Published February 2005

The Pennsylvania groundhog often predicts weeks and weeks more of winter.  More ice, more snow, more bitter cold, it’s enough to depress almost anybody.  So, at that point you have two choices.  One, spend the next weeks holed up in front of a fire with a good book when you’re not working, or two, decide to enjoy what’s inevitable anyway, and head north for some fun in the snow.

Michiganders have far more winter than we, and they’ve come to embrace those first flakes of white.  Snowmobiling is a major sport up there, as is ice fishing, downhill and cross country skiing, and they don’t enjoy these things for a few hours, but sometimes days at a time.  Take Houghton Lake, for example.  It’s the biggest inland lake in Michigan, lying right in the center of the Lower Peninsula, and is easily accessible by mostly 4-6 lane highways.

Folk there enjoy winter so much that they host two weekend Tip-Up Towns and snowmobilers flood in from all over the state and surrounding states for races, beauty contests, ice fishing, and the uniqueness of a city on the ice.  At other times, they keep well groomed many miles of snowmobile trails, have snowmobile rentals for those who don’t have their own, and welcome winter visitors with open arms.  I was at Houghton Lake last January and spent three days fishing for northern pike with big golden shiners, basing at a marina with rental ice shanties on the west end of the lake.  I caught LOTS of pike.  If you need information on Houghton, its fishing, rentals, accommodations and more, call the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-248-LAKE.

Houghton is barely the tip of the iceberg for winter sports up here.  Cadillac lies just west of Houghton, a city that likes to call itself “The Snowmobile Capital of Michigan.”  And maybe it is.  Cadillac is at the hub of a trail system that stretches in all directions, north, south, east and west.  Riders can lead roostertails of white snow from one coast to the other from this base, and spend days crossing some of Michigan’s prettiest country.  In fact, a surprising number of Ohio visitors come here and either  ride in various directions over groomed trails, or start an odyssey that will wind through forest and field, past herds of deer and flocks of wild turkey. with stops for meals in small towns and an overnight stay somewhere, then move on come morning to new places.

It’s extremely easy to get information on Cadillac or any other Michigan city if you search the web.  Punch in “Cadillac, Michigan snowmobiling” and you’ll get hundreds of sites that offer trail maps, current snow conditions (10-12 inch base last week) , rental machines at places from Funtime Rentals to Rentals Unlimited, accommodations, current and upcoming festivals, just about anything you might want.  You can get much the same by typing in “Cadillac, Michigan Chamber of Commerce” or “Cadillac, Michigan tourism.”  It doesn’t really matter, and more material is waiting if you search the same sites at Grayling or Alpena, or Manistee, or wherever.

Then there’s cross country skiing, a favorite sport of some athletic readers.  Those same groomed snowmobile trails or trails made special for cross country will see you slipping quietly across more pretty country with air made pungent by pines and cedars and maybe a hint of distant wood smoke.  Chances of seeing wildlife from the usual deer and turkey to more unusual coyotes, bobcats, even elk are good since skis make no noise, and every trail curve opens into new vistas of snow kissed country.  You can get the same information on cross country skiing by checking the web as for snowmobiling, and more information on downhill skiing and ice skating.

Finally, don’t forget ice fishing.  Houghton Lake isn’t the only winter hotspot.  Lakes from top to bottom and from Lake Huron to Michigan are waiting with pike and walleye, perch and panfish.  Again, you can stay home and bite the bullet until crocus bloom or you can enjoy what’s inevitable, anyway.  For many outdoorsmen, that’s no choice at all.

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