Living in Austin, Texas I’ve become accustomed to mild winters. Here it seldom falls below freezing and rarely do we get any kind of snow. In fact, in the nearly seven years that I’ve lived here, it has only snowed once and that was barely enough to cover the rooftops. Despite the fact that my current home-state doesn’t isn’t exactly known as a winter wonderland, I still enjoy the opportunity to play in the snow from time to time. With that in mind, a traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a few weeks back to get in a few cold weather adventures.
For those unfamiliar with the Upper Peninsula, or U.P. as it is called, it is the northernmost landmass that makes up the state of Michigan. The region is sparsely populated and heavily wooded, making it a surprisingly remote wilderness for those who have never visited the place before. In fact, the U.P. features more than 300 miles of wilderness, giving outdoor enthusiasts something to love in every season.
Visiting the Upper Peninsula during the winter generally means plenty of cold and snow, but like much of the U.S., Michigan is also having a mild winter. In this case that means they’ve only received 75 inches of snow thus far this year, which sounds like a lot but is well below the 200+ inches of powder they region gets during an average winter. Still, I found there was plenty of snow for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, some of the activities I was most looking forward to while I was there.
My U.P. adventure began in Sault Ste Marie, a charming little town that falls just across the St. Mary’s River from Canada. The biggest summer draw to the town are the Soo Locks, which annually see more cargo pass through their gates than the Panama and Suez Canals combined. During the winter months however, Sault Ste Marie is the gateway to the winter playground that is the U.P. and not long after arriving I was off to Tahquamenon Falls State Park for a little snowshoeing.
The trail to the falls is a short one and an easy hike, even in winter, but the payoff is well worth it in any season. The Upper Tahquamenon is the largest falls east of the Mississippi River, stretching 200 feet across the river which gives it its name. They have a height of 50 feet and in the springtime the snow-melt swells the river so that more than 50,000 gallons drop over the edge each and every second. The falls remind open, even in the winter, when the snow and ice make the entire setting feel incredibly serene. On the day of my visit, a gentle snowfall only added to the experience.
The U.P. happens to be one of the premiere snowmobiling destinations in the entire U.S., and many travelers visit the area on an annual basis just to enjoy that activity alone. The state and national forests that cover the area feature more than 3000 miles of groomed trails just waiting to be explored. Flying along those trails at over 50 mph on the back of a powerful sled is a lot of fun and a great way to enjoy the backcountry.
There are plenty of trails a short drive from Sault Ste Marie, but no matter where you go on the Upper Peninsula, you’ll discover plenty of places to ride. I spent the better part of a day on, and off, some of those trails and had a great time chasing friends through the scenic woods.
A few days into the trip I payed a visit to the Treetops Ski Resort, which opened up even more opportunities for winter fun. The resort has a modestly sized ski hill with 23 runs and three lifts and options for every level of skier or rider. There are several miles of groomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails that are amazingly secluded and quiet. One morning I was fortunate enough to hit those trails before anyone else, including the groomer, and it turned out to be one of the more sublime experiences I’ve had in the woods in quite some time.
After spending a few days playing in the snow, I moved on to the WISSA event that I told you about last week, which was a completely different experience altogether. But my U.P. visit was incredibly fun and I would love to go back to explore the region more fully. In the warmer months, all those miles of snow covered trails turn into hiking and mountain biking routes and the rivers and lakes, including the Great Lakes, would make for excellent paddling.
The forests that dominate the area should be fantastic for backpacking and camping, and there is even quality climbing options as well. The adventure activities abound, no matter the season, and outdoor enthusiasts shouldn’t overlook this amazing wilderness that has so much to offer.
For more information on the Upper Peninsula and other outdoor activities in Michigan, visit Michigan.org.
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