By Mike Terrell
Thoreau said, The mere existence of wilderness refreshes us.
Take a trip to Black Mountain Forest Recreation Area located
southeast of Cheboygan and you instantly understand what he meant.
As I pulled away from the area after a couple days of midweek
cross-country skiing last year, my body felt tired, but my soul was
refreshed and uplifted for the time spent there.
The snow was in great shape, and fresh grooming within the last couple
of days had set the pathway to near perfection. I saw a few deer
throughout the afternoon and even an eagle soaring high overhead.
Despite several cars in the parking lot I had the trails mostly to
The area itself was created 11,000-some years ago as the last of the
glaciers retreated north, leaving behind mounds of glacial debris
called moraines. Looming over the east side of Black Lake, home to
prehistoric sturgeon, the long ridge parallels Lake Hurons shoreline.
Its serpentine ridges stretch through a transition forest of pine and
hardwoods, punctuated by spring-fed lakes and populated by wildlife.
Its remote, scenic and has few signs of civilization anywhere along
that side of Black Lake. Fortunately it never will. Michigans
Natural Resources Trust Fund stepped in during the late 1980s and
purchased 9,000-some acres of this striking landscape designating it
as a recreation area. Part of it was once a privately owned downhill
ski area (which was open during the 1960s) called Black Mountain; thus
the name of the recreation area. Now abandoned, the ski areas open
slopes are part of a snowmobile/ORV staging area to access a separate
network of snowmobile trails bisecting the mountain.
The trail systems eastern end host to some of the easier sections
is just off CR-489. Launching at the first sign post, I skied my way
up a ridge along well-marked trails; never going more than a mile
without coming across a sign post complete with number, arrows
pointing to the next post and a map. Getting lost would be hard to
Climbing up the intermediate-rated trails along the ridgeline, nice
overlooks between signposts 6 and 8 allow glimpses of Lake Hurons
steely blue waters about six miles away shimmering in the
distance. The trail climbs gently through the woods, offering more
views until reaching a shelter at post 12, a perfect snack stop spot.
Here youll find one of two shelters the DNRE constructed along the
30-mile trail system. The three-sided sanctuaries are open on one side
facing grills and a fire pit. They are set to block the strong north
winds, making them quite snug on a cold, windy day. I could see
having a bonfire here on a moonlit night.
Black Mountain Forest Recreation Area opened in 1994 with close to 31
miles of trails, plus another separate seven-mile section on the lower
mountains northeast side that was groomed for skate skiing. The DNRE
had the grooming equipment and groomed it all. But, theyve been
slowly pulling back the last few winters because of budget cuts,
grooming less and less each season.
A volunteer group has been actively filling in. They plan to groom at
least seven miles of trails this winter and negotiating with the DNRE
to possibly groom the entire outer circle of trails as well. That
would add another 15 or 16 miles of groomed trails, according to trail
advocate Dennis Paul, a Cheboygan veterinarian.
It would be a big plus to tourism on our side of the state. We have
no downhill areas over here, but great cross country skiing, Paul
says. We have the volunteers and grooming equipment in place.
Hopefully we get permission to groom the extra miles.
You can almost think of Black Mountain in two quadrants with Black
Mountain Road as the dividing line. The northwest portion contains
the most challenging trails, while the northeastern quadrant holds
mostly intermediate and beginner level trails. It doesnt mean that
trails on the west side of the road are all difficult. They offer a
nice mix, from easy kick-and-glide along the mountains spine to
fall-line plunges down the flank of the mountain with steep climbs
back to the top. There are three trailheads scattered around the
bottom of the moraine and one on top off Black Mountain road.
One of my favorite sections of trail flows along the ridge on the west
side of Black Mountain Road. It follows the ridge line from the top
down to the trailhead on Twin Lakes Road, which is the northernmost
trailhead. Covering about three miles, its slightly downhill much of
the way and a blast to ski. Through the trees you catch glimpses of
the huge white expanse of frozen Black Lake paralleling the west side
of the mountain.
Black Mountain Lodge, located adjacent to Twin Lakes trailhead, offers
rooms starting from $45 per night Sunday-Wednesday all winter long.
Thursday-Saturday rooms start from $70. The lodges dining room
includes a wall of windows that offer scenic views of Twin Lakes and
Black Mountain; especially with a full moon. The trailhead is right
across the road, and the lodge will have the latest trail information.
Black Mountain hosts a popular classic cross country ski race each
winter that is part of the Michigan Cup series. This years event
takes place February 19, with information and registration forms
available through the Black Mountain Lodge website.
For more info, call 231-625-9322 or see