The 13-acre Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve is a winter lover’s bliss—stretch your legs with a leisurely half-mile snowshoe through the woods of this pristine wetland. Protected by the U.P. Land Conservancy (UPLC), the Bayou acts as a critical stopover for migrating birds and is home to mink, muskrat, black bear, deer, rare herons, eagles and diverse plant life.

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If you find yourself in this area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, don’t miss UPLC’s annual UP200 takeoff party at the Bayou. The event takes place each year in February and offers a quieter, more intimate way of watching the 238-mile dog sled race versus the hustle and bustle of downtown Marquette, which means viewers are able to interact more with the mushers (who love to say “hi” back!)

During this year’s Feb. 18 party, attendees took a half-mile candlelit snowshoe through the preserve to the viewing area, which is within feet of the race along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail and cozied up with warm drinks around a bonfire. (The race began on Friday night, and Chocolay Bayou is about a half-hour from the downtown takeoff.) To learn about the 2023 party, visit uplandconservancy.org or follow UPLC on Facebook.

Views at U.P. Land Conservancy

Photo by U.P. Land Conservancy

Access: Located south of Marquette in the town of Harvey, Chocolay Bayou is nestled right off the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT), which is groomed for snowmobiles. Those driving by car can park at the Michigan Welcome Center (2201 US-41 S.) or any other IOHT access point, and then ski, snowshoe or fat-tire bike in on the IOHT.

Visitors can also access the preserve via an entrance and parking lot off Main Street—UPLC tries to keep this cleared, but if the snow overwhelms volunteers and it fills in, visitors can instead park on the shoulder of Main Street (allowed by the township) or at the township marina, which is about a quarter-mile down Main Street and will remain plowed through the winter. Additionally, Lake Superior Smokehouse Brewpub encourages preserve visitors who use their lot for overflow parking to stop in and have a brew or a bite to eat!

(Note: Trails are not cleared at the Bayou, so snowshoes are necessary for a winter visit.)

Icy lake at U.P. Land Conservancy

Photo by U.P. Land Conservancy

Photo(s) by U.P. Land Conservancy