Michigan's Upper Peninsula is regularly voted as the best place to snowmobile in the country. There are 3,000+ miles of groomed trails through stunning scenery that take riders to frozen waterfalls, lighthouses and breathtaking vistas. Riders are likely to see whitetail deer, eagles, coyotes and a wealth of other wildlife. Additionally, along the way there are plenty of places to pull right up to comfortable lodging and delicious restaurants who are delighted to greet sledders.
To learn more about what makes the U.P. such a paradise for snowmobiling we spoke with avid sledder Dan Nedeau. Dan’s father owned a snowmobiling shop when he was a child and he grew up with a love for the sport. He has raced snowcross, taken part in hill climbs and is extremely passionate about backcountry sledding. He is also a brand ambassador for Castle X snowmobile gear and tests products for them. Dan has enjoyed exploring much of the U.P. on his sled but spends most of his time near his home in the central U.P.
Part of Dan’s love for the sport is due to the fact that “you can completely forget about everything else that is going on in the world”. We totally agree, there is nothing more freeing from the stresses of life than cruising down trails in the invigoratingly crisp winter air and enjoying the beauty of nature.
What makes the Upper Peninsula ideal for snowmobiling?
The Upper Peninsula offers not only the best snowmobiling in Michigan but the best snowmobiling east of the Rocky Mountains. It has the deepest and best snow and on top of that amenities like lodging, gas stations and restaurants are close to the trails. The trail system in the U.P. is vast; there are more than 3,000 miles of groomed trails. It is perfect for both short and long range trips. On a weekend, you could easily ride for hundreds of miles. For instance, you could start in Sault Ste. Marie and ride all the way to the Keweenaw. There are a lot of trails that are wide open and you can carry a good amount of speed. People new to the sport are surprised by the amount of ground that you can cover on a snowmobile.
Is there any place in particular that you like to ride?
There are so many beautiful places it is hard to choose.
Grand Island is one of my favorite places to go on a snowmobile. There is something special about the island and it offers an experience that you can not find in other places. I really enjoy riding up to the Grand Island North Lighthouse and standing on the cliff near the lighthouse looking over Lake Superior. Another great ride on the island is to Trout Bay. Additionally, the fastest way to access ice caves around the island is by snowmobile.
If you are thinking about riding to Grand Island you need to wait for the ice to be safe and be extremely careful. Check with local shops to see what the ice conditions are.
Overall, there is nothing like going out after a good snowfall on a bluebird sky day with very cold temperatures and being the first one out there. There is something about the snow when it is cold. The consistency of the snow is drier and the snow dust shimmers in the light and you really only get that when it is cold after a good snow.
Are there some popular tourist destinations that are best visited by snowmobile?
A snowmobile is a great way to get to scenic areas in the Upper Peninsula during winter because there are a lot of seasonal roads that are inaccessible to regular traffic. You will need a sled. In fact, there are very few places along Lake Superior that you can get to without one. Popular destinations include numerous frozen waterfalls, Crisp Point Lighthouse, Marquette Mountain, Eben Ice Caves and Kitch-iti-kipi. Much of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is closed to snowmobiles. Miners Castle is one of the few places you can go to.
What are some one-of-a-kind snowmobiling opportunities in the U.P.?
I have not yet done it myself but I hear that riding over the Portage Lake Lift Bridge is an experience that you will not get anywhere else. If the ice conditions are safe, riding to Mackinac Island from St. Ignace is definitely something unique.
For me, being able to ride through the downtown of a small town and pull up to a restaurant is cool. In Munising, for instance, there are only a couple of streets where you can not ride a snowmobile. I think that is a pretty unique opportunity.
What are some good sources for locating information about snowmobile trails?
There are trail reports on the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association site. The DNR has a great interactive site. If you are looking for maps most gas stations, hotels and visitor centers will have copies that you can pick up.
What is the best way to check on trail conditions when planning a ride?
Check the facebook pages of the groomer associations in the areas you are planning to sled. They do a good job of updating information about trail conditions.
Is it easy to go snowmobiling in the U.P. even if you are new to it?
Very easy, there are a lot of places to rent snowmobiles in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Most of the places rent snowmobile gear as well so you can come up here a complete novice and still be able to ride.
There is a great camaraderie among snowmobilers. If you are having trouble, someone will be able to help you. If I see someone broke-down or having trouble I stop every time no matter what.
For people new to snowmobiling, is there any trail etiquette that is important to know about?
Always stay on your side of the trail, especially going around corners. When riding in a group and you come up on another snowmobile be sure to stick your left hand up and use your finger to indicate how many people are behind you. That way they know that there are more people coming.
What should you pack with you?
It is very important to always have some type of tool kit on you whether it is a short or long ride. Bring common socket and wrench sizes, pliers and a knife. You are likely going to be out for hours so it is important to bring plenty of water and snacks. Also, pack an extra pair of goggles if you do not wear a full face helmet, an extra pair of gloves, extra hat, and make sure to layer up.
I know you enjoy backcountry trail riding. What should riders know before going into the backcountry of the Upper Peninsula?
To get to many of the backcountry locations you will likely have to ride on trails so it is important to have a permit. It is important to research where you can ride and make sure to stay out of private property that you do not have permission to enter. There are a lot of DNR forest roads and seasonal roads and state land that make for good rides. There are more resources currently being developed to provide more information about backcountry riding.
Any snowmobile events that you recommend either participating in or attending as a spectator?
The Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway puts on a great event every year. It is neat to see all of the old sleds and the event helps to support the preservation of the history of snowmobiling. The International 500 Snowmobile Race in Sault Ste. Marie is the biggest oval snowmobile race on the planet. They get people from all over the place including big name racers and big prize money. It is a great event for spectators. There are also a wide variety of other smaller snowmobile events like ice drags and hill climbs.
Plan your Upper Peninsula snowmobiling trip today!
The Upper Peninsula is an extremely popular snowmobiling destination and it is best to book your lodging in advance. We also recommend researching the restaurants and stores along your routes so that you do not miss a delicious meal or the perfect souvenir. If you are not familiar with the regulations for snowmobiling in Michigan be sure to read up on them before your visit.
Have questions? Feel free to contact us. We are happy to help you plan an amazing trip.
We would love to see photos of your snowmobiling adventures so please tag us in your social posts: #uptravel