6 must-do ski trails in Northern Michigan
By Mike Terrell
As an avid cross-country skier, Ive skied delightful trails in every corner of the Lower Peninsula. Heres a rundown on a few of my favorite trails offered by the DNR, National Forest Service, and National Park Service. Each of the trail systems mentioned has a variety of paths to suit all levels of cross-country skiers, from those seeking easy, meandering glides, to those looking for more difficult terrain with hills and thrills. Enjoy, and good touring to you.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
This is some of the most spectacular cross-country scenery found around the Great Lakes. Dunes, panoramic views, and jaw-dropping overlooks set amid beautiful woodlands, its got it all. Seven trails are designated for skiing within the 70,000-acre national park, many of them overlooking Lake Michigan shoreline. The more popular trails are Scenic Drive, Alligator Hill, Bay View and Platte Plains, which is also the easiest of the trail systems.
None of the trails are groomed, but they are normally skier-tracked and well marked. Distances range from a mile-and-a-half up to 14 miles. Maps are posted at trailheads and can be picked up at the Visitor Center located on M-72 in Empire. You need an annual or day pass for your vehicle, which can also be obtained at the Visitor Center.
This popular pathway an estimated 25,000 skiers hit the trail each winter is one of the busiest in the region, but you can always count on fresh tracks every time it snows. Its groomed religiously by volunteers for both skate and classic styles of skiing. Winding through the picturesque Pere Marquette State Forest, it offers four routes from an easy skiing 2K to the long 25K hill-laden racecourse. The North American VASA Race takes place on this course the second weekend of February each winter, a tradition that started about 30 years ago. For the latest trail conditions you can click on www.vasa.org.
Located in a corner of the Udell Hills in the Manistee National Forest west of Wellston, Big M is resurrected ski area. Formerly a small, community-run alpine ski area that folded years ago, it was brought back in the late 1980s as a Nordic ski area by the Manistee Cross Country Ski Council. The organization regularly grooms about 20 miles of single-track that range into the surrounding hardwood hills. Its a nice mix of loops that offer several varied distances and difficulty levels. A warming hut is open on weekends. Maps are posted at the trailhead and available to take with you.
Black Mountain Pathway
One of the newest DNR cross-country ski areas, the Black Mountain Recreation Areas 31-mile trail system opened in 1993. The trail system is groomed by both the DNR and a volunteer group that has picked up where the state has cut back. It offers both double-tracked and single-tracked trails. A separate six-mile skating lane used to be groomed around the lower portion of the mountain, but DNR budget cutbacks have kept that closed the last couple of winters.
Located about 15 miles southeast of Cheboygan, Black Mountain looms over the east side of Black Lake. Four sets of trailheads scattered around the base of the mountain provide plenty of access to this remote area. Limited views of Lake Huron (six miles distant as the crow flies) and Black Lake can be seen from the top of the long ridgeline. Three-sided picnic shelters, built along the ridge, offer a cozy break on a cold, blustery day. Maps are posted at the trailheads.
Located on National Forest Service land northeast of East Tawas, the Corsair Trail system is one of the longest groomed networks in the stare. Nestled in the beautiful Silver Valley area, the 35 miles of trails, all single-and-doubled-tracked, offers as nice a variety of length and difficulty as youll find in the Lower Peninsula. Covering scenic, rolling terrain and a small river valley the system can be as challenging or as easy as you want. The trails meander across open meadows, through stands of sweet smelling pine and towering hardwoods, and along swift-flowing streams.
The area is groomed at least weekly and more often if needed by a local volunteer group that prides itself on providing an excellent trail system. They have been at it since the 1970s. A warming hut at the trailhead is normally open daily during the season. For more information on the area and to get the latest trail conditions, you can call 800-55-TAWAS.
Ogemaw Hills Pathway
The Ogemaw Hills Pathway is a beautiful classic single-track trail thats perched on a terminal glacial moraine above West Branch. Fifteen miles of groomed trails meander through a mixed pine and hardwood forest and caters to all ability levels. You can see evidence of old homesteads rock fence lines, old orchards and foundations all along the trail. A panoramic overlook of the Saginaw basin is found along the southern edge of the moraine. You can see for miles and trace the edge of the moraine curving south. Maps are posted at the trailhead, and you can call the West Branch CVB for more information and to check on trail conditions at 800-755-90 91