My last entry was on the General Store in La Grange, WI on the way to the John Muir trails. Well let’s get on to talking about the trails in Kettle Moraine, WI. Specifically the John Muir trails are a 30+ mile set of groomed single track trails. If you live in the midwest and like to mountain bike then you have heard of the these trails. They are about an hour drive from my house so I don’t get to enjoy them as much as I would like to. When I do get there I spend as much time as I can and leave exhausted.
When you arrive you will notice this is a Wisconsin State park. Even though the trails are maintained by local clubs the land is part of the state park system. This means a parking permit and trail pass are required. If the ranger station is open you can pay with them, but if it is closed you can use the drop box and envelopes at the station. Just remember these trails are not possible if they can’t be maintained. Paying the small fee isn’t too bad considering how nice the system is. Once you have your parking permit you can find a spot and get setup. Normally when I arrive it is around 6am so it looks a bit like this picture below. Last note is the trails can be closed for weather and nasty conditions. There is a hotline on the state park website to check this here: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/kms/trails.html
OK you are parked, have your bike off the car and are ready to ride. Next step is to decide how far you want to go and at what skill level. The park maps at the entrance clearly describe each trail, total distance, the terrain and a difficulty level. If you have never been here before I suggest warming up with one of the short 1-3 mile loops to get a feel for it. All trails are one direction and very clearly marked. It is very difficult to get lost on this system so don’t worry. Just pick the color trail you are taking and start pedaling.
Once you are comfortable and warmed up decide how far, fast and difficult you want to go. Also you don’t necessarily have to stay on one color trail. I often cut between them to avoid some areas and get to others. For instance the “Roller Coaster” is a fast downhill switchback section through a rock garden. It can be taken very quickly, but note it is also very dangerous for unskilled riders. When my legs are fresh and my senses sharp I try to get through this area a couple of times. Then there is the steep rock climb called “Hell’s Kitchen”. I am pretty sure it is named this because it is near the end of the longer trails and by the time you get to it you are very hot. If you don’t like rocky climbs you may want to avoid this section. Other names give you some clues to what you are about to see. So don’t be surprised when “Sandy Bottoms” has sand.
The reason I like to visit the trails so early in the morning is to be done with my riding before anyone else shows up. That way I can’t take my own pace and not worry about having to overtake other riders or having to yield to faster riders. If you visit when it is busy remember trail etiquette. When approaching slower riders announce you are behind them and wait for them to let you by. Likewise when you hear a faster rider approaching let them by at the first safe place to do this. Lastly if you need to stop for a bike problem, fatigue or injury try to do it before a corner or after the corner and pull all equipment off the trail. That way you can see the riders coming and they can see you. According to my GPS I have hit 30mph on some sections. Not the time to have to panic stop or make emergency maneuvers in the woods.
Over the last 20 years I have logged many miles on the John Muir trails. I hope if you get out there you will find them as much fun as I do. Just remember to stop at the General Store and be safe.