Here’s a little secret most northerners know well: When the words “fun, free, and cross country ski” are strung together, good times are sure to be brewing. MyNorth checked in with some of the area’s conservancy folks to find some of the best spots to nordic ski, snowshoe, or just hike in a pair of big boots.
Goodhart Farms: Right now, fields surrounding the woods of this 595-acre preserve seem to tuck the world in with white blankets of snow. Located roughly 12 miles north of Harbor Springs, skiers and snowshoers will find the luxury of plowed parking at the trailhead. Several loop options on the 5.2 miles of groomed trails include plenty of flats and small rollers for beginners, and a couple of “you’ve been warned” marked steeps for dare devils (or fools—er, athletes-- who want serious uphill exercise). www.landtrust.org
Calling all trailbreakers: we’ve found your slice of heaven. An 80-acre parcel of land south of Petoskey that boasts spectacular views of Lake Charlevoix, the Leelanau Peninsula, North Manitou Island, the Fox Islands and Beaver Island (whew! That’s a lot of viewing) is also a wildly fun place to cut through the snow. While the hills are more welcoming to advanced skiers who like drops in altitude without the guide of a groomer, anyone can strap on snowshoes and enjoy vistas the bare forest gives.
Houdek Dunes: Docent Sharon Oriel recommends climbing the stairs to the top of the dunes at this nature preserve just north of Leland before hitching up your skies or snowshoes. Then you're off for an easy and peaceful foray through snow-covered sands and skeletal trees that will make you stop in wonder. Look for the extra-large birches, the giant red maple, and the green and white bark of the striped maple as you explore this 330-acre preserve that is well protected from biting winter winds. www.theconservancy.com
Kehl Lake:Ski past frozen waters and under the magic of a Hemlock forest’s snow canopy at this 180-acre peninsula gem just north of Northport. Once a place where Native Americans came to gather medicinal herbs, there is plenty of healing power left as you take in the animal tracks and listen to the stories trees whisper into the breeze along the shoreline of this flat, easy terrain.
Arcadia Dunes: City slickers don’t have to travel far to disappear into the 3,000-acre preserve south of Benzonia that is home to 15-miles of trails, including a 10-mile loop. Looking for a little more education on your adventure? The Conservancy is offering guided snowshoe hikes up Mt. Baldy every Saturday in February. www.gtrlc.org
Cosner & Bennett-Barnes Nature Preserves: Hugging the Antrim/Charlevoix county line, this 131-acre spot offers two little loops and ample parking for those looking for a quick dose of fresh air. It’s a great spot to seek out signs of wildlife, and snowshoe rental (and a February Folklore Movie Festival) can be found at neighboring Wagbo Farm and Education Center.