A Distinguishing Winter Ritual – Celebrating 25 Years of Marquette’s UP 200 Sled Dog Race

The UP 200 is one of America’s premier 12-dog, mid-distance sled dog races. Mushers say this is one of their favorite races, not only because of the challenging race, but because of the cheering crowds and warm welcome they receive in the Upper Peninsula.

up200finishHappening February 12th-15th, The UP 200 trail covers 240 miles of challenging terrain through the areas of Marquette, Grand Marais, Wetmore, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and finishes at Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. Today, Barry Winslow from Travel Marquette tells us how you can make the UP 200 a winter ritual of your own.

Crowds gather along the race track which is comprised of the pure snow hauled into Marquette’s downtown streets. Spectators clutch Irish coffee and hot cocoa. Voices and laughter mingle with the excited yipping of the dogs. It’s time for the race to begin. It’s time for the UP 200.

For twenty-five years, mushers and their teams have endured the UP 200 and its scenic trail that runs along the frozen shore of Lake Superior, from Marquette to Grand Marais and back. For the mushers, it’s a chance to test their dogs in the Iditarod qualifying race. For the spectators, it’s a time to enjoy the wintry weather and local culture of this Upper Peninsula city.

A Communal Gathering
For the spectator, the UP 200 is more than an incredible and unique sporting event to watch from a distance. The event is a social catalyst that sparks the forging of a special relationship between the area and its people. Winter is a season that Marquetter’s take very seriously, and the apex of that seasonal appreciation is achieved at the UP 200 every February. This special relationship between the area and its people is replicated by that of the mushers and their relationship with their sled dogs. It is this outstanding appreciation for nature and a tightly-knitted community that makes Marquette County the perfect location for the UP 200.

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Pristine Cuisine!
From Das Steinhaus to Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery to the Wild Rover, race fans eat their fill and get their thrills as they watch the teams of dogs both start and finish the UP 200 from the packed sidewalks and downtown storefronts in Marquette. Marquette, the largest city in both Marquette County and the Upper Peninsula, is home to some of the most delicious local restaurant options in the state of Michigan. A wide array of cuisine choices include authentic German food, delicious Cajun dishes, home-cooked Irish plates, delectable Italian pasta’s, slow-cooked barbecue, fine American dining and so much more.

Marquette takes great pride in their local restaurants, which stems as a direct result of its people, the “small-city” size of Marquette, and the passion for the area that its residents and visitors have. But, with great food there must be great beverages to go along. Marquette County is home to some of the greatest beer in not only the state of Michigan, but all of the country.

Peruse Some Brews!
The UP 200 draws a generous crowd to the five microbreweries in Marquette County. One of the favorites has to be the Ore Dock Brewing Company. Built in an old brick building in downtown Marquette that once functioned as a car garage and dealership, the Ore Dock has re-stylized itself as one of the trendiest venues in the state to grab a beer and dance to some live music. Specializing in Belgians, Saisons and Ales, the Ore Dock delivers a delicious beer menu to go along with the friendly atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Photo courtesy of Travel Marquette

Another UP 200 spectator favorite is Blackrocks Brewery. Located just up the hill from downtown on north Third Street, Blackrocks started up their microbrewery operation in an old two story house in 2010. What started as an “open ‘til empty” policy with their original brewing equipment and smaller capacity is now a full-fledged brewing business with a weekly rotating menu and additional canning facility. Stop in and grab a mug of the good stuff. You never know what’s going to be on tap!

There’s even more beer in the area. The Vierling serves up some delicious varieties from their downtown Marquette location and has been doing so since 1995, making them one of Michigan’s first brew pubs. Ask for their “blueberry beer” and you’ll be in for a treat! Even in the small suburb of Harvey, Chocolay River Brewery recently hit the scene and doubles with the Bayou Restaurant to deliver excellent food and beer at even better prices.

A Progressive Northern City
Beyond the downtown nightlife, breweries, local restaurants, storefronts and boutiques, there is something even more special about Marquette. The shining gem of this incredible place is the comforting aura it gives off and the unwavering attitude of its people. It is a passion for place that drives the people of Marquette County to host such incredible events as the UP 200.

Do yourself a favor and make the trip north to Marquette County this winter. The sled dogs and mushers are ready…are you?

Five Thrilling Gifts for the Adventure-Seeking Traveler on Your Shopping List

While many will be shopping for gizmos and gadgets for their loved ones this holiday season, we couldn’t forget about the adventure lovers who are always seeking their next thrill. Luckily, Michigan offers some of the most unique and adrenaline-pumping winter activities around.

This year, give the gift of adventure with these five experiences that are sure to blow the thermal socks off the thrill-seeking traveler on your shopping list.

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Dog Sledding Tours

Dog sledding is a wild winter adventure. The hot breath of the huskie pack fogs the crisp winter air as they pull you with focused determination across the glistening landscape. Imagine you’re racing against another team, over the same frozen terrain that explorers did long ago. So “mush!” and check out these exhilarating tours around the state.

Ice Climbing

Michigan is home to one of the best ice climbing regions in the country. One of winter’s newest silent sports, ice climbing combines challenge and adventure. With ropes and harness, ice climbers ascend stunning natural ice structures. Icefalls, frozen waterfalls, cliffs and rock slabs are all waiting to be conquered. Ice climbing takes you to breathtaking scenery that few people experience.

Ski and Snowboarding Packages

SkiingGet stoked! Michigan ski and snowboarding regions offer adrenaline junkies some of the most exciting, diverse terrains in the Midwest. Michigan is home to more than 40 ski areas and resorts that offer both beginners and experts a thrilling ski or boarding experience. So whether you want to catch some big air or just take a lesson, Pure Michigan is the place to look.

Ice Luge 

Luge

For those who’ve always dreamed of being an Olympian, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers three separate luge tracks designed to introduce beginners to the sport of luge. Shorter in overall length than Olympic-style tracks, the Muskegon track provides an Olympic thrill with the safety of the participant in mind.  The track is designed specifically for general public use and those who never have slid before! Equipment is provided.

Winter Zip Line

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If you thought zip lining was only for summer fun, think again. Snow Snake zip line tours consist of ten unique and exciting lines that take you through thick woods and over deep valleys at speeds reaching up to 25 mph. The longest line is more than 800 feet long and the highest is 70 feet high. The entire tour is take you more than 4,000 feet. If you know someone between the ages of 8 and 88 who is adventurous and loves being surrounded by the great outdoors, consider booking a zip line tour.

Want to discover more Pure Michigan winter fun? Head to michigan.org/winter for a complete list of activities you can enjoy this season.

 

Fall Dog Sledding in Pure Michigan

When people think of “sled dogs,” they often think of snow and the winter season. But did you know that sled dogs begin training in the fall? Today, Tasha Stielstra, owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures, fills us in on the training process and available tours.

Have you ever taken a Michigan dog sledding tour? Learn more about available tours at michigan.org.

My husband and I own Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures near McMillan in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.  When many people hear the words “sled dogs,” images of snow and winter probably come to mind.  However, in order for sled dogs to get in shape for the winter season, they need to begin training in the fall.  Think of it as a pre-season training camp where all the skills are honed in, the leaders are chosen, and team building is the focus. Our Alaskan Huskies are not only the top Iditarod finishers in the Midwest, they are also fabulous tour dogs who love to meet and greet new guests.

One of the most commonly asked questions about fall training is if we put wheels on the dog sleds.  No, we need to use something a bit larger with tires, good suspension, and really good brakes!  We use off-road vehicles (ATV’s or side-by-sides) and we provide the very unique opportunity for guests to join us on our fall training runs.  Fall training runs in our area of the Eastern Upper Peninsula are so gorgeous that several years ago we decided we should share that beauty with others.  Our trails run through hardwood forests, so the color changes on these less-than-traveled trails are really magnificent.  Fall tour guests get to learn all there is about sled dogs, minus the snow.  They learn how to harness the dogs, hook them to the gangline, and then hop in our four-passenger “dog-powered” vehicle for a five mile run.  At the end of the ride they congratulate their dog team, get a grand tour of the dog yard (where they can pet all 150 dogs if they choose) and then end their trip with a chance to hold adorable puppies.  It really is Michigan’s most unique fall color tour!   

Our fall tours take place in the mornings, when the temperatures are coolest as the sled dogs love cold weather!  Their optimal running temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit so even a 35 degree morning feels warm to them.  If you do choose to come along for a ride, you will have to be up early to see the dogs in action.  Area lodging is available at Chamberlin’s Old Forest Inn in Curtis or Halfway Lake Resort north of Newberry, both of these options are located on area lakes where it seems like you can see colors changing right before your eyes.  Fall tours at Nature’s Kennel generally last about 2 ½ hours which leaves enough time in the afternoon for a trip to Tahquamenon Falls State Park (40 minutes from Nature’s Kennel), a must-see stop on a color tour of the Upper Peninsula.    

Tasha Stielstra is co-owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan, MI.  Her husband, Ed is a 7-time Iditarod finisher.  They own nearly 160 Alaskan Huskies and two small children, Fern and Nate. Tasha does the marketing and managing for their touring business, chases puppies down the trail, and spends a great deal of time playing with monster trucks (with 2-year old Nate). Nature’s Kennel can be found online at www.natureskennel.com or on Facebook at Nature’s Kennel.