The Noquemanon Trail Network covers a lot of ground with its eight trail systems stretching from Munising to Big Bay and paths that speak to every kind of Northern Michigan outdoor enthusiast year-round.

Avid mountain biker? The Noquemanon Trail Network’s (NTN) South Trails’ 45+ miles of single-track that hug the southern end of Marquette treat you to waterfalls, deep woods and hilltop views, and what many consider the best riding in the Midwest. Hikers and runners also find their outdoor bliss exploring the rocky switchbacks, rooty inclines and meandering routes that make up this non-motorized trail network in Michigan’s rugged and staggeringly beautiful central Upper Peninsula.

This time of year, Noquemanon’s 35 miles of groomed winter single-track and more than 125 kilometers of Nordic ski trails entice us to keep doing what we love most in the Great Lakes State: get outside, embrace the elements and squeeze out every last adventurous second. A snowy, daylong Noquemanon excursion fits the bill perfectly.

Treetops at Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Related Read: Searching for more winter adventures? Visit our Northern Michigan winter page for trails, local events and more.

That is what Lori Hauswirth lives for—spending time in nature, helping others discover the benefits of trails and taking good care of them—and it’s a passion and dedication that brought the lifelong U.P. resident back to her hometown of Marquette in 2018.

“There’s a reason I live here, why I came back and why I am still here,” says Lori, who was named executive director of the Noquemanon Trail Network after relocating from the Keweenaw, where she lived for more than two decades. Prior to coming to NTN, she served six years as executive director of the Copper Harbor Trails Club in a split role with the International Mountain Bicycling Association as an associate region director.

“Trails are definitely the driver for me as to where I want to be and where I want to recreate, and more and more it’s becoming a priority in people’s lives,” she says.

Cross Country skiing at Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

The NTN has seen a significant uptick in trail users throughout the pandemic—similar to outdoor spaces everywhere—and Noquemanon visits continue to rise. And rising right alongside is the 20-year-old organization’s commitment to secure, develop, maintain and promote the use of the trail network. This means continuing to work closely with more than 45 landowners, both public and private, for daily trail access, and more than 90 landowners for races and other trail-related events. This is all done through a variety of agreements, easements and ownership.

“What we have speaks highly of the commitment of primarily volunteers over the years to develop these systems and do the hard work— none of it’s been easy,” Lori says. “We’re finally at a point where the trails are valued. That’s a big thing when people realize there’s value in these trails, that they’re not just a path in the woods, and that they’re contributing to quality of life, the community and making Marquette a great place to live and visit.”

Much of what the NTN strives to do is educate the community and visitors about the trails and how to support them, Lori says. And that includes helping people understand that “some of this access is fragile,” she adds. “We’re greatly relying on sometimes year-to-year agreements, and just being friendly and kind to others is a big deal.”

Noquemanon Trail Network by bike

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Friends have spoken highly of the optimal skiing conditions at Noquemanon over the years, though I’d yet to experience it firsthand—until a recent mid-winter trip North. Up until that point, my husband, Joe, and I had only navigated parts of the trail network on foot or two wheels—satisfying and challenging adventures we’d tackled and savored during camping trips with our kids throughout their childhood.

For this most recent trip to Noquemanon, Joe and I wanted to get on cross-country skis. Having had minimal experience on skis in recent years, we chose the beginner-friendly Forestville Trailhead and adjacent groomed trails for our excursion. We were thrilled to have found a great Airbnb in Marquette for the weekend, located just off Third Street, an area within walking distance of downtown that’s lined with local shops and eateries. Blackrocks Brewery is across the street from the Victorian-house-turned-apartments, and our go-to breakfast spot, Bodega, is a stone’s throw away.

Person with dog at Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

A bonus with this trek to Noquemanon: meeting up with photographer Liam Kaiser, whose ties to Marquette as a now-graduated Northern Michigan University student and whose passion for the outdoors made him the ideal skiing guide (he also happens to be from Traverse City, too, so we had an instant connection). We made plans to meet early Saturday morning for coffee at Contrast Coffee on Third Street before caravanning to the Forestville Trailhead, about a 15-minute drive and where rentals are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

We arrived just before 9 a.m. and after parking at the trailhead, we walked to the nearby chalet where we were among a handful of skiers waiting to purchase a day pass and rent equipment (skis, snowshoes and fat bikes are all available). A couple of NTN volunteers soon arrived and welcomed us inside.

In the chalet, as we eyed the posted trail map, we learned that this particular section of the NTN is a 50K system, including a range of difficulties from beginner to expert. Trails are groomed for classic and skate skiing, with 20K of the trails open to leashed dogs. Lori and her team often recommend the Forestville Trailhead to newer skiers, given these trails provide options for different loops, point-to-point routes and varying distances. The trails are beginner-friendly, though “on any of our trails, you’re going to have a little bit of climbing,” she says.

Joe and I decided to go with classic skis this time, while Liam opted for skate skis. We didn’t have a specific distance in mind, but determined that about two hours total, taking an out-and-back route, sounded good to all of us. I also made an impulse buy: a bright orange and blue NTN pom-pom winter hat, because it matched my jacket and will serve as a reminder of this day.

Trail sign at Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

About an hour in, we decided to turn around and head back. The few climbs on our way out meant some downhills on the way to the chalet. They’re small slopes, really, but we picked up some speed that was exhilarating. We crossed paths with more skiers, including a few with their leashed four-legged companions trotting alongside them.

Along the way back, we stopped and took a few moments to savor the forest’s silence and breathe in the cold, clean air. I thought about how Marquette wasn’t far away at all. Maybe my just-starting-to-grumble stomach was prompting the thought, or it was that having this pristine patch of nature, all to ourselves, was so serene it felt like we were far away from civilization.

Lori knows that feeling. “People don’t realize how spoiled we are,” she tells me later. “The trail systems here are amaz- ing—how close they are to town and accessible, but how far away you feel when you’re out enjoying them.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Man and dog at Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Avid and more experienced skiers often gravitate toward the route that’s known as the Noquemanon Ski Marathon trail. “What’s nice is we have the main Noque Ski Marathon trail that cuts through the whole system,” Lori says.

The Ski Marathon, a popular fundraising event for NTN at the end of each January, features several races including a 50K. Starting in Ishpeming, the marathon takes skiers through remote terrain, including the Dead River basin, and eventually to the dome, a well-known landmark in Marquette. While the entirety of the race route is only groomed for race weekend, you can ski a good length of it any day of the week throughout winter.

More Favorite Winter Trails in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Lori recommends these additional, local trails Up North.

• For an in-town skiing experience, hop on the Fit Strip for a few kilometers of classic skiing. The path is lit at night, too.
Blueberry Ridge, just south of town, is a favorite of many. It’s a Michigan Department of Natural Resources property.
Valley Spur, near Munising, offers a remote feel and great terrain. Located in a national forest, it features routes for all levels of skiers.
• Toward Big Bay, you’ll find a couple of systems including the Big Bay Pathway that’s groomed just for classic skiing. “It’s lovely.”
NTN’s north and south trails are single-track, primarily groomed for snow biking. They’re also open for snowshoeing, mountain biking and trail running.

As for where Lori gets her ski on?

“If it’s just perfect outside, sometimes what I like to do is shuttle with friends to our County Road 510 trailhead and ski back to Forestville Trailhead. It’s just a lovely ski. It’s roughly 15K. I’ll take my dogs with me, too, to get in some snow time. And if I don’t ski, I will go snow biking. I live a couple blocks from the trails, so it’s easy to roll up the hill and jump onto the trail.”

Group ski race at Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Events at Noquemanon this Winter

Noquemanon Trail Network partners with up to 90 landowners for the various events held on the trails throughout the year. “Our events are fundraisers for us,” says Lori Hauswirth, the NTN’s executive director. “It’s really about getting people out on the trails, enjoying the outdoors.”

Jan. 21–22, 2022
“If you’re a skier and haven’t done the Noque, I encourage everybody to come on up and check it out,” Lori says.

Feb. 5, 2022
This is NTN’s newest event and features skiing, snow biking and snowshoeing.

June 24–26, 2022
Featuring biking, trail running and hiking.

Aug. 19–20, 2022
A trail running event featuring a 50K, 50-miler, 5K and 1-miler.

Oct. 1, 2022
A staged mountain bike race, this is a growing sport and the event typically fills.

Visit the Noquemanon Trail Network website for more information and additional upcoming events.

Trail sign with woman Noquemanon Trail Network

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Heather Johnson Durocher writes from Traverse City, where she lives with her husband Joe and their three kids. She is the founder of the travel and active lifestyle site and also hosts a weekly podcast.

Liam Kaiser is a visual storyteller whose work documents people and our experiences in the world. He’s got a strong love for the outdoors and the grit that comes with it. You can follow his adventures on Instagram @LiamKaiserCreative.

Photo(s) by Liam Kaiser