Recreation is the name of the game during winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). You’ll find outstanding snowmobiling, skiing (both cross-country and downhill), snowshoeing, ice fishing, ice climbing, and dog sledding. The U.P, is the perfect place to play in the snow, and do it all in a setting right out of a snow globe. With well over 200 inches of annual snowfall a season, life in the U.P. is geared towards whooping it up in the winter, and no one can show visitors how to enjoy winter more than the local “Yoopers”.
Lake Superior’s immense size, eerie depths, and frigid waters, make it one mammoth snowmaking machine. Superior’s lake affect churns out snow, and dumps, not inches, but foot after foot of the white stuff on shore. The U.P. becomes a winter haven for those in search of deep snow for winter activities. If you’re worried about getting snowed in, well, it’s a possibility but the U.P. road crews, with their giant snowplows and monster snow blowers, do an unbelievably great job of keeping the roads open.
In the heart of the U.P. is Munising, in Alger County. This friendly little town hangs out the welcome sign for visitors to such areas as: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the first designated National Lakeshore, over a half million acres of Hiawatha National Forest, over thirteen thousand acres of the Grand Island National Recreation Area, located just a half mile from the mainland, and the Alger Underwater Preserve, the resting place for many ship wrecks.
Although known for its natural beauty, and warm season outdoor recreation, the U.P. dishes UP some of the best Midwest winter recreation you’ll find anywhere. I just spent one fabulous week in the U.P. and crammed it full of a little bit of everything, (I left the ice climbing to the younger crowd).
My first adventure in the U.P. was a day of snowmobiling, something I had never done before. I flew into Marquette (another great U.P. winter spot). After a comfy night in the Country Inn & Suites in Marquette we drove about 25 miles to the Cherrywood Lodge in Wetmore, just east of Munising. The folks from Munising Snowmobile Rental had our snowmobiles waiting the morning we arrived. Bryan Green from Arctic Cat even brought in some new hotrod Cats, for us to test drive. I opted for a slower sled and was glad I did. After a lesson on snowmobile operation we donned our snowmobile gear, and I mounted my faithful Ski-Doo. My first-timers nervousness was soon replaced by excitement as I squeezed the throttle and surged forward, my adventure underway.
Local guide Carl Hansen, owner of Northern Waters Adventures, and local singer/songwriter, author, and guide Carl Behrand (we called them the two Carls) led the pack as we maneuvered our way around the streets of Munising headed for frozen Lake Superior. Our destination this morning was the ice caves of Grand Island, just off shore from Munising. An important safety note; snowmobiling across ice can be treacherous. Our group enlisted the experience of the local guides who knew the ice conditions were safe.
Once on the ice, and after we safely cleared the ice fishing shanties, we opened our sleds up. The folks on the Arctic Cats soon became a blur in the distance. Going 40 mph on my Ski-Doo was fast enough for me. After an exhilarating run across the frozen expanse we pulled up next to the Grand Island Harbor Light. Also known as the East Channel Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the Great Lakes. The 200-foot sandstone cliffs of Grand Island looked like giant ice sculptures. In winter, water seeps down the cliffs, freezes and becomes beautiful blue green ice formations along the cliff face, quite a sight.
After sightseeing, and winter photography, we headed back to Munising for lunch at Jeff and Nancy Dwyer’s Falling Rock Café and Book Store. Located in a historic old building built in 1896 the Falling Rock is a great place to settle in for a lunch of hearty soup, marbled rye sandwiches, and hot chocolate with a mound of whipped cream.
The bookstore is pretty much wall-to-wall books, 50,000 of them in fact, new, used and rare. They have a fine selection of books and CD’s by local authors and musicians, including our guide Carl B. You’ll also find creations by local artisans, antique photographs of the area, and just a warm and friendly atmosphere, to enjoy a meal. The grand finale to our lunch was a serving of Mackinac Fudge ice cream made by Jilberts Dairy of Marquette. It’s some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. This was just the beginning of a great week in the U.P.!
For more info: www.exploremunising.com, or www.michigan.org.