While Michigan is well known for its summer fun in the sun activities like swimming and boating, one of Michigan’s nicknames is the Winter Wonderland. With snow measured in feet, winter sports like downhill skiing and dog sledding are popular on the Upper Peninsula. While you can do many of these sports, like cross country skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling throughout the state, I’ve mentioned some of my favorite spots to try out these nine Michigan winter sports.
I obtained some information from hosted stays in the Keweenaw Peninsula and Pure Ludington.
1. Down Hill Skiing
While you may not think of Michigan as having a mountainous terrain, it has over 40 ski areas and ranks number two in the United States for ski areas in a single state. For expert skiers, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers Mount Bohemia with the highest vertical drop, longest runs, and deepest powder in the Midwest. The Keweenaw Peninsula has an average annual snowfall of 273 inches. The lake effect snow is dry like western ski areas and accumulates as untouched powder that is not groomed.
Boyne Highlands, located in Harbor Springs, is the largest ski area on the Lower Peninsula, with 435 skiable acres. It features mile-long runs and the highest vertical terrain.
Situated in Boyne Falls in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Boyne Mountain features 415 acres that are skiable with 60 ski runs. They have 500 feet of vertical. They make snow and have beginner, intermediate, and expert trails.
Crystal Mountain is a beautiful example of a family ski resort located in Thompsonville. They feature ski lessons for children as young as 3 years old.
Pro Tip: Mount Bohemia is not for beginners, only very advanced and expert skiers.
2. Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing is where skiers depend on their movement to glide across snow-covered terrain without ski lifts. While some areas use cross-country skiing as transportation, it is a winter sport in Michigan.
Ludington is a perfect launch point for cross-country skiing throughout the area and is adjacent to downhill ski areas. Ludington State Park alone has 10 miles of cross-country ski trails, from the Logging Trail to the South Ski Trails shown on this map (JPEG) as green and brown loops.
The area is adjacent to several trail systems, including Pentwater Pathways, Crystal Valley in Oceana County, and Big M in Manistee County. Big-M Recreation Area was one of the first downhill ski resorts in Michigan. Now it features 18 miles of groomed classic cross-country skiing trails. The area maintains the trails throughout the season. As a result, the Big M is one of the Midwest’s largest cross-country ski trail systems.
Luge was a traditional 16th-century Swiss sport. In 1964, it became a Winter Olympic sport. To luge, an individual lays face-up, feet-first on the luge sled, and speeds down the luge track. A luger uses their calf muscles to flex the runners or applies pressure from opposing shoulders to the seat to steer. The fastest luger across the finish line wins.
Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park, located in the Muskegon State Park, is one of four luge tracks in the nation. Three-time Olympian Frank Masley designed the 850-foot track with two starting areas and six curves. You’ll receive training and equipment before speeding down the only artificial track made from natural ice that isn’t refrigerated. Speeds reach up to 30 miles per hour.
The sports at Michigan Luge are universally accessible through special equipment and adaptations. Additionally, they discuss ways to adapt various activities to fit individual needs.
The park is open year-round, offering various sporting activities, including ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter ziplining. In addition, they feature wheel luge, archery, ziplining, and trail quests in the summer.
Pro Tip: You’ll need a Michigan DNR Recreation Passport to park at Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park. If you don’t have a recreation passport, you can purchase one at the park.
Fun fact! Snowboarding was invented in Muskegon, Michigan. Originally called “snurfing,” Sherm Poppen created snowboarding on Christmas Day in 1968. First, Poppen and his family used a sled to try sliding down the Lake Michigan dunes; however, the sled became stuck in the snow-covered sand. He used creativity to bolt two old snow skis together and use them to navigate the hill surfer style. He later partnered with the Brunswick Corporation to mass-produce snowboards. Snowboarding became an official Winter Olympic sport in 1998.
Most of Michigan’s ski resorts offer snowboarding too. Since snowboarding was invented in Muskegon, here are several of the local’s favorite snowboarding venues: Beachwood Park, Hoffmaster State Park, Johnny O. Harris Memorial Park, Lake Harbor Park, McGraft Park, and Sugar Bowl Dune at Muskegon State Park.
Pro Tip: If you’re new to snowboarding, take some lessons first. Many of Michigan’s resorts rent snowboarding equipment to get you started.
I think of snowshoeing as an expansion of hiking. You’re just walking over snow with the help of snowshoes. Michigan is a perfect place to snowshoe because it can happen almost anywhere you want to break a trail; along the beach or in the forest.
Ludington State Park is a popular place to snowshoe, with 24 miles of trails just waiting to be broken. If you’re a beginning snowshoer, you might enjoy one of the park’s Lantern-Lit or Guided Snowshoe events. In addition, the park offers a 1.5-hour, free guided-snowshoe hike periodically throughout the winter. The snowshoe hike highlights the park’s nature and history through snow-covered dunes.
The park also offers lantern-lit snowshoeing and cross-country skiing periodically throughout the winter. Visitors can bring snowshoes or cross-country skis to follow a 1-mile lighted and groomed trail through the park for the free evening event. The lighted course begins at the warming shelter and follows lanterns to a bonfire halfway along the path where you can warm up and enjoy a hot beverage.
Pro Tip: Ludington State Park has 60 pairs of wooden snowshoes to loan for free on a first-come, first-served basis for guests 10 to adult.
6. Fat Tire Biking
A fat tire bike, sometimes called a fat bike or snow bike, is an off-road bicycle with oversized tires, usually 3.8 inches or larger with 2.16-inch rims or broader. They designed this style of bike to allow riding on soft, unstable surfaces like snow.
In Manistee County, Big-M Recreation Area has 25 miles of single-track biking trails groomed throughout the winter season, one of the longest fat bike trails on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
Something slightly different is the Moonlight Fat Bike and Ski Night at the Big M Cross Country Ski Area. You can fat bike or cross-country ski in the moonlight and warm up afterward at an outdoor fire pit, or the wood stove in the warming hut. Skiers and bikers can bring their gear and head out on the trails independently. Hang out in the lodge or next to the bonfire. This event is free and open to the public. You don’t need reservations, but they require a $5 vehicle day pass fee paid to the U.S. Forest Service.
Pro Tip: The trails are not lighted for night events, so a headlamp is advisable.
Located off Interstate 75, Gaylord is a central hub for Michigan’s snowmobiling. Centrally located in the middle of a 500-mile snowmobile network that crosses eight counties, you’ll find plenty of snowmobile fun. You can jump on Trail #7, which runs straight up the center of the state, and in just over 60 miles, it connects into the Upper Peninsula. The Bridge Authority can provide a quick transfer across the Mighty Mac. Check out this map of the North Central Trail (PDF). If that distance is a bit much, you can take a more leisurely ride on Trail #4 that branches out to the smaller communities.
Toward the northeast side of the state, in Alpena, you’ll find a few groomed trails. Give NEST Trail and Devils Lake Trail a try. If you’d like to take your snowmobile to a restaurant, check out the map (PDF) of where you can ride within the Alpena city limits.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is another great place to experience snowmobiling, where some areas in the winter are only accessible by snowmobile.
Pro Tip: After a day on the snowmobile trails, warm up with a beer trail. Experience Gaylord’s craft beer and tap trail.
8. Dog Sledding
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a place to experience the excitement of dog sled racing firsthand. Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan offers opportunities for you to ride in a dog sled with a guide and give driving the sled a try. They have over 200 dogs; some are Iditarod alumni. They even offer overnight adventures, where you dog sled 20 miles and stay overnight in a yurt or cabin.
9. Winter Paddling
If you have experience paddling in the summer, you can continue the fun with winter paddling adventures.
With open water year-round on the Big Manistee River, you’ll enjoy a trip down the river when sparkling snow blankets the water and landscape.
Located in Wellston, Pine River Paddlesports Center offers guided winter rafting trips on the Pine River twice a day for either a 1-hour or a 45-minute float. Your guide can be in your boat or paddling beside you. You also have the option of a 1.7-mile hike along the Silver Creek Pathway back to your car or the other side of the river at 2.4 miles. Both hikes feature scenic overlooks. The center also can create an individualized paddling adventure for you along the Pine River.
Pro Tip: Winter paddling can be a challenge. If you don’t have experience paddling during the warmer months, wait until you do before giving winter paddling a try.
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