The Upper Peninsula is the ultimate snowmobiling destination because of its abundant snow, great trails and its treasure trove of natural beauty. Surrounded by three of the Great Lakes, mostly undeveloped and featuring a fascinating array of waterfalls, scenic overlooks and unique geologic features, many snowmobilers call it Michigan’s better half for a darn good reason. The U.P. is home to literally thousands of miles of snowmobile trails, and some rather spectacular off-trail riding as well.
In this story that first appeared in Snow Goer and then was utilized in the Michigan special of Great Escapes, we split the 320-mile-wide land mass that is the U.P. into six regions, based on the notable north-south highways that chunk it up. Within each region, one specific ride is suggested, and there also is a sidebar on another attraction you may want to visit while in that region during the winter. Part 1 was on the Lake Gogebic area, with part 2 on the Keweenaw Peninsula plus Bond Falls. Below, we focus on the central region of the peninsula.
Huron Mountain Territory
The proud mining history of the Upper Peninsula is on display in many different ways in the section of the state between highways 141 and 41. Intermixed with the natural beauty of the rugged terrain that creates frozen waterfalls and tall, jagged cliffs are the incredible remnants of a largely bygone era. Abandoned mines are scattered throughout the area, with evidence varying from a large open pit mine that’s available for viewing to old factories and equipment long ago relinquished to the woods.
This all makes the snowmobiling in the area rather fascinating. Most folks who travel here to ride are drawn to the area’s largest city – Marquette – or its neighbor with the funny name, Ispheming. From there, a good loop ride takes riders north toward Big Bay on Trail 14 and Trail 310. The path is wonderfully twisting, with rolling hills and big ravines and a can’t-miss waterfall right beside the trail.
The route gets even tighter for awhile when you head south on Trail 5, where more natural beauty and remnants of mining await. Exposed bedrock, lakes, swamps and the eastern edges of the Huron Mountains make visitors to this area feel like they are in a true no-man’s land, until they stumble across the mining evidence that shows that this area once housed and employed many hard-working people in a more gritty era.
A sidetrack east on either Trail 8 or Trail 14 will lead the adventurous rider into Baraga County, home of Michigan’s highest point – Mount Arvon, at 1,979 feet.
ANOTHER MUST SEE: Pine Mountain
The southern half of this section is mostly flat – with some very notable exceptions, like Pine Mountain just outside of Iron Mountain. The snowmobile trail goes right past the ski hill, and ski hills always make for interesting views. But Pine Mountain holds something far more spectacular in the form of a massive ski jump.
Towering 176 feet above the high ground where it’s placed, with a big landing funnel beneath, the Pine Mountain Ski Jump hosts a huge annual event that brings in competitive jumpers from across the globe. In fact, the longest World Cup jump ever recorded in the United States – measuring 459 feet – occurred at Pine Mountain.
The big jump event – which can attract 20,000 people – is held every February, and on February 12-14, 2021, it will be the high-profile FIS Continental Cup. But that actually might not be the best time to visit the jump structure. Instead, snowmobilers can avoid the crowds earlier or later in the winter, ride right up to the parking lot and then walk up the incredible structure for a breathtaking view of the valley below. The steep walk isn’t for the faint of heart, and the walk down feels even more spooky.
Even without the hike to the top, though, this is a cool destination. Near the jump’s base, but still atop the hill, is the U.P. Veterans Memorial Site, with dedicated stones honoring soldiers from the area who fought for our freedom in various wars and conflicts.
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