Self-guide your snowshoes through the wonders of winter | GO
TRAVERSE CITY – The sense of adventure and a pair of snowshoes are the ticket to discover the various natural spaces of the region enveloped in the splendor of the season.
Pandemic restrictions have canceled guided snowshoe hikes, but the self-guided experiences allow novice and seasoned snowshoe enthusiasts to channel their inner adventurer. Kilometers of trails suitable for snowshoeing crisscross parks, reserves and private properties showcasing the silent and snow-capped beauty of the region.
Follow a river, take in stunning views, or hike through old growth forest at one of the 40 Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy reserves open to snowshoers. Reserves ranging from 11 to 3,800 acres offer ungroomed trails in Grand Traverse, Benzie, Antrim, Kalkaska and Manistee counties. Uniquely protected, owned and managed by GTRLC, or in partnership with communities, townships or counties, the properties offer options for enjoying varied terrain and landscapes.
“The upper reaches of the Upper Manistee Headwaters is a real pleasure to visit in the winter,” said Jennifer Jay, spokesperson for the GTRLC. “It’s huge. You can snowshoe in the reserve and see incredible landscapes, lakes and woods – and there’s no shortage of wildlife.
The 10 km trail winds its way through the 1,288 acres of the Upper Manistee Headwaters Preserve in Kalkaska County.
Jay said the Cedar Run Creek Natural Area in Grand Traverse County is a photographer’s delight. Located in Long Lake Township, the reserve has nearly four miles of trails to explore. It includes 6,200 feet of undeveloped frontage along Cedar Creek, 1,500 feet of frontage on Cedar Lake and nearly 60 acres of cedar and hemlock forest.
“I saw amazing winter photos of the cedar and hemlock forest along the creek,” she said.
The Maplehurst Nature Area in County Antrim, where a new trail system was unveiled in 2019, is among the other snowshoeing gems of the GTRLC reserve. Arcadia Dunes in Benzie and Manistee counties is the organization’s largest reserve. It offers 15 miles of trails through several types of landscapes.
Visit togtrlc.org for a complete list of snowshoe-friendly reserves, maps, and its winter access guide.
Explore the Leelanau peninsula in the 18 reserves of the Leelanau Conservancy open to snowshoe hikes. Reserves, primarily owned and managed by conservation, include the Lighthouse West Natural Area. Its 42 acres located at the tip of the peninsula provide a 1.2 mile flat and easy trail.
“If you hike to Lake Michigan, it’s really dramatic in winter,” said Emily Douglas, land conservation officer.
The Swanson Preserve and other small reserves on the peninsula are also important for providing rich experiences.
The 83 acres of Swanson near Northport provide a short, easy trail with the opportunity to spot wildlife. “It’s close to the Lakeshore National Wildlife Corridor,” said Douglas. “You might be able to spot an owl, deer or coyote if you’re lucky. “
The less traveled Kehl Lake Natural Area near Northport offers a wild feel, she said, while the more than 3 miles of trails in the popular Houdek Dunes Natural Area in Leland provide choices for the both easy and difficult.
Find details of all conservation reserves and maps at leelanauconservancy.org.
Other hiking options crisscross the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore scenery and state-owned properties, while municipalities in the area offer local trails to explore. Probably there is one not far from your backdoor.
Private resorts and wineries present softer snowshoe options. The 111-acre Brys Estate Vineyard and Vineyard on the Old Mission Peninsula has unveiled a two-mile winter trail system for the 2021 season.
“You see bare vines, views of East Bay, the woods and the iconic farm,” said Taylor Lopiccolo, winery director of hospitality. The shorter of the two loops meanders to the estate’s secret garden where 6,000 lavender plants await spring.
The Brys Estate trails are open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Six new fireplaces punctuate the outdoor dining area where snowshoers can stay warm and enjoy spicy hot apple cider or a glass of wine.
The region’s expansive trail system invites snowshoers of all ages and skill levels to enjoy a taste of Northwest Michigan’s winter wonders at their frozen best.
“The upper reaches of Upper Manistee is a real treat to visit in winter. It’s huge. You can snowshoe in the reserve and see incredible landscapes, lakes and woods – and there is no shortage of wildlife. GTRLC spokesperson Jennifer Jay