10 Michigan Trails to Experience This Winter

Crisp winter air and the sound of crushing snow beneath your feet on a Michigan trail are cravings snowshoe enthusiasts and cross country skiers can’t wait to satisfy.

With thousands of miles of trails throughout the state, Michigan offers a winter wonderland of picturesque scenery and distinct features that can feed this need.  These are trail systems that vary in terrain and level of difficulty – from wide, groomed pathways to more natural, narrow lanes – allowing everyone to get in on the fun.

So if you’re already thinking about where you want to go this winter, you might want to consider adding these to your list.

Heritage Trail
Drummond Island

The Heritage Trail is a 3-mile nature and snowshoe trail offering picturesque landscapes of Drummond Island Township Park.

Visitors can experience beautiful forest scenery and the Potagannissing Bay shoreline on its lower levels, while the upper levels wind along limestone ledges and shallow caves. There is also a 50-foot drop in elevation along the trail.

The majority of Heritage Trail can be snowshoed easily by beginners, although the upper level does have some uneven terrain.

Visitors may also see a wide array of wildlife inhabiting the area, from forest birds to whitetail deer.

Snowshoeing through the snow

Snowshoeing, Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

Big M Cross Country Ski Area
Manistee

With a 37.9-mile trail system, the Big M Cross Country Ski and Mountain Bike Trail is located off of M-55 between Cadillac and Wellston.

The trail includes 18-miles that are groomed specifically for skiers, taking them up and down hills and through a snow-covered forest of hardwoods. While the best skiing taking place during January and February, snowfall can average about 130 inches from December to March.

Corsair Cross Country Skiing Trail
Oscoda

From gently rolling to slightly more challenging, the 28.3-mile, one-way Corsair Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail offers a splendid way to take in Michigan’s winter beauty.

The blue diamond-shaped confidence markers and the Silver Valley Trailhead offers a gentler and less hilly experience for skiers, while the Wrights Lake Trailhead is more challenging with longer loops and steeper hills.

Keweenaw Trails
Calumet

The Keweenaw Peninsula is always a great choice for anyone looking to experience beautiful trails under a canopy of Michigan forests.

The cross country ski season can run from Thanksgiving to mid-April with the region boasting 250 inches of annual snowfall, making it a great way to satisfy your hunger for winter sports. The area also has a wide variety of trails, from the wide and groomed daily to the more narrow striding-only wooded trails.

Keweenaw Trails include four trail systems – the Chassell, Michigan Tech, Swedetown and Maasto Hiihto/Churning Rapids – where visitors can get a combined annual pass or get a day rate for an individual trail.

Winter on the Keweenaw Peninsula

Keweenaw Peninsula, Photo Courtesy of Suzanne M.

Muncie Lake Pathway
Traverse City

Groomed and marked for novice skiers, the 11.5-mile Muncie Lake Pathway is one of the most popular trail systems in Grand Traverse County.

The trail is about 13 miles south of Traverse City and takes visitors through fantastic views of Muncie Lake. While there are numerous hills, there are no sharp grades or sudden changes of directions.  The back loop of the trail system does include three long downhills for more experienced skiers.

Loud Creek Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail
Mio

With its seven interconnecting loops that go from 1.36 miles to 4.34 miles, Loud Creek Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail is a great experience for people of all skill levels.

The complete trail features signage that indicates difficulty information and blue diamond confidence markers.

Visitors will experience the peaceful solitude of northern hardwoods and large pine, as well as bridge crossings, beaver ponds and rolling hills on the groomed trail.

Ogemaw Hills Pathway
West Branch

Experience the scenic beauty of the Au Sable State Forest by hitting the 13.6 miles of groomed trail known as the Ogemaw Hills Pathway.

Located at the corner of Clear Lake and Fairview roads, the trail is perfect for the beginner, as well as intermediate and more experienced cross country skiing enthusiast.

With its distinct features formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers, the opening to the Ogemaw Hills Pathway is actually what is left of abandoned pioneer farms that are being reclaimed by the forest. The location and elevation of the trail also means it will get between six to 10 inches more snowfall than surrounding areas.

Cross Country skiing

Pine Baron Pathway
Gaylord

Loved by locals and built specifically for cross country skiing, the Pine Baron Pathway has four interconnected loops that range from 2 to 2.5 miles.

While much of the trail is flat with some minor changes in elevation, the 2-mile Whoopsy Loop does feature some descents and climbs, but isn’t too challenging for beginners. And since area averages about 180 inches of snow every winter, the Pine Baron Pathway makes for a quick and pleasurable experience for anyone who loves cross country skiing.

Valley Spur Trail System
Munising

Known for getting up to 200 inches of snow during the winter, the Valley Spur Trail is located in the snow-belt of southern Lake Superior.

The trails reside in heavy forest cover, sometimes following old logging roads, in a 27-mile stretch that is groomed daily from December to March. Beginners, as well as more intermediate and expert skiers, can enjoy the mixture pine and hardwoods that populate the forest as they traverse through the winter snow.

Wolverine Nordic Ski Trails
Ironwood

Another great trail on Lake Superior’s southern shore is Wolverine Nordic Trails, where the average winter starts early and lasts longer than other parts of the Midwest.

The trail has five different loops for a combined 10 miles on a natural rolling terrain that is suitable for striders and skaters. The system’s four snowshoe trails are marked with red or blue diamonds and ribbons too indicate difficulty. The hardest of these is the Hospital Loop Trail, which is marked with blue. The easiest, the Snowflake Loop Trail, is marked with red.

Which winter trails do you love to visit during the season? Let us know in the comments below. 

Here Are 7 of the Best Ways to Explore Michigan Trails

If you ask anyone who calls Pure Michigan home, they’ll tell you there aren’t enough days in a lifetime to explore all of the amazing things the state has to offer. From beaches, lakes, cities, farms, and trails, the Great Lakes state offers an escape unlike any other.

Today, we share some of the many activities you can do while exploring Michigan’s expansive trail system.

1. Hiking

Hiking offers the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with nature and makes for a wonderful family experience. Many of Michigan’s state parks and recreation areas offer designated hiking trails and Michigan Hiking and Backpacking Clubs provide opportunities for group and family hiking experiences.  You can literally hike across the state while exploring more than 200 miles on the Shore-to-Shore Trail that connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Strap up your hiking boots and go!

JordanHart

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @JordanHart

2. Biking

Pedal through Michigan’s lush forests and gentle hills on more than 1,300 miles of bike trails across the state. Ride among vibrant wildflowers and swaying trees or enjoy the relaxing breezes as you pedal along scenic lakes and streams. Many trails offer amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas and informational signage. Whether recreational or mountain biking, Michigan has a tour for every cyclist’s interest and comfort level.

Flint-Bike-Path

Photo Courtesy of the Flint River Corridor Alliance

3. Off-Roading (ORV and ATV)

Rev up your engines and venture out on more than 3,100 miles of ORV trails. Michigan ORV trails run the gamut from twisty, single-tracks to rocky hill climbs to soggy mud bogs, daring dirt bikes, quads and dune buggies to stir up the dirt. If you’re an ORV enthusiast, the Silver Lakes Sand Dunes are a can’t-miss!

ORV-SLSD

Photo Courtesy of Silver Lake Sand Dunes – Hart Visitors Bureau

4. Snowmobiling

Can you hear the engines roaring? Whoosh in and out of 6,000 miles of maintained, interconnected trail systems while experience the beauty of a Michigan winter. With an expansive trail system that includes many hidden gems in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan is a snowmobiler’s paradise.

AndyPeninger

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @AndyPeninger

5. Equestrian

What better way to enjoy the beauty of Pure Michigan than sitting high atop your favorite horse? Let’s saddle up and ride across towering bridges, wander through converted railroad trails and stride along hundreds of rivers and streams. No matter what level of rider you are or whether you’re looking for a short loop or an extended adventure, Michigan has the perfect trail with riding stables and horses to rent.

Fall-Horses

Photo Courtesy of Facebook fan Jenni Ritzler Johns

6. Snowshoeing

Snowshoe through the woods, breathing air filled with smells of the forest, hearing nothing but the sound of your own footsteps. Snowshoeing in Michigan offers outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers a respite among picturesque trails and terrains. A silent sport, snowshoeing offers a unique opportunity to meld into your surroundings and feel what ancient cultures must have experienced as snowshoeing is one of the oldest forms of transportation.

Snowshoeing-Photo

Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

7. Cross-Country Skiing

Enjoy the peace and tranquility of Michigan’s more than 3,000 miles of cross country ski trails. Distance yourself from the world’s fast pace as the hush of snow-covered landscapes sets the tone for a contemplative, yet invigorating, winter pastime. Cross-Country skiing, along with snowmobiling and snowshoeing, is a great way to get out of the house to avoid the winter blues.

What do you love most about Michigan trails? Share with us by commenting below!

Snowshoe Your Way Through a Pure Michigan Snow Day

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is an ideal destination to snowshoe, whether you are trying it for the first time or are looking for someplace new to explore. Theresa Neal with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, sells readers on why snowshoeing is a great way to get outside this winter season.

Winter can be a tough time for people to stay active. It’s cold outside, it gets dark early, and curling up in a blanket with a tablet or book sounds SO good! But if you are feeling a bit dreary, maybe gained a few pounds over the holidays, or find yourself in a routine that is getting a bit old, I would suggest giving snowshoeing a try. Many people are intimidated to strap giant paddles to their feet and try walking around, understandably so. I find that once people are outfitted correctly, and given a few pointers, the majority are amazed at how easy it is to snowshoe.

Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

Snowshoeing Tips:

  1. If you can walk, you can snowshoe! You may need to adjust your stride slightly, and many people find poles helpful in the beginning.
  2. Aluminum snowshoes are best for icy or hard-packed snow conditions. The crampons (pokey-grips on the bottom) will give you traction, but can trip you up if you drag your feet.
  3. Traditional wooden snowshoes are great for deep, fluffy snow conditions. They are very quiet (no squeaky noises) compared to aluminum, and they leave beautiful tracks in the snow where you have walked!
  4. Used cross-country ski poles from a second-hand store or garage sale work great for snowshoeing.
  5. Expect to sweat! Avoid cotton base layers, as they soak up moisture and can make you cold. Fleece, polyester and wool are good options. Dress in thin layers so you can easily adjust your body temperature while snowshoeing.
Photo Courtesy of T. Neal

Photo Courtesy of T. Neal

Benefits of snowshoeing:

  1. You burn twice as many calories snowshoeing versus walking!
  2. You can be outside WITHOUT getting cold!
  3. After the initial investment of purchasing snowshoes, it’s free! Many state parks offer free snowshoe rental, including Tahquamenon Falls, Ludington, Hartwick Pines and Porcupine Mountains.
  4. You can explore places that are inaccessible during the summer. At Tahquamenon we hike ‘off-trail’, across marshes and through forests that are usually too wet or thick with vegetation to get through.
Bonfire

Photo Courtesy of Michigan DNR

My favorite part of winter is snowshoeing at night. The cold, crisp air seems so clean and refreshing, forcing the fog from my head and waking up my senses. The light from my headlamp glistens off the snow, and I enjoy scanning the trail for animal tracks to see who has been out since my last hike. Red fox, coyote, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse and deer mouse tracks are most common. The best nights are those without cloud cover, when the moon is shining and the sky is filled with stars, lighting my path without needing a headlamp.

With an average annual snowfall of over 15 feet, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a great place to explore winter on snowshoes. The park is open year-round, with two main destinations for snowshoeing (Upper Falls and Lower Falls). Check our website to print winter maps and join us on Facebook or Twitter to stay up to date on current conditions and events.

Have you ever been snowshoeing? Comment on your experience below!

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Theresa has served as the park interpreter at Tahquamenon Falls since 2005. She began her career as a naturalist with the DNR at Holland State Park as an Adventure Ranger, delivering nature programs and leading hikes for park visitors. She was then hired as a naturalist for DeGraaf Nature Center in Holland, designing and presenting programs for children and school groups. During the summer of 2005, she again worked for the DNR Explorer Program as a mentor for the Explorer Guides in southeast Michigan. Theresa is a proud graduate of Michigan State University.