For this week’s Friday Fast Five, I’m talking about five of my favorite places to ride snowmobiles. With 10 snowmobile seasons under my belt working for Snow Goer magazine, I’ve ridden in many great snowmobiling destinations — some I talk about here — but I also have a couple of go-to favorites that I knew about before joining the SG crew. Check out my favorite spots, in no particular order, and share one of your favorite snowmobiling destinations in the ‘comments’ section at the bottom of this page.
1. Black Hills of South Dakota — I went snowmobiling in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2004, it was my first tour story destination for Snow Goer magazine. My hook was to travel, by snowmobile, to ghost towns and explore remnants of a past era. That two-day off-trail ride led me from Spearfish Canyon Lodge to desolate ghost towns with antique mining and lumber equipment — all surrounded by picturesque scenery. My favorite stop was at the deserted town of Tinton in the northern part of the Hills. Other sights seen on my adventure included Cement Ridge, Wagon Wheel Canyon, Homestake Lookout Tower and Monkey Hollow.
2. Minnesota Arrowhead Region — As a born-and-raised Minnesotan (Go Gophers!), I’ve ridden a lot of miles within the North Star State’s borders. One of my favorite destinations is the Arrowhead Region that’s north and east of the Lake Superior port city of Duluth, specifically near Grand Marais. The C.J. Ramstad North Shore State Trail ends — or begins — there, right on Lake Superior. Riding along the North Shore is similar to being in the mountains, but without the elevation. It’s a vast, rugged area with cliffs, jagged rocks, dramatic valleys, meandering creeks and rivers, and towering trees. And there’s a real charm to going off the grid at the mom and pop resorts and restaurants that are scattered around the area.
3. Alaska — When people ask about my snowmobile trip to Alaska, the first thing I say is that it’s big. Really big. My first, and hopefully not last, trip to Alaska was this past March where I took part in a 5-day, guided cross-country trip in a region between Anchorage and Denali State Park. The Kahiltna River was wide and sweeping, with a lot of undulation, drifts, drop-offs and massive rocks. We saw moose, wolves, a bald eagle and many, many (domesticated) dogs. Look for the full story in an upcoming issue of Snow Goer magazine. And here’s a place to see a bunch of my Alaska snowmobiling photos.
4. Central Minnesota, near McGregor — This is the area where I spent a lot of time riding in the mid- and late-1990s. It’s a swampy part of the state where trails run through cattails, Tamarack forests and stands of tall hardwoods. Running the 30-mile section of the Mississippi River between the towns of Palisade and Aitkin is a fun run because it’s wide enough so you can quickly cover a lot of frozen water, but twists and turns keep it interesting. Other snowmobile destinations in the area include Hill City and Grand Rapids.
5. Snowy Range, near Centennial, Wyoming — Thrills for me when riding in the mountains come from wondering what’s on the other side of a ridge or around the next bend. If I follow a creek bed and weave through some trees, what will I find? This is what I experienced when riding in the Snowy Range near Centennial, Wyoming. You don’t need to be a mountain expert who rides a 163-inch track to explore the inviting landscape. I went there a few years ago with a few friends and we laid first tracks in 18 inches of fresh snow. There isn’t as much extreme terrain with steep climbs up narrow chutes as other parts out west. Instead, the Snowies are less intimidating than snowmobile destinations like Cooke City, Montana, or even parts near Island Park, Idaho, but it presents enough of a challenge and spectacular scenery to keep the ride interesting.
— Andy Swanson, Snow Goer magazine managing editor
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