5 Things to Know About Snowshoeing in Michigan

Have you ever tried snowshoeing? This fun winter sport is a great way to stay active when the snow falls, and caters to most fitness levels. Read more on a few things to know before you hit the trails in Michigan this season.

A man and woman snowshoeing in a snowy forest
Snowshoeing in Michigan | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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What Exactly is Snowshoeing?

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 the 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.

Where do People Snowshoe in Michigan?

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 with 10,000 acres to explore, Hartwick Pines State Park with a 49-acre forest and 9,672 acres to roam and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park with 90 miles of foot trails. Further south in Ann Arbor, try the Nichols Arboretum or the Matthaei Botanical Garden, on the University of Michigan Campus with miles of groomed trails. 

Are There Different Kinds of Snowshoes?

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 the 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.

What Should a First-Timer Know?

It's harder than it looks but is a great form of exercise! Avid snowshoers will tell you that you'll sweat and likely be a little sore after your first time, however, the sport is similar to cross-country skiing in terms of effort. Be sure to wear fleece, polyester or wool clothing as cotton will soak up moisture and make you cold. Always be sure to bring a friend and cell phone in case anything happens and most importantly - have fun.

Where Should a First-Timer Go?

We recommend Tahquamenon Falls State Park! Snowshoeing has become a popular recreational activity at Tahquamenon Falls. You can explore 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 Upper Falls, and outhouses at the Lower Falls.