Outdoor enthusiasts understand that just because the weather grows colder and the daylight hours get shorter, adventures don’t stop. There are plenty of reasons to wait for winter weather to arrive and explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
For one, the summer and fall visitors have packed up and headed home, leaving trails blissfully empty. Similarly, the bugs are hiding out until the warmer days return. Both let you fully enjoy the incredible scenery, the pristine snow and a chance to see wintering birds and wildlife while hiking the best trails in the U.P.
What winter weather is like in the U.P.
Snowy! Annually parts of this northernmost Michigan region get up to 200 inches!
The snowiest months are December, January and February. But don’t rule out hiking from March to mid-April to discover why the Upper Peninsula was voted number one in USA Today’s 10Best snow destinations.
Typical temperatures are comfortably cold and rarely bone-chilling. During November, the average daytime temperature hovers near 33 degrees Fahrenheit; in January and February, it drops to an average of 15.5 degrees.
What to wear and carry on your hike
Dress in layers. Include undergarments that wick away sweat and keep you dry while you are burning calories. Wool-based clothing is a smart choice since it is a warm, naturally wicking option. Remove some of your layers if you get too hot but remember it’s better to have too much on than not enough! Wear warm gloves, a hat, scarf or gaiter, and boots with wool socks.
Wear snowshoes or cross-country skis when the snow is too deep to walk through. Research your destinations ahead of time before you go out on your adventure.
Carry water, snacks, a cell phone, first aid supplies and matches. Let someone know where you will be hiking and when you plan to return.
Try these top winter hiking destinations
Wolverine Ski Trails | Ironwood
On the western side of the Upper Peninsula, the Wolverine Ski Trails have 24 kilometers of ski trails, 14 kilometers of snowshoe trails and 7 kilometers of snow bike trails to explore. The terrain itself is best described as “rolling” — which paired with the area’s lake-effect snow means it’s a challenge for all experience levels. Trails are pet friendly but be sure to adhere to trail etiquette so everyone can enjoy themselves!
Need to warm up after your hike? The nearby warming chalet promises views of the historic wooden ski jump structure as well as hot chocolate and cookies from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during ski season.
Check the weather on their website to see what conditions to expect when you visit.
Porcupine Mountains Trails | Ontonagon
You might not think that the famed Porkies are a great place to explore in the dead of winter, but the mountain range offers a ton of winter activities for all ages!
Explore more than 25 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails around the Porcupine Mountains Winter Sports Complex, or head further into Michigan’s largest state park and find more than 90 miles of ungroomed trails for the ultimate, off-the-grid hiking experience. Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available at the Winter Sports Complex.
Copper Harbor Trails | Copper Harbor
Head to the Keweenaw Peninsula to explore the Copper Harbor Trail system with more than 50 miles of unsurpassed adventure winding through untamed wilderness. The jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior are spellbinding.
Because the terrain changes constantly because of lake-effect weather and hiker traffic, newcomers are advised to use extreme caution while trekking across both the natural and man-made features of the trails. Leashed dogs are welcome to join in on the fun!
Check their trail status page for the most up-to-date conditions.
Tahquamenon Falls Trails | Paradise
Beat the summer crowds and watch Tahquamenon Falls State Park sparkle this winter when you explore its over 35 miles of trails across 20,000 acres. Since this area gets an average of 106 inches of snowfall and seldom has teeth-chattering cold temperatures, it is a premier haven for winter sports.
Every winter the park offers free guided snowshoe hikes, with some of them featuring a lantern-lit pathway under the open, starry sky! These tours will help you learn proper snowshoe form and offer a behind-the-scenes look at the park. Of course, you’re welcome to venture out on the trails solo or with a good friend for company!
Eben Ice Caves | Munising
The Eben Ice Caves are one of the most popular winter U.P. hiking destinations. In the central Upper Peninsula near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, these incredible formations occur when melting snow runs over the edge of the cliffs and freezes mid-air to create ice caves that you can explore inside and out. While this isn’t a particularly long hike, it does have quite a variety of terrains that will challenge you at every turn!
This hike takes you across an open field where a scarf and hat are essential to keep the wind and snow out of your eyes. Once you reach the cover of the forest, you’ll move through peaceful woods on a flat trail before reaching some slippery ups and downs to finally enter the caves.
It’s highly recommended to use ice cleats or Yaktrax® traction gear as some areas of the trail can be difficult to navigate without that extra grip. This unique experience is definitely worth the effort it takes!
Sugarloaf Mountain | Marquette
Go to the U.P.’s largest city and experience panoramic views of Lake Superior, picturesque Presque Isle and the city of Marquette in one easy hike. Sugarloaf Mountain sits just north of Marquette and provides a well-maintained trail (including staircases and railings!) that leads up to the top of the mountain.
While you won’t need snowshoes, this well-traveled trail tends to get icy in the later months, so be sure to bring those ice cleats along and hold on to the railings as you go up and down! Pups are welcome to join the hike as long as they’re leashed.
Other favorite winter activities
Home to more than 3,000 miles of intricate snowmobiling trails, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been voted “Best snowmobiling destination in the U.S.” more than once! Thanks to the snowy conditions Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron toss our way, these well-groomed trails are a great treat for snowmobilers of all levels.
Not all winter activities require a motorized sled — there are plenty of other options for the whole family to enjoy when visiting the area. Bring (or rent!) downhill skis, a snowboard or a snow tube and head for one of the many ski resorts located in the Upper Peninsula.
Not ready to give up your wheels just yet? A fast-growing trend in the U.P. is to go fat tire or snow biking — it’s mountain biking with 3.8-inch-wide tires — ones that still easily traverse across the trails despite the wintery conditions.
The U.P. has something for everyone — start planning your next winter expedition in the great snowy North, today!