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A “No problems” Travel Feature From the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – “If anyone ever wanted to take up Nordic skiing, this winter would be the time to do it,” says Missy Luyk.


Missy works for TART Trails, the nonprofit group that builds and maintains the elaborate system of hiking, cycling and skiing trails in and around this Michigan coastal resort. After nearly a decade of disappointing winters, she’s ecstatic at the amount of snow that’s fallen on the trail system this year. TART’s two year-round trails – the 15.5-mile Leelanau Trail between Traverse City and Suttons Bay and the 16.7-mile Vasa Pathway -- have been groomed more than 20 times already this winter.


And the skiers have certainly responded. With literally hundreds of miles of trails, the coastal woodlands around Grand Traverse Bay are rarely crowded in winter. But this year it’s been hard to find a trailhead in the area whose parking lot isn’t bustling on a weekend morning.


Traverse City has long been a favorite destination for Nordic ski enthusiasts, better known in these parts simply as “cross-country skiers.” Each February for the past 33 years, the area has hosted two of the Midwest’s premiere ski races, the North American Vasa and the White Pine Stampede, and the Vasa Pathway with its 3, 5, 10 and 25K loops was created to accommodate fast-paced freestyle skiers throughout the season. But there are also uncountable miles of trails where less competitive skiers can dawdle and enjoy the incomparable scenery


And it’s worth dawdling for, because few places are as enchanting as an Up North forest in midwinter. To look up in a stand of tall pines and watch how their needles break the sunlight into a million points of gold and green, or to glide silently through an open stand of hardwoods in the moonlight, with the new snow glittering like diamond dust as it drifts down from the branches, is to experience a rare and secret beauty.

Some of the area’s most appealing (and free) trails can be found just minutes from downtown Traverse City. In addition to the Vasa Pathway, there’s the
Grand Traverse County Natural Education Reserve, a 420-acre tract with nearly 7 miles of improved trails along the Boardman River with boardwalks, bridges and scenic overlooks. And the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, on the site of the former Northern Michigan Asylum, includes over 300 acres of trails that can easily be accessed from six different trailheads.


One of the area’s most scenic inland trail systems can be found farther up the Boardman Valley at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area, a 1,310-acre nature study area perched on high bluffs above a pond on the river, 11 miles southeast of town. There are trails to the north and south of the pond, with boardwalks and wildlife overlooks where it’s common to spot bald eagles and red-shouldered hawks in winter. Just 1.5 miles upstream is the Muncie Lakes Pathway, whose 11.5 miles of trails wander past small lakes and skirt the river’s edge, with overlooks of the valley from five loops ranging in length from 1 to 5 miles.


The nearby Timber Ridge RV Resort & Campground maintains its own 5K groomed trail system – it’s lighted at night, which is a nice plus. (There’s a fee for using it.) What’s more, the Timber Ridge trails link up to the 60 kilometers of Vasa Pathway trails in the nearby Pere Marquette State Forest.


Farther east is one of the area’s most popular Nordic ski areas, the Sand Lakes Quiet Area, a 2,800-acre nature reserve that’s off-limits to motorized vehicles of any kind, with 11 miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak-pine forest and around five small jewel-like lakes. The trails provide a great opportunity for viewing deer, turkeys, squirrels, woodland songbirds and other wildlife.


Located between Alden and Bellaire on Antrim County's Chain of Lakes, the Grass River Natural Area includes 1,325 acres with 7.5 miles of trails winding through upland forests and along raised boardwalks above floating sedges, and is a favorite haunt for winter birds and mammals. A few miles beyond is the 4,500-acre Shanty Creek Resort, which maintains 21 kilometers of trails through forests of snow-laden hardwoods and pines that connect its two ski villages, Schuss Mountain and The Summit. (There’s a fee for using the trails.)


North of Traverse City, the Old Mission Peninsula forms a narrow 18-mile ridge in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. At its tip, the charming little Old Mission Lighthouse stands above a vast rocky shoal, surrounded by a 513-acre park crisscrossed by 7.5 miles of trails through forests and upland meadows. The trails can be accessed at several points, but the most scenic trailhead is at the lighthouse itself. Near Bowers Harbor, the 140-acre Pyatt Lake Nature Preserve features a mile-long loop of trail through a unique wooded dune ridge area that’s home to winter wrens, woodpeckers, and owls.


To the west, the most spectacular Nordic skiing can be found in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where one of the nation’s most beautiful landscapes becomes even lovelier in winter. The park’s 13 trails range from 1.5 miles to 14.7 miles in length, and offer opportunities for hikers of all ability levels – including several (Empire Bluff,  Pyramid Point and Alligator Hill) with overlooks that rise hundreds of feet above the blue of Lake Michigan.


Closer to Traverse City, the Lake Ann Pathway is a popular trail system near the village of the same name and is divided into two distinctly different loops. The 3.5 mile western loop is a roller-coaster trail that passes two small inland lakes and a short section of the Platte River. The 1.8-mile eastern portion meanders gently along the Platte and the shoreline of Lake Ann. Nearby, the Lost Lake Pathway is a gentle 6.3-mile trail in the Pere Marquette State Forest near Interlochen that follows the bed of an old timber-era railroad, passing a small forest lake and scenic blueberry bogs and traversing a rare stand of old-growth red pine.


For detailed information and directions, as well as details about other winter adventures, activities and attractions in the Traverse City area, visit the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at





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