It was not so long ago that Michigan’s Best comprised only stories of our great state’s flavors. The food searches led by the energetic John Gonzales and Amy Sherman have proven to be a source of appreciation and inspiration for hundreds of thousands of readers. You spend so much time with this content on our website that we felt compelled to bring you more of what you clearly love!
In 2019, Michigan’s Best expanded to include stories of the Arts, nonprofits, Michigan’s businesses, and more. Innovations, adventures, and initiatives were waiting to be discovered by our team and shared with readers. This expansion, featured both on MLive.com and at ThisIsMIBest.com, gave us a chance to tell more stories about the people, places, and happenings in the State, produced both in digital and print formats.
You may have been following this movement that Michigan’s Best has in your Sunday newspaper. Each week, we feature just a few of our favorite stories in the section you’ll find wrapping your advertising content. But there were so many stories to tell! We needed to share more.
What you hold in your hand is just one more way these stories have been collected and packaged. This “magazine” represents a collection of the stories we’ve told so far. We sincerely hope you find it informative, perhaps intriguing or inspiring.
If you’d like more of this content, you’ll find it on the sites mentioned here. But you can also follow along in real time by connecting through social media. We hope you join us along our journey to uncover Michigan’s Best stories and the people that bring them to life.
The Michigan’s Best Team
(Comprising Journalists, Videographers, Photographers and the dozens of unsung team members that shape this content into its digital, print, graphic, animated, or visual form.)
After eyeballing sparse seasonal snowfall totals across the Lower Peninsula, Kyle Lafrinere steps outside his office and assesses the crowd at Marquette Mountain, where guests are hitting the hills, riding the terrain park rails and heading out for some backcountry skiing.
“We definitely haven’t had that problem here,” Lafrinere said, with a bit of a laugh, referring to the accumulation of snow elsewhere in Michigan. “We’re using all natural snow, better snow than what the machines make. But we’ve upgraded our snowmaking infrastructure, so when we need it, we’ll have it. New snow guns, new pump system, those will keep us going (later than most ski areas).”
Marquette Mountain opened in mid-November and Lafrinere expects that it will remain open until mid-April, making it a prime attraction for ski-deprived snow-seekers across Michigan. Snowfall is down in Michigan except for the Upper Peninsula, and as usual, winter will last longer in Marquette, providing an outlet for fatbikers, snowshoers and snowmobilers who have been stymied by the lack of storms.
“If you’re looking to get outside, there’s no better place than Marquette in the winter,” Lafrinere said. “We’ve got everything that you want to do in the area. There’s a lot of variety for skiers of all abilities here to enjoy themselves.
“Plus, there are all sorts of options for people who want to do other activities. It’s pretty amazing to have a spot where you can do it all.”
The all-purpose 50K trail system with point to point journeys or looped adventures can be used for snowshoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing. The fast trail features flowy terrain, steep descents and large bermed turns at different points on outings. Ski and snowshoe rentals are available at the Forestville Trailhead, which is popular among first time visitors. Users on foot or snowshoe should avoid trails that are groomed for skiing. Dogs are welcome, on-leash, on many of the trail routes.
Trails up Sugarloaf Mountain and Blueberry Ridge remain popular in the winter. Snow-covered views of the Marquette region and its features are breath-taking. The half-mile trail will be slower-going with snow, but the terrain is manageable for people of all fitness and skill levels. The city’s 12-mile multi-use trail is another great option to get those steps in. The Eben Ice Caves, Yellow Dog Falls and Hogsback Mountain are other potential outings.
Marquette is home to more than 60 miles of bike trails that can be used during the winter months, showing that the riding doesn’t have to wait for the warmer months (although the trails are great then, too.) The Noquemanon network is known for its ability to challenge all users while also offering rides for beginners. Meanwhile, the Range Area Mountain Bike Association in Ispheming has 20 miles of groomed winter trails among its 77 total miles of handbuilt singletrack. There are multiple trailheads that can be found here.
There are 11 amazing waterfall options around Marquette. The changing seasons give waterfalls a unique look whenever visitors travel north to explore, but the late winter and early spring produce water volumes that peak with the snow melt. The mesmerizing views and sound of rushing water will make visitors feel like they’ve stumbled upon one of the most beautiful places on earth. Family and pet friendly options include Wright Street Falls in Marquette and Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park in nearby Alger County. Morgan Creek Falls is another great choice, but the trail is open to snowmobilers until March 31 so hikers may want to wait until April 1.
When Cori-Ann Cearly assesses the outlook for the Upper Peninsula snowmobiling season, there’s zero worry about what it will produce: “There’s never really a problem or a question if we’ll have enough snow,” she says with a laugh.
Alger County averages 230 inches of snow each winter and while the season has started slowly in the southern reaches of Michigan, the U.P. is ahead of schedule having gotten hit by heavy accumulation in November.
Munising, where Cearly is the president of the visitors bureau, is branded the Snowmobile Capital of the Midwest and is the place to be for sled riders looking for a complete trail system that allows travel between towns, through magical woods and to majestic ice caves and ice structures that daring climbers scale daily.
The Munising region is home to more than 300 miles of groomed terrain – more about that later – that can match any snowmobiler’s taste for adventure or an easy day on the packed surfaces to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Miner’s Castle. There are also opportunities for off-trail excursions for a more rugged ride.
Trail reports show an average snow depth and base of 40 inches already, and the snowiest months of the winter are still ahead of the area. Here are four reasons to visit and stay in Munising in January and beyond:
Crowds are smaller: Now, to be fair, with 300 miles of trails and countless off-trail spots to ride, there’s rarely snowmobile gridlock. History, however, shows that February is the busiest time of the year for people to visit and stay in Munising while snowmobiling. By beating the masses going to the Michigan Ice Fest or the UP 200, Midnight Run & Jack Pine 30 sled dog races, you’ll have more room to roam – and slide easier into area bars and restaurants to warm up and enjoy a refreshing beverage or a tasty meal. All that said, February is fun, too!
Groomed trails: Members of the Snowmobile & O.R.V. Association of Alger County have been preparing the 300-mile trail network for months, and once the snow accumulates the group goes out every night with heavy machinery to perfect the trail. Cearly said the ride is so smooth “it’s like a highway in the woods.” The bump-free surface is easier on the rider and on the sled.
Better rates: Lodging rates fluctuate with demand, and as noted earlier, February is the high-traffic season. That means there are even better deals to be found at area hotels. If you don’t have your own machine, you can potentially find rental sleds available at a lower cost as well. It’s the perfect time for a quick winter weekend up north.
Shake off the holiday stress: The holiday haze is real as we spend much of November and December rushing around shopping and going to gatherings only to hunker down with the turn of the new year. Break out of the cabin fever doldrums and see natural beauty that will relieve all the pent-up pressure.
So winter is here and your normal outdoor routine is shelved. It is cold and there is snow and you’re just not crazy about it.
There are many of us crazy folks that LOVE winter. It is quiet, it is pretty and with the proper gear, you can stay warm and cozy! Don’t have a snowmobile? No problem. You skied once as a kid and had a bad experience? Not to worry. You can’t afford expensive gear right now? Gotcha covered!
Here are five really fun and, excuse the pun, cool things to do in Gaylord this winter:
Let me just say that snowshoeing is a blast. You never need a groomed trail. You can go with six inches of snow on the ground or 60 inches of snow on the ground – snowshoes work the same. All you need are some public or private trails, a pair of boots, a hat, gloves and snowshoes. Poles are optional.
I have a pair of snowshoes that are 20 years old and work just as well now as they did then. Snowshoes don’t go out of style, except for maybe bindings, but the technology is the same. You walk on the snow. You get a great workout and you can literally go anywhere. Once you start moving, you warm right up. Most novices actually overdress. With no leaves on the trees, you see vistas, valleys and streams that you would never see other times of the year, which is just cool.
This is a great activity to do with a friend or two or your children. Usually, within a few hours, the instructor will have you stopping comfortably, making gentle turns and safely getting on and off the chairlift.
As a long-time skier, knowing the basics is worth the price of a lesson in enjoyment. Equipment has come a long way since I was a kid back in the 1970s. It is more comfortable, warmer and carved skis literally turn themselves.
No, I am not daft and I did not make this up. Gaylord has two outfitters in the area that will take you and up to five of your friends or family members winter rafting down the Sturgeon River! The Sturgeon is the fastest river in the Lower Peninsula and does not usually freeze over.
This is not tubing or kayaking and you get into a raft big enough not to tip. You actually sit on the sides and everyone helps paddle. Winter rafting comes with an experienced guide who makes sure you have an outstanding experience. Excursions last an hour or two and you dress like you would for any outdoor winter activity.
You will see parts of Northern Michigan not seen in summer, as there are no leaves on the trees. There are numerous wildlife viewings as they come to the river for water (other lakes are frozen over, so this is where they go!). Winter rafting is great for a group of friends or families with kids 12 or older. It is something memorable you can all experience together.
Skiable or “Snowshoeable” Feast
There is nothing like taking frequent breaks while you are out enjoying winter, right? I can’t think of a more perfect stop than gourmet food and beverage stations along the way.
A few years ago, Treetops Resort started regular events called Skiable Feast. It is a point-to-point relaxing cross-country or snowshoe course, complete with five gourmet food stations. Food stations allow you to take a break and enjoy delectable foods from the culinary team at Treetops. You can warm up with a blazing fire and visit with new friends.
If you don’t have gear, Treetops has rental equipment for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Experienced guides ensure you don’t get lost and make it to each food station.
This is nothing like the days of sledding down the local hill when you were a kid. Going “down the hill” has taken on a whole new meaning! The tubes are provided, the course is smooth, and a lift attachment pulls you and the tube back up the hill! Pretty great, huh?
Seattle – the land of Starbucks – may have met its match in Marquette.
The Upper Peninsula city is home to more independently owned coffee shops per capita than the Pacific Northwest area that is synonymous with java culture. The local roasters and craft coffee brewers are ideal for a morning wake-me-up, a mid-day break or an afternoon warm-up following a day outdoors.
And that’s important as winter snow and cold loom, a change of seasons that offers more opportunity to relax as the crowds get smaller while the fun never stops. This Lake Superior shoreline city is known for its summer outdoor adventure and its innovative food and beer scene, but it can be overlooked for winter getaways.
The region has an extensive network of trails that lend themselves to hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and fatbiking. Marquette is also recognized as the birthplace of North American organized skiing, and the hills remain incredible.
Before learning more about winter outdoor recreation, it’s smart to game-plan for what you’ll do to enjoy the culinary and craft cocktail scene.
The Noquemanon Trail Network offers unmatched outdoor experiences with 50K of maintained trails that can be used recreationally for point to point or looped outings. Trail experts recommend snowshoe users start on the singletrack at the Forestville Trailhead, and they ask that people steer clear of the trails groomed from classic and skate skiing. Rentals are available at Forestville, and as a bonus to dog owners, your furry friend is welcome to get outside with you.
The outdoor outfitter Down Wind Sports say the difficulty of snowshoeing is often overestimated.
“If you can walk you can snowshoe,” they remind users. “(It’s) one of the easiest ways to get outside in the winter and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has no shortage of places to explore.
Down Wind recommends hitting the Eben Ice Caves, Yellow Dog Falls and Hogsback Mountain as other potential outings.
If you’re still more comfortable in your own two boots, the trails up Sugarloaf Mountain and Blueberry Ridge remain popular in the down season. The majestic views of snow-covered terrain from atop Sugarloaf are just as mesmerizing as the other three seasons. The half-mile trail is well marked, and while it will be slower-going with snow, the terrain is manageable for people of all fitness and skill levels. The city’s 12-mile multi-use trail is another great option to get those steps in.
In a two-week window last winter, three separate snowstorms each dumped between 12 and 24 inches around Marquette. Add in an icestorm of “legendary proportions” and the dreaded below zero temperatures of the polar vortex, and it would have led most people to hunker down and stay inside.
Marquette threw a party and held a fatbike race.
Todd Poquette, who runs the Polar Roll winter adventure race with 30-mile and 15-mile bike routes and a 10K snowshoe event, chuckles when recalling heading into the woods to clear choked off trails that were battered by fallen and hanging trees and a base buried by ice and powder.
“Miraculously, the show went on,” said Poquette. “I think it’s part of the culture. We don’t slow down just because the summer ends. We still have a lot of cool events that happen throughout the year, and people really enjoy getting out and getting together.
“Everyone understands that the conditions are part of the experience.”
For the Polar Roll, Poquette says there are roughly 450 race participants – they’ve had riders from nearly every state, including California and Arizona since its 2015 inception – and hundreds more who come for the festivities. The atmosphere is built around the collective experience.
On the course, there are areas with people grilling food, handing out drinks and the “Hugs and Bacon” aid station that has developed into a favorite. There’s a post-race party with live music.
“We make it a good time for everyone,” Poquette said.
Staged on the Noquemanon Trail Network, the “Noque” is a point-to-point cross country ski race that offers varying lengths of competition, including 50K individual, 50K relay, 24K and 10K events. There are also snowshoe and snowbike options that traverse rolling hills, frozen lakes and majestic woods. The 22nd annual event in 2020 will be held Jan. 24-26 and has become a fixture in the outdoor landscape of Michigan and its Midwestern neighbors. The scenic terrain promises a lifetime of warm memories. The race’s non-profit status is dedicated to furthering non-motorized trail development, preserving all-season outdoor recreation for future generations.
This sled dog race, in its 30th year running from Marquette to Grand Marais and back, marks its territory as the third-longest event in the continental United States and provides a glimpse at what happens in the renowned Iditarod race. Mushers powered by 12-dog teams welcome crowd support from the start in downtown Marquette, along the way at checkpoints during the race and a raucous environment as they return to the finish line along Lower Harbor Park. The trail actually clocks in at 230 miles long despite the race name, and it’s a testament to the endurance and drive of the team. Head to Marquette to experience it for the first time from Feb. 13-17, 2020.