There are outstanding cross-country ski trails in Traverse City, including 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—both of which are groomed all winter.
In addition to the TART trails, there’s the Grand Traverse County Natural Education Reserve, a 505-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 several trails that can easily be accessed from six different trailheads (here’s a park map).
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 6 miles of 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.
Get the most out of your cross country ski with these tips from Northern Michigan coaches.
Nearby Timber Ridge RV Resort & Campground maintains its own 5K groomed trail system—it’s lit 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.
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 Mission Point 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. Just to the south, in Beulah, is Champion Hill, with 25 kilometers of groomed trails that have splendid views of Lake Michigan and the Platte lakes.
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.
Take a minute to sit back and experience the Vasa Pathway on a gorgeous winter day.