An extremely popular event that attracts thousands of off-road enthusiasts, the 40th edition of the Chequamegon MTB Festival takes place in the big woods of northwestern Wisconsin. The event is produced by Life Time Events and is part of the prestigious Life Time Grand Prix Series – here at Strambecco, we consider it to be one of the Best Mountain Bike Events in the Midwest.
Established in 1983 with a mere 27 cyclists taking to the iconic American Birkebeiner ski trail, the festival has evolved into one of America’s most esteemed off-road MTB events. This year, participants and spectators alike are invited to not just race but revel in a weekend chock-full of live music, delectable food truck offerings, craft beer, and family-friendly entertainment. It’s the confluence of elite athletes, amateur enthusiasts, and bright-eyed novices, all set against the breathtaking backdrop of Hayward’s glacial terrains.
Event & Course Info
There are multiple events to choose from, however, the Chequamegon 40 is the crown jewel event of Chequamegon MTB Festival, stretching from downtown Hayward to the Great Hall in Cable, WI. Navigating through forest roads, snowmobile routes, and the famed American Birkebeiner Ski Trail, this 40-mile race challenges participants with a cumulative elevation gain of over 2,500 feet. Though devoid of technical switchbacks or narrow single tracks, the Chequamegon course tests resilience. Its ever-changing terrains and surface conditions, characterized by incessant 25- and 50-foot climbs, mirror a roller coaster ride. Aid stations are interspersed throughout the route to ensure athletes remain hydrated and energized, and there are designated cutoff times for each for safety: Gravel Pit | Mile 12 | Cut-off at 11:46 AM – OO | Mile 18 | Cut-off at 12:36 PM – High Point | Mile 30 | Cut-off at 2:20 PM – full course cutoff 4:00 PM to complete. While the Pro field will rely on support crews at these stations, others can replenish with GU products and electrolytes.
Other events taking place as part of the festival include the Short & Fat: a condensed 16-mile version offering all the trials and tribulations of its 40-mile counterpart, and Little Loggers a continuous 15-minute loop tailored to inspire the next generation of mountain bikers.
In order to get the best and most accurate starting placement for the iconic Chequamegon 40 start to the race, participants can leverage prior years’ results, while those who are racing it for the first time commence from the last start gate. Winners of the Pro/Elite Division split a cash purse of $10,000, while there are overall awards for top three men and women as well as other categories. Be sure to refer to the official 2023 Athlete Guide for all of the nitty gritty details.
Chequamegon MTB Festival is a spectator friendly event, and “OO” and Birke Trail are approximately 15.92 miles from the starting point. Offering ample parking and a pristine view of the race, it’s the perfect spot for supporters to cheer and provide racer aid.
Area Accommodations & Things to Do
The Chequamegon area of Wisconsin is between the cities of Hayward and Cable, and a part of Bayfield County. It encompasses part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, a vast expanse of woodlands, wetlands, and lakes, offering a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts and a rich history rooted in the Ojibwe Nation and early logging industry. Known for its pristine natural beauty, the region attracts visitors year-round with opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wildlife observation.
There are a variety of accommodations available in the area for those making a vacation out of Chequamegon MTB Festival including hotels Holiday Inn Express, the Lumberjack Inn, and Drumming Woods B&B. For those that prefer a more home-like experience, there are a number of vacation rentals to choose from including modern A-frames, cabins, and more.
The culinary scene in the Chequamegon area of Wisconsin reflects its rich Midwestern heritage, offering a mix of traditional comfort foods, fresh local produce, and fish dishes sourced from the area’s abundant lakes and streams, all served in cozy eateries and lakeside taverns. Embracing both farm-to-table practices and Northwoods flavors, it’s a destination where hearty meals meet the warmth of small-town hospitality. Some local favorites worth checking out include Velo Cafe, the Rivers Eatery, River Deck, Main Street Tacos.
Mid-September is a magical time in the Chequamegon area of Wisconsin. As the leaves begin to turn into their autumnal hues and the temperatures cool, outdoor athletes are presented with a myriad of opportunities to explore the natural beauty of this region. If you haven’t had enough mountain biking at Chequamegon MTB Festival, you can further explore the CAMBA trails which span over 300 miles. For athletes visiting in mid-September, the “Fall Color Tour” offers a breathtaking experience. This specific set of trails traverses a mix of dense forests, open meadows, and rolling terrain, showcasing the autumn foliage in its full glory.
The Namekagon River, a tributary of the St. Croix River, is a designated National Scenic Riverway that runs through the area. In mid-September, its waters are calm and clear, with the surrounding forests painting a stunning backdrop of oranges, yellows, and reds. Outdoor athletes will appreciate the gentle current and the opportunity to spot wildlife, from bald eagles to river otters, during a paddling excursion. Start your journey at the Cable Landing and meander downstream to the Trego Nature Trail. This stretch offers a mix of tranquil waters and a few playful rapids, perfect for both beginners and seasoned paddlers.
Finally, stretching across seven states, the North Country National Scenic Trail offers some of its most picturesque hiking sections in the Chequamegon area. The segment that runs through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is a must-hike. In mid-September, the trail is adorned with a carpet of fallen leaves, creating a dreamy setting for hikers. The **Marengo River Section** is a 10-mile stretch that offers varied terrain, including hardwood forests, river crossings, and elevated vistas. Hikers can experience the wilderness in its purest form, often catching glimpses of deer, wild turkeys, and other local fauna.
Chequamegon MTB Festival will be stop #5 of the Life Time Grand Prix Series. The series features 7 of the most iconic cycling events and the best cyclists in off-road cycling. The challenge combines mountain biking and gravel riding disciplines. The events are all around the country, including the Sea Otter Classic, UNBOUND Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Big Sugar Gravel, and Rad Dirt Fest. All of them are considered to be some of the best events across the country, from the Best Gravel Cycling Event in Colorado and the Rockies, to California, the Southwest, the Midwest, and the South Central regions. The biggest prize purse in U.S. cycling, $250,000, will be split evenly between men and women, and each event will be streamed live and on-demand on FloBikes.
For multi-sport athletes looking for other bucket list events in Wisconsin and the Midwest to add to their calendar, check out Ironbull Red Granite Grinder or the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, one of the Best Road Cycling Events in the Midwest. Trail runners have their pick at some premier events including Kettle Moraine 100, which is the second leg in the Midwest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Series and a qualifier event for the famed Western States 100, as well as the Ironbull Ultra and The Ice Age Trail – all of the events, we rate as some of the Best Trail Running Events in the Midwest.