Nordic Skiing in Marquette County

With an 1896 lighthouse as a base lodge, Michigan Travel Ideas freelance writer Tina Lassen samples the wealth of Nordic ski trails that weave through the woods between Marquette and Big Bay.

Maybe the skiing can wait. Cradling a mug of coffee, I’m curled deep in an overstuffed chair in the living room of the Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. The enticing aroma of innkeeper Linda Gamble’s homemade scones wafts from the kitchen and a fire dances before me. It will take some resolve to pull myself from the seductive comforts of this lighthouse-turned-inn.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast

Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast

But a fresh sifting of snow has settled over the hilly forests northwest of Marquette. The other—and more convincing—part of me is eager to snap into Nordic skis and explore. Marquette County maintains miles of ski trails, and some of the most extensive networks happen to be along the scenic road to Big Bay (CR 550).

Twelve miles south of Big Bay, 12 kilometers of challenging trails rollercoaster alongside Saux Head Lake. Part of the nonprofit Noquemanon Trail Network, the Saux Head Trails are well-marked and beautifully groomed. As I struggle up a steep pitch near Wilson Creek, I’m grateful for the user-friendly corduroy surface. As I pause to catch my breath, I marvel at the shadows of stark-white birches against swales of untouched snow.

Next, I continue south on CR 550 to sample the Forestville trails. This area on the outskirts of Marquette, serves as the finish line of the annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon, a popular 50-kilometer race. Some 40 kilometers of trails wind along the Forestville ponds and Dead River. The spot is popular with locals, since some trails allow dogs and another loop is lit for night skiing.

Saux Head/Noquemanon Trail

Saux Head/Noquemanon Trail

But by the time Forestville’s lights flicker on, I’m headed toward the flashing lighthouse beacon at Big Bay. I’m eager to explore in this beautifully preserved 1896 light keeper’s home—to bask in the sauna and maybe browse through the bookshelves of its library. And inn guests are welcome to scale the tower steps for a private Lake Superior view. It’s always a treat to tour a lighthouse, but how often can you do it in your slippers?

Travel Guide

Rates at Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast start at $135/night, including full breakfast. Spa treatments available for an additional cost.

Rent ski gear ($20/day) from Down Wind Sports, 514 N. Third St., Marquette.

Pick up the free Marquette Region Cross Country Ski Trail Guide from the Marquette Country Convention and Visitors Bureau, 337 W. Washington St., or area ski shops.

Tina LassenFreelance writer Tina Lassen has spent more than 25 years exploring and writing about Michigan’s outdoor adventures. She is a frequent contributor to Michigan Travel Ideas and has written extensively about Michigan in guidebooks such as National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Outdoors: Great Lakes.

The Hike Alone is Worth the Trip

On a recent UP scouting trip Trevor Meers, Midwest Living’s executive editor, tests his stamina while ice climbing and marvels at Lake Superior while snowshoeing.

Ice Climbing

It’s exhilarating and very demanding of the upper body, legs and circulatory system (your fingers feel frostbit after the exertion of a climb). A climb of less than 20 feet left me gassed, but ready for another attempt after about a 15-minute break. The good news for those who want to try is that there’s a ton of good spots for it around this area, and you can do it cheaply. Down Wind Sports in Marquette offers all-day climbing seminars on falls at Munising for $25.

Iceclimbing on Hogback Mountain

Iceclimbing on Hogback Mountain

Climbing requires you to strap crampons onto your feet (spikes that let your boots grip the ice), tie into a climbing harness (so a buddy keeps you from cracking your melon on the rocks below when you fall from the ice face), wear a helmet and wield a couple of ice axes you’ll use to pull yourself up the ice.

We climbed on a rock face that ices up from seeping water at the base of Hogback Mountain. The hike in alone was worth the trip, passing through deep snow in silent woods, except for the calling of crows. Deer paths crossed everywhere. The climb sits between the rock face and a small stream. They call it “The Grotto.” Outstanding to just hang out and watch (if you can take the cold).

The annual ice climbing festival in Munising is February 5–7, 2010.

Snowshoeing

In the world of outdoor sports, snowshoeing is one that’s very doable. If you can walk, you can strap on these big paddle feet and set out into the woods. The Marquette/Munising area is loaded with trails (many of which tie into the North Country Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota).

Here are a few picks from my travels:

Presque Isle Park – One of the great city parks in the region; more like a state park on the edge of town. When you snowshoe out there in the morning after a fresh snow, you have the place to yourself—except for deer bounding in a photogenic manner across your path. From the cliffs, look down on Superior. The water—choked with ice blocks—swells up and down in an ever-shifting, living action.

 

Snowshoeing at Lake Superior

Snowshoeing at Lake Superior

Hogback, Sugarloaf, Wetmore’s Pond, Wetmore’s Landing

– These are all trails along County Road 550. The Landing provides easy access to Lake Superior. After about 300 yards through the woods (a beautiful otherworld when snow is gently falling among the towering evergreens), you’re at Superior’s beach. On my visit, the waves had formed great mounds of ice all along the beach, standing about six feet high. I climbed up on them and let the waves’ spray splash over my coat, instantly freezing. Before going out, read up on your polar explorers. Then stand and watch these crashing waves full of ice and think about setting out into that in a rowboat 1,000 miles from any civilization. Marvel. Repeat.

Trevor-Meers-150x150Trevor Meers, executive editor of Midwest Living magazine, is an avid outdoorsman with a special passion for Lake Superior and the UP. His adventures on Superior have included snorkeling on shipwrecks, kayaking, fishing for lake trout, snowshoeing the shoreline, picnicking with woodland caribou and driving the Superior Circle Tour.

Pure Winter Fun

Pure Winter FunLast week, we were wondering when the snow would get here.  This week, the wondering is over.  We got snow – and a lot of it!

The good news about all this snow is that Pure Michigan’s ski and snowsports resorts are ready to open their doors, fire up their chairlifts, and invite you to come play.  Check out our ski conditions map to find out the latest on the slopes in your area, and find deals on all snowsports packages throughout Michigan.

So bundle up, grab your gear, and head out.  It’s time to enjoy a Pure Michigan winter!