For a broad section of snowmobile riders from the Upper Midwest, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the equivalent to a Chicago Cubs collapse, the Kardashian clan seeking attention or a country music song mentioning beer and a pickup truck.
That is to say, it’s pretty much a sure thing. Yes, there are years when the snow cover isn’t perfect in Michigan’s northern tier. But the smart money on an annual basis would be to bet on snow in the U.P., losing by the Cubs, new Kardashian-based reality shows and C&W lyrics glorifying drunken debauchery.
Aside from snow, however, is this fact: the Upper Peninsula is a 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.
This story that first appeared in Snow Goer and then was utilized in the Michigan special of Snow Goer’s Great Escapes. In it, 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 winter attraction. We’ve posted section 1 – focused on the western-most part of the U.P. – below. Check back to see the other five sections, which will be posted soon.
Gogebic Area Adventure
For riders coming from Minnesota, Iowa and some parts of Wisconsin, the introduction to the U.P. most often starts in what the local marketing folks like to call “Big Snow Country.” It’s a pithy name, but the area lives up to the marketing hype with a ton of snow every winter, thanks to the cool breezes blowing over the often-open water of Lake Superior that creates clouds and snow.
Our favorite ride in this region starts near – but not on – Lake Gogebic. Yes, the snow-covered 14-mile-long lake top offers plenty of fun for the go-fast crowd and easy shortcuts between the various establishments along the shore. But you’d be missing out on a lot of the fun if you don’t make a lap around the lake on the fabulous trails that surround it – Trail 13 along the east shore, a short connector on Trail 100 along the bottom and then a zoom up the twisting Trail 1 on the west shore.
Next, extend the ride northeast on Trail 102 for the ultimate prize. It’s a heavily wooded trail that’s quite twisting yet delightfully wide, giving riders an opportunity to make good time but still enjoy the best of backwoods snowmobiling.
Trail 102 ends where the super-highway Trail 11 starts – this mega-wide forest road is an extremely fast route up to the south shore of Lake Superior, skirting the Porcupine Mountains on the left. Where Trail 11 tees into the lake just west of Silver City, you can watch the huge waves crash ashore on windy days; on calmer days, you can walk out onto some of the interesting ice formations created on those windy days.
ANOTHER MUST SEE: Lake Of The Clouds
Once you get to Lake Superior in Silver City, hang a left and take the climb up to the Lake Of The Clouds overlook. On the gradual ride up the hill and through the park, riders gain about 700 feet over about 7 miles and get tremendous views of Lake Superior on the right.
Eventually, up where the trail dead-ends, riders leave their sleds behind for a very short walk out to the Lake of the Clouds Overlook. There, you’ll find a dramatic landscape – the overlook is perched atop huge basalt cliffs that were formed by volcanoes hundreds of millions of years ago. Roughly 300 feet directly below is Lake Of The Clouds, with the inlet and outlet of the Big Carp River that are rarely frozen on each end. Opposite the overlook, on the other side of Lake Of The Clouds, is another ridge, also volcanic in its nature, this one made of rhyolite and covered with pine trees.
All of this geology aside, the view from the top of the Lake of the Clouds Overlook is almost a religious experience on a clear day, although out of the dozens of times we’ve been there, we’ve probably only had a handful of sunny afternoons. That’s OK with us, though, because those clouds produce the snow, and the snow brings the fun.