tree root as high as your knee on a blind corner. A root that, if you are racing along with your friends trying to be cool on the kiddie loop, will stop you like a brick wall. The first of us hit it, and then the other two almost rear-ended him.
This decidedly broke the “kiddie” spell on the Green Loop. We saw that we were, in fact, still riding for real … and we slowed to a much more cautious pace.
However, the Green Loop has its charm and would be a fine ride if you weren’t all hardcore, going too fast for your britches, like we were. The best part is a serene, winding stretch through dark, bushy evergreens. It’s like a magical little wonderland with mossy fallen limbs and almost an age-old wisdom in the air. If you hit The Killer, you will also associate this
stretch with a sense of well-being, glad to be alive.
If You Go
Visit hansonhills.org/mountain-bike-trails for a trail map. Park at the Grayling Recreation Authority at 7601 Old Lake Rd., Grayling. Look for the cute pond and split-rail fence, and park on the back side of it. Be sure to drop your $2 in the Red Tube and take plenty of water!
Find this article and more in the May 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse Magazine delivered to your door each month.