The idea hit me about mid-week. Michigan was having its best year it had seen in quite some time, in terms of snowfall. Some areas had received more than twice the average amount.
We came up with a plan to ride in the northeast portion of the Lower Peninsula. For some reason, the east side — or Sunrise Side as it’s commonly referred — doesn’t seem as popular with sledders as the west side. It’s probably because in recent years the west side has had more consistent snow than the east.
Our three-person group hauled the sleds to Frank Alley Memorial Park near West Branch, Michigan. We unloaded there for a couple of reasons. When traveling north on I-75 from the southeast corner of the Lower Peninsula, it’s the closest place to catch the trail system. Once on the trails, you can go wherever you want — even the U.P. Second, the Ogemaw Hills club usually has its trails in top shape.
We rolled out of Alley Park late in the morning. Our plan was to reach Cheboygan, located on the Lake Huron shoreline, that evening. We didn’t have a route planned; trail conditions and our instincts would dictate our path. Essential gear was packed into saddlebags and backpacks as the truck and trailer would stay put until we returned a day later.
Topography Is Tops
We took trails north to Luzerne for a fuel stop. Luzerne is also the home of a famous pit stop known as Ma Deeter’s. You shouldn’t pass through Luzerne without stopping at the landmark restaurant. From Luzerne we continued north through Red Oak and into Lewiston. The terrain included a wide variety of topography. Hills, tight woods, not-so-tight woods, swamps, meadows, forest roads, two tracks and frozen lake tops were all included. From Lewiston we headed north to Atlanta.
The Atlanta area is elk country. To that point we saw deer, rabbits and squirrels, but our sights were set on larger critters. With us traveling through late in the afternoon we had high hopes that we would see one of these magnificent beasts just off the trail. Unfortunately, we didn’t see elk, but knowing we could have seen them added to the luster of the trip.
From Atlanta we continued north to Millersburg. As the sun set, the sky turned from bright blue to a vivid mix of pink, orange and blue with a few clouds mixed in to make an awesome sunset. That gave way to a clear, moonlit night that was perfect for snowmobiling.
After our fuel stop in Millersburg, we took a route through the Black Mountain Recreation Area to Cheboygan. We could have taken a railroad grade, but with trails still in great shape, the moon shining bright and no timetable to meet, the Black Mountain route was an obvious choice.
In the heart of the Black Mountain area is a sledder-friendly pit stop called The Bluffs. It sits on a bluff and overlooks Black Lake. We took a late and extended dinner break before the short ride to our hotel in Cheboygan.
We arrived at the North Country Inn 12 hours after our departure from the trailer. It was the kind of day I didn’t want to end. Bright sunshine, pleasant temperatures, plenty of snow and wonderfully smooth trails gave way to a moonlit night. But like all good things, the day had to come to an end. We parked the sleds for the night with 203 miles showing on the day’s trip meter. The next day’s weather forecast called for rain.
The weather guessers said that the rain probably wouldn’t hit until the noon hour, but by daybreak, everything outdoors was covered in a layer of ice. We set out in the freezing rain. By mid-morning it had warmed up and switched to regular rain. Thankfully the trails had plenty of snowcover to preserve the ride. It was no surprise that the prior day’s heavy traffic had disappeared.
Leaving Cheboygan we headed south on a new trail on the west side of Mullett Lake. After a 10-year battle, this railroad grade is open to snowmobile traffic. On the south end the trail connects to Indian River and the rest of the trail system.
From Indian River south to Frederic we stayed on the railroad grade through Wolverine, Vanderbilt, Gaylord and Waters before reaching Frederic. This was the quickest route to get back to our trucks.
The Sturgeon River winds along the trail near Wolverine. The river doesn’t freeze thanks to its fast current, and that attracts wildlife as a watering hole. Bald Eagles also use the river as a fishing spot. But on this day, the Eagles must have been hunkered down to stay out of the rain.
We stopped at Sledheads in Frederic and talked with legendary “Pete the Greek.” We were hoping to get advice from Pete for an alternate route to the truck. We could stay on the trail system to get there, but the rain wasn’t letting up, so we wanted the shortest path back to Alley Park.
Pete directed us to an unplowed county road that took us right into the town of Roscommon. We fueled up there and jumped back on the trail system. Now the rain was falling harder than it had all day, but it was a short and final blast. The rain finally stopped for the last 20 miles of our trip.
We took it easy the whole way from Cheboygan making sure not to tear up the soggy trails. The snow base held up well to Mother Nature’s early spring rain. Trails were smooth, but the corners had large puddles. Deer were also out in force taking advantage of the warm weather to look for food.
We finally reached Alley Park. Our ride turned out shorter than we’d hoped, but even with the persistent rain it was a good day. We found some new territory and discovered a shortcut that may come in handy in the future. The trip started with four maps in the bag and ended with nine. At least we will be well-prepared for our next Sunrise Side ride.
Day ONE Trail Sponsors
Ogemaw Hills Snowmobile Club
Ausable Valley Snow Groomers
Lewiston Fun Ones
Elk Country Sno Travelers
Canada Creek Club
Presque Isle Sno-Trails
Cheboygan Trail Blazers
Day TWO Trail Sponsors
Cheboygan Trail Blazers
Indian River Grooming Club
Gaylord Convention & Visitors Bureau
St. Helen Snow Packers
Ogemaw Hills Snowmobile Club