Strap on Those Snowshoes

Big Bay Lighthouse Snowshoeing. Photo courtesy of Midwest Living/Aaron PetersonIf you can walk, you can snowshoe! Experience the beauty of Michigan’s great outdoors while taking a serene snowshoe hike through forest, parks and uncluttered terrain. Explore the sights, sounds and smells of a crisp winter day as you traverse past picturesque landscapes, remote backcountry trails, frozen waterfalls and ice-covered lakes.

This placid mode of transportation offers outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers a welcome respite among scenic 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 known forms of winter transportation. Snowshoeing is an easy, inexpensive way to get outside and burn some calories during the winter months.

Below, 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 six 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 Porcupine Mountains State Park.

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.

This winter, Sleepy Hollow State Park will offer a number of two-day snowshoe-building classes for ages 16 and older this winter. Workshop participants will learn to weave a pair of traditional wooden snowshoes similar to those made by Native Americans for generations. The cost is $170 and includes the pre-formed wooden frames, lacing, high-quality bindings and personal instruction. Classes are designed to be fun, informative and interesting. Class size is limited to a maximum of eight participants, and early registration is required to ensure a spot in the class. Classes will be held on January 9-10, 23-24 and February 13-14. To register, contact Sleepy Hollow State Park.

Many state parks offer snowshoeing opportunities in winter and several even have loaner equipment available for a snowshoe hike. A Recreation Passport is required for any motor vehicle entering a Michigan State Park. 

 

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