Grayling, a sleepy village of 1,874, is a sanctuary for lovers (of the outdoors, that is).
More than 70 percent of Crawford County is owned by the state or feds, which means nearly unlimited choices in outdoor fun year-round.
For that special sub-set – cross-country skiers – six of the Lower Peninsula’s best groomed trail systems are located here. Since temperatures are normally colder here than along the Lake Michigan and Huron shorelines, the ski season is longer. Grayling has several lodging options if you wanted to stay and sample multiple trails.
HARTWICK PINES STATE PARK,
the Lower Peninsula’s largest state park, is located just seven miles north of town. It has the largest stand of virgin white pine left in our region and offers 7.5 miles of groomed single-track trail, some of which goes through the white pine stand. A couple of cutover trails offer shorter loops of three and five miles. A good intermediate system offers low, rolling hills. Forest and many large stumps are reminders that forests of giant white pine once covered northern Michigan.
Hartwick Pine’s Visitor Center, open daily, offers programs, scheduled guided tours and even lantern-lit night tours.
located near the Hartwick Pines just off I-75 at the Frederick exit, offers more than 20 kilometers of groomed trails for both track and skate skiing. The Corner has one of the largest fleets of Nordic-only grooming equipment around the Great Lakes. The trail, always in tip-top shape, is groomed daily. It’s a labor of love for owner Dave Forbush, an avid cross-country skier. The old homestead has been in his family for generations.
The trails are wide, forested and offer a wide variety of skill level choices. The Badlands trail cuts through an old high-sided stone quarry making it feel like skiing into a canyon. There’s a ski shop and instruction is available.
CROSS COUNTRY SKI HEADQUARTERS,
located near Roscommon just off I-75, offers more than 10 miles of groomed trails for both skate and classic skiers. They are groomed daily and always in great shape. Trails meander through forested ridges among red and white pine, oak, aspen and beech stands. There’s a good chance you may see deer and wild turkeys along the way. One of the trails is actually named Wild Turkey.
It’s the only cross-country touring center in the region that makes snow, and can lay down a kilometer or two around the day lodge in low snow seasons. The day lodge is one of the most extensive cross-country equipment outlets around the Great Lakes Region. They sponsor a variety of fun weekend outings throughout the season and always have a pot of soup, chili or tacos available in the café.
THE MACON TRACT PATHWAY
is an 11.5-mile groomed single-track state Department of Natural Resources trail. (You need a state recreation passport to visit any DNR trails.) The beautiful pathway follows the South Branch of the AuSable River. The Mason Tract, a 4,500-acre natural area, is non-industrialized and nonmotorized. Wildlife is abundant in the area and frequently seen along the trail. Views of the river are beautiful; the peace and quiet of the area are exquisite. The trailhead is off M-72, about 15 miles east of Grayling. Spot a friend’s vehicle at the south end where the trail exits at CR-519 and Chase Bridge to avoid the return ski.
A nice out-and-back outing, slightly more than nine miles roundtrip, is out to Durant’s Castle. The pathway hugs the river most of the way. The castle was built by a Detroit automaker in the early 1930s. Struck by a freak February lightning storm the year after it was built, it burned to the ground. Deep snow on deserted back roads made any rescue efforts impossible. It was never rebuilt as a result of the Great Depression. Nothing except its footprint remains of the 42-room castle that once housed a gym and seven stone fireplaces.
NORTH HIGGINS LAKE STATE PARK
offers groomed single-track loops of 1.5, 3.8 and 6.5 miles. The trails flow through forested, gently rolling terrain that offers stands of red and white pine and beautiful, old plantations of oak trees. Some of the red and white pine is more than 100 years old. The trailhead is located on the north side of CR 203, across the road from the main park entrance.
located just on the west side of town off M-93, has some of the most challenging trails in the region, but also offers nice intermediate and beginner loops. There are more than 33 kilometers of both single track and skate groomed trails. The trails are mostly through forested hills that offer scenic overlooks: one off the Green Trail on the way up into the hills and another just off the return for the Blue, Red and Yellow Trails. The Red Trail offers a nice tour of about 15 km. Little Smokey is a one-kilometer trail along the bottom of the hill, perfect for novice skiers and where you can take dogs along.
Hanson Hills is a community-run area, which also offers downhill skiing and tubing. It has a day lodge with food and rental equipment.