Fort Custer Trail Details
The current trail system at Fort Custer was developed by the Southwest Michigan Mountain Biking Association (SWMMBA). Existing roads within the Park were linked to singletrack loops that were designed from scratch. The Amusement Park was built in 1993, with subsequent construction of The Trenches, Rocks and Roots, Granny’s Garden, Crazy Beaver, and the entire Green Loop. Trail markers were purchased and installed by the SWMMBA. The Blue Loop was marked using preexisting trails. The Horse Friends group added trail markers to the system in 2005, encouraging equestrians and bikers to ride in opposite directions for improved safety. The Sled Dog group added markers in 2006.
In 2012 a separate equestrian trail system was developed. The Blue loop was still open to all users; while the Red, Green, and Yellow Loops were established as biking and hiking only.
In 2017, with permission from the DNR, SWMMBA made the Red, Green, and Yellow trails directional based on the day of the week. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday the trails are counterclockwise (the original direction); on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday they are clockwise. Please follow the direction signage at the trailhead and at trail crossings.
The Blue and Yellow loops are recommended for novice riders, while the Red and Green are rated intermediate. There are bypasses available for advanced features on both the Red and Green trails.
This is the complete trail map system at Fort Custer Recreation Area. Please NOTE that this map shows the trail separation of Equestrian and Biking Trails. Bikes are not allowed on ANY equestrian only trail.
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The Blue Loop is located south of the campground and winds around Jackson Hole and Whitford Lake. The trail starts at the Whitford Lake parking lot rather than the Mountain Biking Trailhead. The Blue Loop is actually two loops with a common section between the two lakes. There are no technical sections, but several moderate climbs and descents. There are (10) trail markers to guide you, beginning just south of the parking lot (to the right of the toilets).
It begins as singletrack skirting the south side of Whitford Lake and along open fields which are planted by the DNR with either soybeans or corn and left standing for waterfowl. In the spring a pair of Sandhill Cranes can often be seen performing their mating dance – a truly fascinating sight.
The trail then passes an old homestead. The foundations to the house, barn and outbuildings, as well as the silo are all that remain of the structures. Red Bud, cherry trees, and flowers planted by the former owners bloom in the early spring. The trail then descends and crosses a small brook. After climbing a short steep hill, the trail forks (2). Stay to the left. The trail follows a ridge above Lawler Lake then makes a descent, a climb, a descent and another climb before crossing a dirt road leading to one of the rental cabins (3). Follow the trail past a hand-pump (you can get a refill on water here) and past one of the rental cabins to marker (4). The trail then descends a steep rooted section to a junction (5). Going left will shortcut between Whitford Lake and Jackson Hole rejoining the trail at the boat launch parking lot (9). This is a cool downhill section that skirts the very edge of both lakes, and is worth checking out after you complete the main loop.
Taking a right at (5), the trail continues with short ups and downs for another half mile. It then crosses a bridge, built by the SWMMBA in 2002. It makes a sharp left (6) turning back on itself to approach the stream again. A moderate climb followed by a steep gravel descent takes you along Jackson Hole on your left. The trail intersects with a two track from the campground (7). It crosses a meadow and another two track to the lake (8). Back into the woods the trail skirts the south edge of the Campground. The trail dumps out onto the gravel access road for the Whitford and Jackson boat launches. Go left on the gravel road to the boat launch parking lot. The shortcut from (5) rejoins (9). Make a right, past the toilets and hop back on singletrack (10). The trail returns you to the Whitford Lake parking lot. This is a great place to picnic, take a swim, fish, or just lay out in the grass and watch the clouds pass overhead.
The Green Loop circumnavigates Eagle Lake for a distance of just under eight miles.
Although a little less technical than the Red Loop, the Green still has some pretty challenging sections. It also has great views of Eagle Lake, especially at sunset.
The Green Loop starts at the trailhead (1) as a two-track, following the remnant of one of the side streets of the old town of Lawler.
The trail passes an old intersection (2) coming in from the right. Continue for few hundred feet looking for singletrack on the left (3). The trail meanders through an old homestead where only concrete and stone serve to confirm its past existence. The trail continues winding east paralleling the equestrian trail to the south on old Reese Rd. The trail crosses a large intersection (4) close to the exit from the Amusement and about 100 feet further merges onto old Reese Rd. (5). This section of Reese Rd. is designated biking and hiking only and should not have any equestrian traffic on it as you ride a long moderate downhill crossing the Red Loop trail. And continuing on to the end of the road where it turns into singletrack and runs parallel to the military boundary fence foe about 200 feet. The trail then crosses a culvert over the inlet to Eagle Lake.
The trail then begins climbing a steep series of three technical switchbacks up away from the stream. At the top, the trail continues as meandering singletrack with mild changes in elevation. The trail encounters an old fence that used to enclose a mortar range. It follows the perimeter of the range on the west side. The trail then splits. To the left is the old mountain bike trail. Follow the right fork which leads to a downhill switchback, and then a gradual climb which ends by crossing the old trail.
After crossing the old trail you will dive into a big gully, the first Gully Pucker, that rides like a half-pipe – technical, but FUN. A short climb with a nice view of Eagle Lake is followed by the second Gully Pucker half-pipe and another short climb that then dives down to cross a small brook. The brook cascades down the face of a tiny old dam, probably built by a homesteader and since silted in over the decades.
The trail winds down to the edge of Eagle Lake once again and then begins a double switchback climb up and away from the lake. After another little down-and-up, the trail runs smack-dab into the chain-link fence separating the park from the military grounds. The trail makes a ninety-degree left and runs right along the fence for a hundred feet or so. It then leaves the fence and twists tightly through the woods and across a second small brook. The trail then skirts the edge of a large meadow (look for deer), then up a gradual climb through a stand of Blue Spruce, planted by the Boy Scouts over 50 years ago. The trail then crosses old Harmonia Road (6) and travels to the northern edge of the park before doubling back, re-crossing Harmonia (7) via a fun downhill with three narrow sweeps through the trees. A short climb precedes a straight and fast downhill that breaks into a smaller grassy meadow interspersed with more of those Boy Scout Blue Spruce. Another twisty climb and a very twisty downhill takes you the edge – the very edge- of Eagle Lake. On a hot summer day, this is a great spot to take a break, and maybe take a dip in the lake. This is a high use area for fishing and hiking along the lake, so keep an eye out.
Continuing along the lake the trail meets the Boat Launch for Eagle Lake at (8) and then climbs away from the lake and back into the trees. A tricky little down-and-up precedes a break out into a long narrow meadow that runs slightly downhill with wide sweeping turns (look for deer) for about a quarter mile. You will cross three abandoned streets (9), (10) and (11). Then it’s back into the woods, another tricky down-and-up, and a short section of old railroad bed before crossing Harmonia Rd. for the third time(12), and descending into bottom land. You’re in Sniper’s reroute. This is a very tight twisty section that has been rerouted four times thanks to a busy beaver that has caused the adjacent pond to flood the trail repeatedly. At the top of a short climb that takes you up close to a guard-rail (Dickman Rd. is on the other side. Stop here and look to your left – that’s the beaver dam. You can find a foot path that leads out to the dam (leave your bike off the trail). A little technical climb and a big log pile challenge you before dropping down to cross Harmonia Rd. (13) for the fourth time. The last section of singletrack winds through a stand of pines, before crossing the main park road (14), up an embankment, and along a half mile of two track returning you to the trailhead parking lot.
The RED LOOP has the most technical sections and biggest climbs of the three loops in the park. The loop has (17) trail markers, and covers a distance of 9 miles.
Starting at the trail-head (1), The Trenches introduce you to one of the many unique features of The Fort. The Trenches were dug by solders as part of the training facilities for combat troops when the Fort was a military training base. Winding through this section is like riding a twisting half pipe. Breaking out of The Trenches, you cross an old intersection of the abandon town of Lawler and enter Rocks and Roots (3). This section is flat, but twisty, with – you guessed it – a lot of rocks and roots. You will cross the equestrian trail (4) midway along this section.
Exiting Rocks and Roots takes you into an open meadow and then to The Gravel Pit. Here you will encounter the Camel Humps, a series of short ups and downs with a few twists thrown in. The trail then twists along a small stream through dense underbrush. The trail come to the water’s edge and then makes a sharp left to to climb a steep, twisty section before leveling off to meander through the woods. The trail then breaks out into the open for about 100 yards before beginning a switchback climb up Cardiac Bypass. At the top you will cross an old two track (5) and enter a new section – The Big Meadow. This section starts in the woods, but quickly enters a (you guessed it) big meadow by taking a fast downhill with a wide sweeping turn at the bottom, so keep your hands off the brakes! The trail winds through the meadow for about half a mile, then crosses another two track (6) into Frog Holler. Granny’s is a challenging Loop which you can bypass by taking a left on the two track at (6) and passing the exit from Granny’s (7) to continue on the Red Loop. Back to Frog Holler. This single track runs through the woods and along the edge off two small swales that are home to thousands of frogs – including tree frogs, leopard frogs, bull frogs and more. This section of trail is a delight in the spring and most of the summer as these thousands of frogs create a chorus of amazing variety and intensity that literally surrounds you from the trees and swales. The trail makes a hard left on a descent and begins a series of short, steep climbs – summiting in an old barn foundation. Another hard left brings you onto the original starting point of Granny’s Garden. Granny’s winds across ravines that are a part of an ancient glacial moraine, with lots of drops and climbs, log crossings and other technical challenges. A final downhill drop exits Granny’s (7) and begins a short climb on two track known as D.O.A.. The road levels out at the top and after about 100 yards, it forks to the right (8), back into singletrack for a sweeping cruise through the Sleepy Hollow section. When riding near dusk or later keep an eye out for a headless horseman in this deep and dark section of trail. At (9), a sharp left back onto an old two track (Deliverance) makes for a fast quarter mile to (10). A sharp right for another quarter mile on the straight shot known as Zoom-Zoom which ends in a very, very twisty arrival at (11). Check for oncoming horses and go straight across the equestrian trail. This section begins as a sweeping sections, slightly downhill. Next you’ll encounter a skills option built across a large fallen cherry tree. If you haven’t ridden it before, take the bypass on the left and check out the backside before riding it. You then begin a descent that becomes faster and steeper as you go, ending with No Fear Chute – a fast combination of left, right, and left again high banked turns. No Fear ends by crossing the Green loop at The Table Top (12) – Reese Road. Next – The Amusement Park. This was the first section of singletrack developed by and for mountain bikers in 1995 as a demonstration project to convince the DNR that a mountain bike trail system, built and maintained by its users would be a big draw to the Recreation Area. Little did we know. We built it and they came – doubling the day use of the park within three years. Visits by thousands of bikers from as far away as California, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin added to the regulars from Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids in beyond to make Fort Custer one of the top 50 trail systems in the U.S. The Amusement Park meanders along the south shore of Eagle Lake with great views of the lake and several steep ups and downs including The Demon Drop a steep flagstone paved gully crossing. Next two very close encounters with the lake and a twisting route through Dances With Trees leads to a steep climb up and away from the lake. A shortcut out can be taken by making a right rather than a left at (13). Or, you can continue twisting through the woods to exit the Amusement Park at (14). Turn right onto a long, straight two track downhill leading to The Peninsula (15). The Peninsula was made a hiker-only trail with the adoption of the horse / bike trail separation in the Spring of 2012. Keep to the left at this intersection and ride to the entrance of Crazy Beaver Loop (16). This section loops around a large spring-fed pond with great scenery and swans in the summer. A beaver used to call this pond home, but she had no place to build a dam (no inlet or outlet stream) and in four years she had felled all the poplar trees (preferred food source and building materials) and had literally eaten herself out of house and home. This is Crazy Beaver Loop! There’s a couple of climbs and technical downhills and a final ride through another set of technical trenches before exiting where a left at (17) will return you to the trailhead in about a quarter mile.