As Andy Cooper worked the desk at the family-owned Buckhorn Resort in Munising late in October, the region’s first winter weather advisory had just been issued and the potential of four inches of snowfall offered a sign of things to come.
Soon enough, Cooper said, that warning will be commonplace in the Upper Peninsula’s snowbelt where on average more than 230 inches accumulates every year, turning the Hiawatha National Forest into a snowmobiler’s dream.
“You can bet that from December to May, we’re going to have enough on the ground that you can roll out of bed, warm up the sled and then head out for as long as you want,” Cooper said. “Some people are out there from dusk to dawn and ride over 200 miles. Some people go out for a little bit; it’s whatever you want to do.
“And as soon as you sit down for lunch or dinner, the question is always ‘where have you been today’ and people start swapping stories.”
Cooper’s family has operated the Buckhorn since 2012 and since that time the trail network has developed and expanded to 330 miles, all of which are groomed daily. The riding options are a draw that has earned Munising the title of the “Snowmobiling Capital of the Midwest.”
The vast array of wide, safe trails offers terrain that varies between open fields, hardwood forests, hills and valleys for a unique ride. Operators can explore the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Eben Ice Caves and more. While most people stay on the trails, there are opportunities for off-trail excursions for a more rugged ride in the 900,000-acre national forest.
Munising has built a reputation as the place to be for sled riders looking for a complete trail system that allows travel with stress-relieving scenic views.
“People just love it,” Cooper said. “We see a lot of the same groups year after year, and they book for the next year once the current trip is done because they know they want to come back and do it again.”
Snowmobiling in Alger County is different than many places, Cooper said, because riders are experienced and respectful of each other. When new riders arrive for their first time, they can learn from the veterans.
At the Buckhorn Resort, Cooper’s family provides lodging in hotel-style rooms or large group cabins, and they have a full-service restaurant and gas to fill up riders’ tanks. There are plenty of lodging options and plenty of restaurants along the way, too.
“There’s always a lot of activity,” Cooper said, “but here you have to get out and ride to the next stop, and that’s the fun part. There are other places where you spend more time getting your gear on and then taking it off because you don’t get to go very far.”
With forecasters predicting a mild winter because of an El Nino weather pattern, some popular areas in the lower peninsula could experience sketchy conditions from time to time, but that won’t be a problem in Munising.
“We’d like a consistent snowfall with a bit coming each day, but if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that there’s always snow,” Cooper said.
Here are three trips, with starts in Munising, that are recommended by locals:
Munising to Grand Marais
This 120-mile round trip comes with a bonus excursion that takes riders to Miner’s Castle on the only legal access trail in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore via trails U.P. 8 and U.P 422. Miner’s Castle is famous year-round for its dramatic views of the cliffs, Lake Superior and Grand Island. Ice formations on the sandstone cliffs are an amazing sight. Get back out on the primary trail and you’re treated to a smooth ride. The trail takes operators in and out of hardwoods and open terrain, where they can get off the trail and play around in fields.
Visit Kitch-iti-kipi and Manistique
Heading out of Munising and hopping on to U.P. 41, riders can enjoy a roughly 100-mile round trip that takes them to the shores of Lake Michigan in Manistique and the famous Kitchi-iti-kipi freshwater spring. Long known for the summer views, the cold spring is equally visually impressive with snow-topped trees and the crystal clear water. The trail system offers riders options to head through the Hiawatha National Forest on U.P. 413 and U.P. 7, or groups can take more of a straight shot on U.P. 2.
Check out Gwinn
Two primary options to get to Gwinn will give riders between 95 and 114 miles on their sleds, either following U.P. 417 west along Lake Superior and then going south on U.P. 8, or taking a direct shot on U.P. 8. Riders will experience varying, rolling terrain. The Hiawatha National Forest is again a trail highlight as the routes take travelers through old-growth hardwoods.