Cross country skiing opens the door to unique winter experiences. It is not only fun (as well as good exercise) but it gives participants a new perspective on the landscape. Skiers can see things in the winter woods - newly arrived migrant birds, for instance, or frozen waterfalls - that they’ll never seen otherwise. But veteran cross country skiers have found a way to enjoy their sport in a whole new light - candle light.
A number of northern Michigan State Parks offer cross country skiing on trails lit by old fashioned lanterns or candle-lit luminaries during the winter. People of all ages are encouraged to come out on cross country skis -- or even snowshoes -- to navigate their way down the edge of the groomed trail. Park staff will be on duty, greeting visitors and pointing them in the right direction. One of their prime objectives on ski nights is to build a blazing fire, so that the skiers have a warm place to rest.
So what makes skiing in the evening with only a tiny flame as a guide so interesting? Skiing from the light of one lantern to the next is so mesmerizing; throw in some freshly fallen snow, the sound of shifting ice on the lake, and maybe a wildlife spotting, and you have a recreational experience unlike any other. The Porkies’ Superior Loop Ski Trail, across from the ski hill entrance, boasts a full one-mile loop lit by 80 old-fashioned kerosene lanterns. It sports an "easy" difficulty rating as it winds around the shore of a lake. Skiing at night is what presents the challenge. A peaceful resting place, located halfway through the loop at the warming shelter, offers the comfort of a wood burning stove, hot cocoa and marshmallows for roasting on the bonfire just outside the shelter.
Visitors who choose to venture out for an evening of skiing range from locals, to campers staying in yurts or cabins; many folks select their weekend park adventures based on the annual skiing event. In addition to the exercise and ambiance the event provides, there is a practical benefit too: Any questions a person has about a park can be answered. The park staff on site are there to provide interesting tidbits about the park as well as answer specific questions.
Michigan State Parks hosting Lantern Lit or Candlelit Skiing events this year include: Cheboygan State Park in Cheboygan County, Feb. 14; Fayette Historic State Park in Delta County, Jan. 30; Indian Lake State Park in Schoolcraft County, Feb 13; P.H. Hoeft State Park in Presque Isle County, Jan. 30, Feb. 2 and March 6; Hartwick Pines State Park in Crawford County, Saturdays. Jan 16, Jan 30, Feb 13 and 20; Port Crescent State Park in Huron County, Jan. 30; Proud Lake Recreation Area and their Friends Group in Oakland County, every other Tuesday; Albert E. Sleeper State Park in Huron County, Jan. 16; and - last but not least - Porcupine (Porkies) Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon County - every Saturday through February.
Folks should bring their skis or snowshoes with them, as well as a headlamp or flashlight if they are interested and dress appropriately for your activity level, but you might want to think about bringing an extra layer for relaxing next to the fire.
Fayette Historic State Park adds a bit of a twist to their event: Two side-by-side paths are groomed down the trail, one side is for the traditional skier, while the other is for those choosing to use snowshoes. Visitors who just want to walk to take part in the event are allowed to walk by using the snowshoe lane. This opens up the event to all levels of users, whether they have equipment or not! The snowshoe trail has become so popular that it is maintained all season long, not just for the lantern-lit night experience. A new half-mile segment of groomed trail will open this year due to the popularity of this event. The evening is so pleasant that some people just show up to sit by the fire, sans skis. Hoeft’s mini-cabin is available for rent as well as the Sears and Roebuck Lodge.
Skis and equipment are often available for rent from a local winter sport shop, for those who want to try it out, before making the investment.
Inclement weather may cause a cancellation, or a rescheduling of the event, so contact the park in advance.
In addition to the scheduled night skiing events, six of the 17 parks that offer groomed cross country ski trails are open for tent or RV camping throughout the winter including: Algonac, Rifle River, Ludington, Mitchell, North Higgins Lake and Tahquamenon State Parks. The additional 11 state parks have groomed trails: Bewabic, Fayette Historic, Ft. Wilkins, McLain, Porcupine Mountains, Twin Lakes, Hartwick Pines, P.H. Hoeft, Maybury, Port Crescent and Sleeper. Many of the parks that feature groomed trails have cabins, yurts or lodges that are open year round, even if their campgrounds are closed.