Here’s a little secret: When the words “fun, free and cross-country ski” are strung together, good times are sure to be brewing. We checked in with some of the area’s conservancy folks to find some of the best ski trails in Northern Michigan—open to snowshoers, too!
Little Traverse Conservancy
Goodhart Farms: Right now, fields surrounding the woods of this 685-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. Four parking areas are available offering access to 7.5 miles of marked trails (3.5 miles are groomed in winter) ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Several loop options include plenty of flats and small rollers for beginners, and a couple of “you’ve been warned” marked steeps for daredevils (or fools—er, athletes—who want serious uphill exercise).
Charles A. Ransom Preserve
Charles A. Ransom Preserve: Calling all trailblazers! 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 370-acre preserve that is well protected from biting winter winds.
Kehl Lake: Ski past frozen waters and under the magic of a Hemlock forest’s snow canopy at this 279-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.
Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
Arcadia Dunes: City slickers don’t have to travel far to disappear into the 3,600-acre preserve south of Benzonia that is home to more than 15 miles of trails, including a 10-mile loop. Looking for a little more education on your adventure? The Conservancy is offering guided winter hikes most Saturdays in January and February (schedule).
Cosner & Bennett-Barnes Nature Preserves: Hugging the Antrim/Charlevoix county line, this 135-acre spot offers two little loops and ample parking for those looking for a quick dose of fresh air. A .4-mile loop traverses an old field and a .8-mile loop crosses several bridges and boardwalks while passing through swamp, hardwood forest and Bennett Creek.