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.
Take a Downhill Ski Lesson
Most non-skiers have tried downhill skiing and had a bad experience or just gotten out of it. Well, take a lesson. Both Otsego Resort and Treetops Resort have rental equipment and experienced, fun ski instructors.
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?
While exploring Yankee Springs Recreation Area, Nick looks back at his MI Best Adventure travels throughout the year.
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.
Here are five must-stop coffee shops to think about visiting.
There are dozens of places to grab a great meal and a cold beer – craft brews know no season and visitors can even continue the outdoor theme in a heated igloo at Blackrocks.
Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing
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.
Marquette also activates for these key winter events, but the area’s full scope of entertainment options can found here.
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.
Visit Travel Marquette to learn more about the region and plan your visit.
Nick explores spooky sightings, rumored hauntings and more around Michigan
With rolling hills traversing the 45th parallel between the insulating waters of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay, the pinkie finger of Michigan is a natural site for thriving vineyards that dot the countryside.
But wine isn’t the only libation specialty in the Traverse City area. It’s also home to a growing collection of craft breweries, from the Leelanau Peninsula south along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and inland to the heart of Traverse City itself.
Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties all rank among the top five in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula for number of breweries per capita. Plus, neighboring Antrim County, home of Short’s Brewing in Bellaire, produces the most beer per capita of any county in Michigan.
While you can find great craft brews all over the state, the Traverse City area has emerged as a must-visit destination for beer lovers. And fall is a great time to experience the flavors of northern Michigan craft beer, especially during Traverse City Beer Week, Nov. 8-15.
“Beer Week is a really cool time of year where it’s transitioning from fall to winter and you get to be outside still and really experience an Up North feel, and the breweries just enhance that,” said Troy Daily, a beer entrepreneur who partners with the area’s burgeoning beer scene to run events and services including Paddle for Pints, TC Brew Bus, TC Cycle Pub, TC Ale Trail and the Kayak, Bike & Brew.
“It creates a winning combination.”
The Traverse City area is home to 20 microbreweries including Short’s Brewing, which is the largest microbrewer in Michigan. (Only Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo and Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids produce more beer, so much that they no longer qualify as microbrewers.)
The region also features Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City and Stormcloud Brewing in Frankfort, both among the 50 largest microbrewers in the state. There’s also Mitten Brewing in Northport, Hop Lot Brewing in Suttons Bay, Lake Ann Brewing in Lake Ann and North Peak Brewing, Monkey Fist Brewing and Mackinaw Brewing in Traverse City. The list goes on.
You can try to visit them all this fall or check a few off your list during an upcoming weekend. Traverse City Beer Week offers a great opportunity to get a broad sampling.
“Beer Week really showcases that Traverse City is a beer destination with a lot of good breweries, not just one,” Daily said. “A lot of the breweries up here aren’t in distribution, so you have to come here in order to get their beer.”
Traverse City Beer Week features several events. Here’s the full schedule, with several highlights:
- 6th Annual TC Ale Trail IPA Challenge – Who brews the best IPA in Traverse City? This blind taste test from 5:30-10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Little Fleet will decide. The competition will be judged by 200 beer lovers, and you could be one of them!
- TCBW Kick Off Pub Crawl – Get Traverse City Beer Week off to a fast start from 6-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, by visiting a bunch of breweries right off the bat in downtown Traverse City. Walk your way from one brewery to the next and earn an official Pub Crawl t-shirt by visiting at
least six of the participating locations.
- 6th Annual Great Beerd Run 5K – Grow a beard (or tie one on) and enjoy on-course beer tastings during an untimed fun run 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. After the race there will be live music and a Best Beard Costume.
- 2019 Flapjack & Flannel Festival – Wear your flannels and enjoy more than 30 beers from a dozen Traverse City breweries paired with live music, games and, of course, pancakes! Each ticket is good for a couple drinks, one pancake and live music from local bands from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at The Little Fleet.
When you go visit any of the Traverse City area’s breweries, go ahead and make a weekend out of it. Or sneak away in the middle of the week to enjoy the beauty of a northern Michigan fall before winter comes.
From scenic drives and roadside markets to incredible trails for hiking and biking, the Traverse City area has tons to do this time of year. Several places to stay are offering special Beer Week lodging packages with discounted rates, and they include a Traverse City logoed fanny pack stuffed with coupons, a Brew Tour Guide and package of pretzels to go with your beer.
Come taste for yourself why the Traverse City area is Michigan’s No. 1 region for craft brewing!