Having lived in the great white north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or the UP as it is called, I can attest to the fact that when winter roars across Lake Superior, dumping copious amounts of snow to blanket the region, this area becomes a snowshoe paradise.
Each winter season we have to rely on “alternative” transportation to get around including snowshoes, cross-country skis and our version of a Yooper (That’s what UP residents are referred to as) Cadillac, better known as the snowmobile.
One of the area’s that is a paradise found for snowshoeing is in the far northwest of the UP in an area called the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, or as they are referred to by locals, the Porkies. Bear, bobcats, coyotes, wolves and deer are but some of nature’s children who share with us the natural beauty of this pristine place on earth.
Snowshoeing in this rustic region is a true Zen-like experience of solitude, contemplation and challenge. Civilization is reduced to a four letter word and is left far behind as you penetrate deep into the woods and mountains.
The 92 square miles (60,000 acres) of the state park averages 200 inches of snow per year and the season generally gets an early jump-start in mid-November when the first significant storm covers the land with a thick blanket of white.
The park itself adjoins thousands of acres of national forest lands forming one of Michigan’s largest wilderness areas. Hundreds of miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing create a labyrinth of natural beauty that meanders past giant stands of trees, sparkling waterfalls, and vistas of Lake Superior, the largest of the five Great Lakes.
Nighttime winter hiking at its best
In December through February you can snowshoe the trails at night by lantern light to guide you while a full rich sky of stars sparkle overhead. You may even get a glimpse of natures own lava lamp when the Northern Lights make an appearance. The trail is lit with lanterns and the trail is shared by cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
According to Bob Wild, the park interpreter, “participants hike around a 1.3-mile loop that is illuminated by 80 old-fashion kerosene lanterns. Half way around the loop we have a warming shelter, where I have hot refreshments and a bonfire going. It is a great way to spend the evening.”
The trail itself is rated “easy” but anyone who has ever strapped on snowshoes for a nighttime hike knows that hills or not, it’s always a challenge.
The lantern trek can serve as a rustic, knotty pine aphrodisiac, so follow the trail of your own romantic instincts afterwards where you can retreat to your rustic cabin with your loved one after an exhilarating evening of fun in the snow. Who knows where soft lights will lead, just remember to remove your snowshoes before getting under the bed sheets if that is your destination.
Lodging in the Great White Yooper north is diversified. You can mom-and-pop it at a motel, or luxuriate in a plaid shirt paradise at one of the rustic lodges. If ultimate seclusion is your desire, you can choose a quaint quiet cabin nestled in the pines.
For a real change of pace from the city, you can opt to stay in a yurt. I’ve stayed in yurts in California at Big Sur and these circular abodes without the 90-degree angles to fence you in are a pure joy.
Another option, and this is an acquired taste, is to camp it up outdoors in order to bring out the mountain man or mountain woman within. I did a lot of winter snowshoeing and would spend the night in the tranquility of the forest. Tent? No thank you, this is snow country and if you want to be an extension of nature, dig in and build a snow shelter.
These shelters are easy to construct and are very effective. The easiest snow shelter is the snow cave. If snow is sufficiently deep, just burrow into it so there is enough room for you. You want the outer protective layer to be at least a foot thick to combat the elements. If there is not a deep layer of snow, simply pile snow on the existing snowfall to make it deep enough to proceed. Be sure to wait for about 30 minutes for the snow to settle and harden.
After your snow base has been dug you can begin the finishing touches by hollowing it out. You want the hollowed out mound to be at least five-feet tall and large enough to house the number of persons you will be sharing it with. It is also critical to ensure that you have constructed the proper ventilation hole at the top of the mound.
Plenty of entertainment can be found in neighboring towns
The nearby towns of Ontonagon and Silver City have lodging, shopping, restaurants, pubs, and a vibrant nightlife to kick up your heels after you have kicked around in the snow. You can enjoy a thick steak and brew with friends as you recall the adventures of your day challenging the Porkies. Believe me, the snowshoe workout will work up one hell of an appetite. One of my favorite places to unwind with mulled wine or a cold brew is the Whoop and Holler Tavern. Need I say more? The name says it all.
If you’re looking for a touch of Zen adventure and winter romance, put on a pair of snowshoes and hit the trails in the UP of Michigan. It’s a romantic winter wonderland adventure, Yooper Style.
For more information on the Porcupine Mountains and various activities and trails visit their website at http://porcupinemountains.com.