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.

A Snowshoeing Adventure in Pure Michigan

Snowshoeing is one of the oldest forms of transportation, but it also offers outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers a great way to explore the sights and sounds during a Pure Michigan winter.

With snowshoeing being one of many winter activities featured in A Pure Michigan Winter , we asked Theresa Neal, Tahquamenon Falls State Park naturalist, to share with us what she loves about snowshoeing during a Michigan winter.

Q. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
A. I am originally from Grand Rapids, and have lived happily in the U.P. for 7 years. My husband and I own a house in the middle of nowhere, where we enjoy the peace and quiet of the surrounding forest and nearby Lake Superior with our two dogs in tow.

Q. How did you get into snowshoeing?
A. I began snowshoeing when I worked at a nature center in Holland, taking school groups for guided hikes during the winter. I made my first pair of snowshoes at a workshop taught by Alan Wernette at Ludington State Park, and he encouraged me to begin conducting my own workshops at Tahquamenon Falls.

Q. What is your favorite thing about snowshoeing?
A. Snowshoes allow you to explore areas that are not accessible during other times of the year, such as wetlands and peatlands. Once these areas are covered with snow, it’s easy to “walk on water” and check out what is on the other side. Snowshoeing is also a great way to stay active during the winter and burn off those holiday calories!

Q. What makes snowshoeing so unique compared to other winter activities?
A.
Snowshoeing can be a quiet activity, giving you the ability to hear birds calling nearby or wildlife rustling through the brush. It allows you to move about without disturbing the wildlife that lives in the area. It is also nearly impossible to get lost while snowshoeing, because you can always follow your tracks back to where you started!

Q. Do you have some favorite places to go snowshoeing?
A. My favorite place to snowshoe is the Clark Lake Natural Area, in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, north of the Lower Falls entrance. That area typically has deep snow, and it’s easy to find places where no one else has hiked, so you can go off in search of animal tracks.

Q. What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in starting to snowshoe?
A. Try out different types of snowshoes to see what kind works best for you. Many of our state park visitor centers offer guided snowshoe hikes and have a variety of styles that you can try free of charge. Porcupine Mountains, Tahquamenon Falls, Hartwick Pines and Ludington all have snowshoes that visitors can check out and staff that can answer questions about snowshoeing.

Q. What equipment is needed to start snowshoeing?
A. Winter boots and snowshoes are the only two requirements. It can be helpful to use cross country ski poles as walking sticks, both for balance and to provide an upper body workout. People get pretty warm while snowshoeing, so dressing in layers is recommended. A good rule of thumb is to dress so you start your snowshoe hike a little cold; you’ll warm up in no time!

Q. What is your favorite thing to do after a long snowshoe trip?
A. Take a nice hot sauna to loosen my muscles.

Q. What are some of your favorite winter activities when you aren’t snowshoeing?
A. I enjoy cross country skiing, especially along Lake Superior around the Whitefish Point area, where I can blaze my own trail through wind-swept snowdrifts! I also like fishing through the ice, particularly for smelt and walleye.

Q. To you, what is “Pure Michigan”?
A. Pure Michigan is taking a walk through the woods, breathing air filled with smells of the forest, and hearing nothing but the sound of your own footsteps.

Watch as Theresa takes us on a snowshoe adventure through Tahquamenon Falls in Showshoeing | A Pure Michigan Winter, from the Pure Michigan winter video series.

Have you ever been showshoeing in Michigan? Share with us below!

Snowshoeing at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Pure Michigan

Ever been snowshoeing? On our blog today, Theresa Neal from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, answers some questions about this fun winter activity.

Q. A lot of people have heard of skiing and snowmobiling, but may not be familiar with snowshoeing. What is it?
A. Snowshoeing is a unique form of transportation that was developed thousands of years ago specifically for winter travel by foot. Native Americans were the innovators of snowshoe design, with varied styles depending on the snow conditions. Each snowshoe is designed with the basic idea of staying atop deep snow, sinking only 3-6 inches versus above the knee. Snowshoes allow for easier, quicker travel over snow-covered terrain and have developed into a popular winter activity.

Q. Where are some places where people like to snowshoe in Michigan?
A. Any place with 6 inches or more of snow is a good place to start snowshoeing! Michigan winters provide snowshoeing opportunities pretty much everywhere. Some state parks offer packed snowshoe trails, which are nice for beginners and small children. However, most people find blazing their own trail to be a fun and exciting way to explore places others have not been. Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are filled with publicly-owned land that is perfect for exploration on snowshoes, particularly Wilderness State Park, Hartwick Pines State Park and the Porcupine Mountains.

Q. Are there different kinds of snowshoes?
A. Yes, there are hundreds of different snowshoes available out there. Modern snowshoes usually consist of an aluminum frame with a plastic decking. Traditional snowshoes are wood framed, with either rawhide, neoprene or nylon lacing. While modern snowshoes can be less expensive, the quality varies greatly and I often see visitors carrying their snowshoes back from a hike due to a broken binding or torn plastic decking. Traditional snowshoes require some maintenance, and can be slightly heavier and more expensive than the modern versions, but they are adjustable and problems can often be repaired.

Most snowshoes have rounded toes, with the exception of the Ojibwa style, which has a pointed toe. Pointed toes were designed to “plow” through very deep, light fluffy snow and to break through ice-crusted snow. Snowshoe tails are designed to drag through the snow, and are either rounded or pointed. Rounded tails result in a smaller snowshoe, but tend to offer more resistance and kick up snow toward your back as you walk. Pointed tails result in a longer snowshoe, but offer less resistance as you walk and basically glide through the snow.

Q. Can you give some information on the Make Your Own Snowshoe Workshop on December 17?
A. Participants in the one-day workshop will make their own pair of traditional wooden framed snowshoes by weaving a nylon lacing material to create the decking. The workshop is limited to 15 participants, so there is plenty of one-on-one instruction to coincide with a step-by-step guide book to learn the proper snowshoe lacing technique. It takes about 3-4 hours to complete one snowshoe, and participants are welcome to bring a friend to help speed along the lacing process. The kit includes two wooden frames, lacing material and bindings for $170. The workshop takes place at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Restaurant at the Upper Falls, which provides a great atmosphere with awesome food and drinks to assist the weaving process.

Q. Can you snowshoe at Tahquamenon Falls State Park?
A. Yes! Snowshoeing has become a popular recreational activity at Tahquamenon Falls. We have a 3.8 mile groomed cross country ski trail, which snowshoers often utilize (to the side of the groomed tracks), as well as two packed snowshoe trails at the Upper Falls. The best snowshoeing at Tahquamenon is to blaze your own trail through the forest, or over the extensive peatland complex that is too wet during the summer to explore. Many visitors park at the Lower Fall sand snowshoe the marked trails, or take off to the north on their own adventure. There are heated restroom facilities at the UpperFalls, and outhouses at the Lower Falls.

Q. Are there other winter activities in the Park that you would like to mention?
A. Every Saturday in February, we offer free snowshoe rental from 12-8 p.m., a guided snowshoe hike at 2 p.m., followed by a one mile lantern-lit ski/snowshoe trail from 6-8 p.m. The 3.8 mile Giant Pines Loop will be groomed, with a set track, as soon as we get enough snow. Please call (906) 492-3415 or check out www.michigan.gov/dnrvisitorcenters for more information.