Gather up the family and head to the City of Cable in northwest Wisconsin for the annual Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. Whether you are coming to participate in the race, know a racer, or just want to enjoy the excitement and fun of the festival, mid-September in Wisconsin is the perfect setting because it’s not too cold or too hot.
This is a free event, but you will want to bring some money for food trucks, beer, and other vendor items. This annual event started in 1983 as a group of 27 bike riders who lined up to ride at the first festival and has grown so much that the sponsors have had to choose participants through a lottery, so everyone gets a fair shot at being in the race.
Every year, hundreds of bikers are chosen via that lottery to take part in this challenging 40-mile event. And this is not your leisurely bike ride along the road. You will be starting downtown and traveling over ski roads, forest trails, and the American Birkebeiner Ski Trail to the finish line at Great Hall in Cable.
You can also take part in some bicycle bowling and bike limbo as well as a lumberjack log pull and clunker toss. There is something for everyone here, as there are family-friendly events like the bike rodeo and a children’s decorated bicycle parade. These events are free, and each child gets a participation medal and treats.
Tickets are not needed to attend the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, but if you are participating in the race, you will have to register beforehand. Since it is done by random lottery, you have to register at least six months in advance to have a good shot at being chosen, but you can register up until September 1st.
In the northwest section of Wisconsin near the Cable Union Airport, you can find the festival at the Great Hall parking lot on Telemark Road. You may take Highway US-63 or WI-77 to M to reach Telemark Road. Your drive time from Duluth is about 1.5 hours, three hours from Minneapolis and St. Paul, and about five hours from Green Bay and Wausau.
Plenty of parking is usually available in the airport field across from the Great Hall parking lot, which is on Telemark Road off Highway M. In the past, there have been no listed restrictions as far as the size of your vehicle for parking in the airport field.
There is additional parking at the start of the race in Hayward in the city lot on Highway 27 and 63, Hayward Primary School on Minnesota and Sixth, People’s National Bank on Dakota and Second, and the Hayward Wesleyan Church on Nyman and Highway 27. However, if you will travel in a larger rig, it may be wise to contact the Chequamegon MTB Festival organizers regarding any regulations for these areas.
Once you park your rig at the campsite, you may want to leave it there and take public transportation to the festival. There is a city bus that runs in the Chequamegon Bay area as well as a shuttle service called Bay Area Rural Transit (BART). In addition, there are several options for taxis or private ride apps that you can use as well.
The grounds do not allow onside camping so you will have to find a different place to park the motorhome for the night. There are quite a few awesome places to camp in the area from just a few miles to an hour away. However, you will want to make sure to reserve a spot early because this is a popular event and campsites fill up fast.
There are over a dozen campground and RV parks within an hour of the event so you will have many to choose from in the vicinity. Many of them are in the Hayward area, which is 30 miles away from where the race actually begins. However, all of Chequamegon MTB festivities are at the finish line in Cable. From lakeside beach campsites to wooded wonderlands, you can find just about any kind of space you want and most fit even the largest RVs and trailers. Amenities vary from primitive to full hookups, some with playgrounds, pools, showers, laundry facilities, and much more.
Participants will be transported by bus from the Great Hall parking lot to the starting line at the American Birkebeiner Trailhead in Hayward. There is a small fee, and you will have to register in advance for this service.
For those not participating in the race, there are five designated spectator spots to watch the events. The first is at Rosie’s Field near the Fish Hatchery two miles from the start. The “00” and Birke Trail spot is off Highway 63 about 16 miles from the start. The Janet Road spot about 17 miles from the start is off Highway 00 in Seeley at the intersection of Janet Road and Snowmobile Trail 71. The Boedecker spot is 20 miles from the start at Boedecker and Winding Pine Trail off Highway 63. And the Winding Pine Trail at CAMBRA land marker S-6/7 is 31 miles from the start at Winding Pine and Birke Trails.
Weather in this part of the state can fluctuate drastically at this time of year so you will need to be flexible with what you pack. Daily temps can range from low 50s to upper 80s so you will have to check the forecast. The usual attire for riders is typically biking shorts, a comfortable t-shirt, tennis shoes, and a helmet. On the day of the race, riders will need to pick up their numbered bib at the Great Hall. Spectators should wear something comfortable such as jeans and tees or whatever else you desire although high heels are probably not a good choice for walking in the fields and trails.
Pack outdoor items and cooking gear you may need for the type of RV camping you prefer. For example, if you do not have hookups for cooking, you may need to bring a camp stove or be prepared to boondock. If there is no potable water, bring plenty of bottled water and other beverages. Take a small backpack to carry extras for the festival since you will not have direct access to your rig while you are there.
Since the weather can change quickly, wear layers so you can take them off and put them back on as needed. Pack water, sunscreen, and bug spray and maybe a small first aid kit. You may also want to bring or wear a hat and sunglasses if it is supposed to be sunny.
Although there are plenty of food vendors at the festival, you may want to bring snacks and water to tide you over during the spectating part of the race. Participants will have designated food and water spots to use during the race, but spectators can come and go as they please as long as they respect the racecourse spaces. Cooking at your RV depends on the amenities where you are staying so be prepared with a few flexible meal options along the way.
The surrounding towns of Hayward and Cable have many great restaurants from Mexican to American and from pizza to subs. If your RV is parked at a campground, you can jump on a shuttle or even walk to some of the eateries nearby. Your after-race meal with the crew is sure to be enjoyable in these Northern Wisconsin communities.
Food trucks are available during the festival and vendors vary with their offerings from hotdogs and hamburgers to funnel cakes and ice cream. In past years, some of the vendors have included Shills and Chills Drinks, Shift Coffee Shop, Bomb Dog, Craft Mobile Kitchen, and Life Support BBQ. Also, there has been live music, kids play areas, and plenty of vendors offering various biking gear and mementos for sale.
The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival will have security staff on site to help keep the peace, and the Cable Police Department is also nearby if needed. In recent years there have also been more than 800 volunteers who donate their time to help out, making sure everyone has a good time and safety is observed.
In past years, the weather has varied from highs in the 50s and lows in the 40s to highs in the 90s and lows in the 70s. Chances of rain are typically about 10-20% during September in Wisconsin. It is best to check with the local weather stations or a weather app to get the updated forecast about a week before the event.
Medical staff and first aid stations are available at several points of the race trail. For participants, there are safety rules to follow, and you must wear a helmet and never leave the pavement or designated trail. The closest hospital is in Hayward, which is where the starting line is. Otherwise, if you have an emergency, you can call 911.