Michigan’s winter paradise: groomed ski trails and fat bike destinations

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Cross-country skiers look over the route at Pentwater Pathway. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

While southern Michigan snowfalls haven’t amounted to much so far, winter is a long way from over. If you’re inclined to get out on cross‑country skis, consider heading north where the snow is deeper.

It should be a good season for cross‑country and fat‑bike enthusiasts. Department of Natural Resources staffers report skiers will have their choice of 47 groomed cross‑country ski trails on state lands this season.Twenty six are at state parks and 21 are in state forests.

The grooming may be done by agency personnel or by local friends and
support groups.

“We’re going great guns on trails right now,” said Todd Neiss, recreation trail specialist at the DNR’s Cadillac office. “We’ve had limited skiing so far, but we are getting reports from the Friends of the Cadillac Pathway that they have done some grooming.”

Cadillac Pathway is 11.3 miles long. It is found 5 miles northeast of Cadillac in the Pere Marquette State Forest.

The ski and hiking trail was built in the 1970s, but its popularity has risen in recent years, according to Neiss. So much so that parts of it may be rerouted in future years to make it an even nicer trail.

“There’s been a heightened interest in the trail, and we are looking at how to improve it,” Neiss said.

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Snowshoers and skiers both use the Mud Lake Trail at Leelanau State Park. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

That’s good news for skiers who enjoy the route. It is one of a few trails in that area. MacKenzie Cross‑Country Ski Trail is another, located in the Manistee National Forest about 12 miles west of Cadillac.

The 10.1‑mile network of varying length loops is groomed occasionally through the winter, according to Kate Salm, public affairs specialist for the national forest. The route is marked by blue triangles and the trail can be accessed off M‑55 by following the
sign to the Caberfae Ski Area, which is adjacent to MacKenzie.

“Because it is groomed only occasionally, it is a great area for backcountry snowshoeing and backcountry cross‑country skiing,” Salm said. “There are a lot of intersections on that trail, so having a map is very important.”

Maps, she said, can be found on the Huron‑Manistee National Forest website or at the Cadillac office. A complete list of groomed ski trails on state lands can be found online at Michigan.gov/dnr. DNR staff also lists the non‑groomed trails there for those who like a bit more rustic outing.

Fat bike trails too

Cyclists may want to give the new VASA Winter Sports Single‑Track trail a try this winter. The groomed 9.3‑mile cycling trail opened last year and is found in Pere Marquette State Forest outside of Traverse City.

Grooming is done by Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association, which partnered with the DNR, VASA and others to create a route that wouldn’t conflict with skiers on the VASA trail.

“We did get a lot of traffic on it,” Neiss said. “The decision (to offer it) was very contentious. Skiers (who use the VASA Pathway) were worried about bikes causing ruts and skiers and cyclists running into one another, but it has worked out very well. It is a
summer mountain bike trail that was never groomed in winter.”

The VASA Winter Single‑Track is accessed off Supply Road rather than from Bunker Hill, Neiss said.

Fat bike enthusiasts might also want to try a new 6‑mile trail being groomed by Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. It can be accessed from the resort property. The route follows the Betsie River Pathway, a state hiking route in the Pere Marquette
State Forest. Adult bikes are available for rent at the resort.

Big Hills

Kathy Bietau, the recreation planner for the Baldwin Ranger district of the Huron‑Manistee National Forest, said Big M, near Wellston, is being groomed as usual along with Crystal Valley Ski Trail, which has 10 miles of trail, and Pentwater Pathway, which has 7.2 miles of trail.

“Crystal Valley is not as popular as Big M, which is the most popular trail in the Manistee Forest, but its gaining popularity,”

Bietau said. “It’s a very beautiful trail system with lots of forest, and Loops 4 and 5 are very challenging. The hills over there are very big.”

Anna Sylvester, DNR’s Parks and Recreation field operations chief for northern Michigan, said a couple of things have changed in recent years.

Blueberry Ridge, the popular cross‑country ski area in Marquette, now has a warming hut managed by the Friends of Blueberry Ridge. And the popular Mason Tract, along the AuSable River, is groomed for skiers. Grooming began last year along the 11‑mile,
highly scenic trail. That too is being done by volunteers, members of the Friends of the Mason Tract.


Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.


About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
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