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Snowmobile and ATV/ORV trails criss-cross the Upper Peninsula. They can be nice hiking trails at certain times of the year. Winter snowmobile trail condition reports can be found at: www.uptravel.com/recreation/snowmobile-trail-report/ These reports (listed by county) can also be helpful when trying to determine snow conditions in an area for other trails.
When there is enough snow to turn the cross-country ski trails back to the skiiers but not enough, or barely enough, snow for snowmobiling the snowmobile trails can be great for hiking without needing snowshoes, especially if the groomers have been through. But even if not there is sometimes an intrepid snowmobiler and many ORVers to pack the trail, yet not enough traffic to interfere with hiking (or hikers to interfere with the motorized traffic). In the no-snow months it depends on conditions of the trail (snowmobile trails may go through very wet areas) and how much ATV traffic there is but on low-use trails they can make for convenient hiking. And these trails go for miles!
January 9, 2021 -- Is it a Hike or a Walk
The new year begins, and the hiking continues. No new snow so we're still in boots, the snowshoes left hanging on the wall, waiting. But it will come. Maybe. It's quite a change from the last two Januarys with 3-4 feet of snow! We enjoy it all, and this year are enjoying still walking on almost bare ground. We go out daily, together or separate, do a few chores, go to the mailbox, go for at least a short walk, sometimes longer. So I got to thinking - when is a walk a hike? Sometimes we'll head out for a short walk down the road but keep on going and end up coming home 2 hours later. But that's still a walk. It's from home, it's casual. We may or not have taken backpacks, or water. Certainly not snacks or sandwiches. But if we're going to the "big city" (Gladstone or Escanaba or Marquette) we usually plan to include a hike on one of the trails, so we head out with appropriate gear and clothing, water, snacks, sandwiches, for a 2 or 3 hour hike. Manistique is just "going to town", it doesn't get such planning though we often walk the boardwalk along the Lake. It's funny how we categorize things, and how we think of them. But hike or walk, we're enjoying this can-do-just-about-anywhere activity.
Though we haven't much snow there is just enough in this area for the skiiers, and the groomers, to get out on the ski trails so the cross-country ski trails are now off limits for hiking. But both Days River and Rapid River have short snowshoe trails so on a trip over that direction earlier in the week we decided to check out the Days River Pathway Snowshoe Track. It was a mild, barely freezing (so not slushy), calm day - beautiful weather for a hike. The ski trails did indeed have snow so no walking there. So we took to the designated 1.8 mile "snowshoe" trail which was definitely not appropriate for snowshoes! But they did make an effort to provide a track in an effort to keep walkers off the ski trails. It was lumpy, bumpy, stump and brush strewn and well beat down. But it was there and so were we so off we went, figuring we'd stop at Rapid River on the way home and check out their snowshoe trail. Between them getting in a little hike.
But to our surprise, halfway around the hiking/snowshoe trail, it crossed an ORV/snowmobile trail at the bridge. A wide, snow-covered, groomed, trail! A delightful place to walk and we could go as far and long as we wanted (ORV/snowmobile trails by nature cover a lot of ground). We weren't the first hikers to discover this windfall - the boot tracks were more numerous than the snowmobile tracks, though they petered out as we went on. We walked north for an hour (yellow section on the map), sticking to the main route, no traffic, snaking through the vast pine plantation of this area. Then we turned around and backtracked to finish the rest of the official snowshoe trail back to the parking lot. A very nice walk. And it reminded us that the U.P. is covered with ORV and snowmobile trails, many of which are good for hiking, especially right now with the lack of snow. We have no lack of options that's for sure, near, far, or in-between. What a great abundance for fun.
January 10, 2021 -- Back to Days River to the Snowmobile Trail
This time we knew where we were headed -- the short Days River Pathway hike/snowshoe trail to the ORV/ snowmobile trail where we turned south instead of north over the bridge as we'd done last week. Another mild cloudy day, no new snow, calm, about 32 degrees - like a film strip stuck in rewind/replay, same weather we'd been having for quite some time now. But we're fine with that, we'll let the PNW taking care of all the wild weather! We just keep hiking. And a nice one it was. The trail going south (blue section on the map) heads through some real nice woods, young growth but with a decent scattering of bearing age oak trees, left when the area was last logged. Though the trees in general blend in with the other growth one could see them easily by the churned up leaves spread all around underneath each tree as the deer dug through the snow and leaves for acorns. I don't know how the acorn harvest was but it appears there are plenty of deer and by the looks of things I doubt there are any acorns left. I'm sure the squirrels and chipmunks took care of their share, too.
There were snowmobile and ATV tracks, though there wasn't enough snow for the former and too much for the latter, but they flattened the trail nicely. Quite a bit of foot traffic and a few bicycles, along with the many deer and usual coyote/fox/dog. As usual it was quiet on most of the trail. The farther south we went there were more houses and we were walking near back yards. Not as "off-in-the-woods" feel as other trails, and the track was pretty rough with ruts and not very flat at this end. But we had a bicyclist come along who stopped to chat which was nice. He had a beautiful fat tired bike with studs and an electric assist to help him up the hills. It wasn't the best conditions for biking but he lives somewhere near the trail and said he goes out nearly every day for exercise. Just as we were parting along came another regular fat tired bike going at a pretty good speed considering the conditions, but he wasn't having any trouble. We quickly stepped off the trail and he nodded as he sped by. Two different styles but both enjoying the trail their own way, as were we. We didn't see anyone else on the trail.
We soon arrived at a "rough" area with piles of dirt, some dumped furniture -- the beginning of the industrial park. Quite a contrast to the beautiful woods we'd been walking through. Though we'd planned to walk longer we decided to turn around there, and had a very nice walk back. When we got to the cut off to go back to the snowshoe trail we decided we weren't ready for the hike to end so instead headed on north for a ways. So it was about 3 hours when we got back to the parking lot, sun heading down and starting to cool off, to find a fairly large group gathered and chatting, with fat tired bikes sticking out of pick-ups and SUV's. I don't know if they were heading out or had already been but it was good to see folks enjoying the day and each other's company. There is a separate bike trail at the Pathway which is apparently quite popular.
January 23, 2021 -- Sunshine and a New Trail Section - Rapid River Snowmobile2
With the promise of sunshine and calm winds we decided to head out for a hike this afternoon. Very little new snow in the south-central U.P. which meant the snowmobile trails would still be OK to walk. It was a bit cool in the low 20's but we had plenty of layers and I had my recently finished cold-weather hiking pants to try out. So with a hot lunch in our small Thermoses and hot drink in our double insulated travel mugs, dressed appropriately, we packed up and headed out. Having looked at the snowmobile trails map, and having had such nice walks on the trail that went beside the Days River Pathway (the yellow and blue sections), we decided on a different part of that same #2 trail (the green section) starting at a convenient parking spot near Rapid River. Though a promise of a beautiful day we didn't think there would be any snowmobile traffic - they would all be up north where there was more snow.
When we drove into the rough and rutted parking lot it was indeed empty, but with a fair amount of ATV and truck tracks. It was still overcast but there were hints of blue sky. So on with our packs and off up the trail. The ORV's don't make nearly as nice of a track to walk on as a groomed snowmobile trail or one packed down by snowmachines, but we appreciated the packed trail none-the less.
The beginning wasn't the most aesthetic as it started out through old jack pine plantation, then some red pine, more jack pine. It was obvious this would be an ankle-exercise walk over the frozen tracks and ruts but there was enough snow and it was a nice day. And soon the track rose into hillier terrain, curving through a young mixed hardwood area. The day became partly, then mostly, sunny and we relished walking through sun where it filtered easily through the leafless trees. We were heading north-east so the sun was often behind us but it felt good and though in the low 20's it was a comfortable temperature with just an occasional breeze. A beautiful day to be out walking.
The woods changed from hardwoods to evergreens to a very young poplar regrowth area, back to hemlock/pine, occasional cedar, a scattering of oak. The track was plenty wide as it's a Forest Service two-track road. Though we often enjoy single track hiking trails through the woods, today we appreciated more space for the sun to reach us, and walking side by side. It would have been well worthwhile with no other highlights. But there was...
We had started out seeing five deer cross the path and, not surprising, there were deer tracks off and on the whole way. Along with fox tracks, and periodic mouse crossings. Someone had walked, up and back, this section of the trail a few days ago. It was nice to have (distant) company. But the highlight was recent tracks of a pair of wolves, off and on trail, likely appreciating the easy traveling as much as we did. They kept us company until we left the road track.
After about an hour the trail turned east along a pipeline, more open, higher terrain, but still through high and low growth and some wet (when not frozen) areas. We lost the wolves as well as the person tracks, but soon picked up a fox that we followed the whole way. Not too many curves here but enough light roller coaster, and a bit of icy tracks, to keep us occupied. The sky had cleared and the sun , though low in the sky, was shining and we soaked up as much as we could. The woods to the south did block it some but thankfully there was often deciduous trees with patches of lower growth. After a half hour along the pipeline we came to a marsh with cattails and rushes and small bushes - beautiful in the snow, and wonderfully clear for sun seekers. Perfect timing and perfect place for our "turn-around" lunch.
But no nicely positioned nice sized downed trees to sit on here. That was OK, there was plenty of soft snow. Since Steve had a larger sit pad he just tossed it on the snow and sat down (which was maybe easier said than done since the sit pad had nicely waterproof but very slippery sil-nylon material on the underside). But he soon arrived, comfortable for lunch. I apologized to a little clump of rushes and low bush nearby and set my small (but nicely insulating) foam pad against/on the little island. Soon I too was comfortably eating a surprisingly hot lunch, having this time preheated the Thermos containers with hot water.
After that beautiful break in the sun we gathered ourselves and our gear and headed back along the trail, following our own tracks, picking up the wolves as we turned south. We were now facing the sun, soaking up as much vitamin D and rosy cheeks as we could, always stopping for a drink in a patch of sun. We arrived home before cat dinner time and just in time to get the fire rekindled as the sun dropped behind the trees, having warmed the house and filled our batteries all afternoon. We felt good after a very nice three hours on the trail. Next time maybe we'll check out the snowmobile trail near home. It doesn't look like much new snow in the forecast. And in-between the longer walks we make good use of our own home trails for shorter forays
January 29, 2021 -- Clear Blue Sky and Beautiful Sunshine -- Revisiting SnoMo2
True 100% sun this time, right from the get-go. What a boost. Of course, we had to go hiking. It was a bit cool at 15 degrees when we left home but it was heading up and was in the low 20's for the hike, with hardly any wind. What a beautiful day! We'd planned to check out the west Gladstone snowmobile trail from the Brampton cut-across road, hoping there might be a small trailhead to park, then we'd walk south toward and over the (yellow) section we'd hiked before. But we had a last minute need to go the Escanaba and it was getting late to get on the trail so decided to just go to the Days River Pathway parking lot, get right on the SnoMo2 trail there and walk north again, which we did.
Though still very little snow the snowmobile groomers had made a pass and nicely packed the trail, though it appeared only one snowmobile had tried it out (there really isn't enough snow yet for snowmobiling here). But there were quite a few ORV tracks, a fat tire bike and a couple of hikers. It was great walking, considering the snow and tracks, but this is a flat road with few if any ruts so pretty easy going. Though more evergreens than deciduous trees quite a bit of it is thinned plantations and regrowth so the sun was able to shine through enough to keep us warm and happy. Since we didn't walk the Pathway's rough snowshoe trail first to get to the snowmobile trail, and we hiked along at a pretty good pace, we were able to walk farther north than we'd been before (the purple section on the map). We made it not only to where the Days River crosses but also to and over the Brampton cut-across road where we could see that there was no place to park unless one had a 4wd pickup and could park off in the snow, which wasn't for our venerable Prius, at least not until the snow is gone. So we'll leave the rest of that north (red) section for then.
We had a comfortable break and lunch sitting on the snow along side the trail, then headed back, without seeing anyone or any ORVs. What a wonderful day for a walk. A little more than 3 hours later, as the sun was dropping behind the trees and it was cooling off, we were back at the car. There were more cars in the Pathway parking lot so others were likewise enjoying the day outside.
March 4, 2021 -- A Quick Walk at Days River Pathway, that was the Plan
Since we we'd had a good work-out with yesterday's hike this was a no-hike day. But it was so beautiful out, clear blue, sunny, almost warm and Days River was right on our way home from a trip to Esky. We'd just stop and see how the trails looked. And maybe a quick loop around the snowshoe path would be nice to stretch our legs.
Pulling into the parking lot we got an instant hint at the conditions -- solid ice. We walked (carefully) over to the trail-head and were sure glad we hadn't planned on skiing. The trail was packed smooth and icy. We could easily walk on the ski trails without causing any problems, if we wanted to go skating. The snowshoe trail wasn't much better but at least it was bumpy and there were those stumps here and there to give you an occasional footing. It was just too nice weather to not go for a walk. There was still that cold north wind so we put on our layers and our packs and made our way along the snowshoe trail. I often took to the edges, preferring to hole it in the snow (it wasn't nearly as deep here as up north at Bruno's Run), and I wasn't the first to go that route, but Steve skated and slipped along the trail. It did seem much longer than it used to be! But we decided to make it to the snowmobile trail and maybe that would be better walking.
We did, and it was. We crossed the bridge and headed north up the road-wide trail. Ahhhh. Well, maybe it wasn't quite that good but it was much easier. There had been just enough snowmobile and ATV traffic to leave tracks for reasonable traction. And we were in shoes today instead of firmer boots so it was even more pleasing. It sure wasn't ideal snowmobile conditions but fine for us, and we weren't the first hiker to make use of this wide trail. Just before we got to the trail we saw a fat-tire bike go by (with its rider). The temperature was near to 32 and where the sun hit the packed snow it was just slightly thawed. This made for great walking. We had to slow down for a bit more care in the shade because it was icier but over all it was great. It felt so good to just walk along with normal stride. With the clear blue sky and in and out of the sun, well, we just kept going. And there was enough of that cold north wind to keep us alert. We admitted it would be a little longer than a quick walk.
We came to the first of two small bridges over the winding creek, this one with a small pool of open water on either side as it ran under the roadbed through a large culvert, coming and going beneath the ice and snow covered creek. Stopping to admire it we admitted it was hard to take a good photo though it is such a beautiful sight, the dark water against the white snow. We had taken several photos before. But a great deal of the beauty and attraction was in the sound of the water and that just doesn't come through in a photo. So Steve did a short video, free-hand to see if we could share a bit of that with you. Click on the photo at left (and turn your volume up) to see and hear it. Use your back arrow to return here.
Walking on we crossed the second small creek (this one was completely frozen) and a ways farther it was an hour out and time to turn back. In a way we felt like continuing since the days have gotten longer and more time before dark. But this was already a lot farther than we'd planned so we turned back, enjoying the return trip. Though the sun was often in our eyes the wind was now at our back and it was much warmer. When we got to the turn-off to go back via the Days River Snowshoe path we took a quick glance at that icy trail and continued on down the snowmobile track which conveniently goes right by the parking lot. A quick rough walk to the ice-rink parking lot, carefully stepping to the sun warmed car, and we settled in for the ride home, happy and satisfied with our "little" two hour walk.
April 3, 2021 -- A Long Walk North-Northeast
Warm weather - light south wind - sunshine. The odd weather pattern continues, with no complaints. We enjoyed working on the homestead yesterday and this day we decided to enjoy a long hike. Not inclined to drive anywhere we walked out our front door north, then east along the local snowmobile trail. Sans snowmobiles, of course, now an ORV two-track. We were on our way by 10:30 and it was already warm in the low 40's, quite unusual for this time of year.
Straight up (more or less) the middle route to the east-west A-Frame gravel road, our usual walk through the red pine plantation then mixed hardwoods (which was our landscape all day). Very gentle and relaxing. As the day warmed up one or two layers came off and into the packs. But it was still April-warm, not summer, and the light wind and shade of the woods kept us from over-heating.
At the gravel road (snowmobile trail in the winter) we thought we'd turn right, walking down the road to paved Thunder Lake Road where the snomobile trail crosses just a little ways north. But this east-west road still had a lot of packed icy/snow, and mud, so we chose to cross and continue on the trail north where we were pretty sure there was a cutoff loop down to Thunder Lake. It was a much nicer trail than walking the road anyway. We found the east cut-off and it did indeed loop -- right back south to the gravel road! But we were now farther east, cutting off some of the walk on the icy-snow. And since we enjoy that north section it was fine, and it wasn't far to Thunder Lake Road.
The snomo trail crosses a ways north but we took a two-track right across which led shortly to a gravel pit. It was getting time for lunch so we just headed off into the woods toward the official snomo track, looking for a convenient downed log for seating. It wasn't too hard to find a nice seat in this beautiful hardwoods and we were soon settled for lunch. Today we'd stocked up a little more, filling up our new 16 oz Thermous food containers with spaghttiettes, so we dug in and reveled in the pleasing setting and great weather. Then we continued through the woods to the two-track snomobile/ORV trail and headed east.
This is a fairly flat section, much of it (if not all) is along an old narrow-gauge railroad bed. The first couple miles was quite rough with pit-run rocks making some uneasy footing, but the route was through beautiful mixed hardwoods and older red pine plantations. Being mainly an east-west route and having been well packed by snowmobile traffic (this is a popular route) there was still a fair amount of icy-snow patches to traverse or get by on the edges. Then we left the rocks for welcome, and easier walking, dirt/sand through a more recent red pine plantation. We were in dappled sun/shade most all the way, cool but not cold. It was a wonderfully easy, relaxing walk. None of the ups and downs of the ski trails! We stepped off the trail for one ORV then later for a group of four, mainly couples, all out enjoying the day as we were, each of us in our own way. It was a great day for a ride as it was for a walk.
It was easy to keep going, but at 3 hours out we came to a good turn-around spot -- a major intersection of two trails and a spur over to the Big Spring Inn (a major destination for the ORV crowd). It was only 3 more miles to the Big Springs but we decided we could save that for another day. The Park wasn't open yet anyway. We retraced our steps, heading back, enjoying the trip west as much as the initial trip east. We stopped for a late-lunch as we neared Thunder Lake Road fairly near where we had stopped initially. This time we chose a spot near the trail in a little patch of young beech trees, their rustling leaves keeping us company while we ate.
We chose the shorter down-the-road route this time, turning off the A-frame road at the first, most eastern, trail heading south towards home. Part way down we met up with an ORV that stopped and we had a nice chat with a neighbor, now retired, out enjoying the day. As we parted and continued our walk home we reminisced about the many times in years past we had met his Dad in these woods, out cruising the logging roads in his jeep.
Five and a half hours since we'd left home, and about 14 miles later, we walked in our door, marveling that we were no more tired than we had been after much shorter walks earlier in the winter. It was such a beautiful day, still sunny and relatively warm. So we dug out our camp chairs, set them in the sun by the woodshed, propped tired feet on stools and relaxed as the sun went down behind the trees. All in all, a really nice day.
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© 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
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A journey you can use in your own garden.