By: Allison Derouin
Pop quiz! But this one will be fun, pinky swear.
What northern area in the U.S. gets at least 200 inches of snow every winter, presents a plethora of exhilarating icy adventures, and is way cheaper than braving the crowded, chaotic, and crazy expensive “snow season” in the western states? If you guessed Ontonagon, Michigan then you’re correct! There’s nothing like a snowy, secluded getaway to the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Whether flying solo or bringing the whole family, this vacation guarantees no one will be bored. Located in the heart of the Upper Peninsula, this delightful area has many winter pursuits, combined with the awe-inspiring wilderness of the nearby Porcupine Mountains (aka the beloved Porkies). Keep reading, and I’ll guide you through an exciting and affordable chilly adventure, from riveting outdoor sports to exploring serene snow-covered trails. Pack your beanie, scarf, and mittens, dress in layers (a necessity!), and embark on an unforgettable journey in Ontonagon, Michigan, and the famous Porcupine Mountains.
Skiing and Snowboarding
If an adrenaline rush is what you seek, the Porkies Winter Sports Complex is a must-visit for powder enthusiasts. Nestled within the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, this ski and snowboarding area boasts 20 downhill runs, 3 lifts, and a natural terrain park where you can take jumps off cliffs and use tree trunks as rails! Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, the slopes have you covered. Grab some gear or expertise with low-cost ski rentals and professional lessons available. Download a trail map here and plan out your thrill-seeking weekend. Did I mention the incredible views of Lake Superior you’ll have access to? Don’t forget to take some pictures!
Skiing devotees have to check out Midwest Telefest on February 9th – 11th 2024, which takes place at the Porkies! This event is a full weekend of ski races, music, a chili contest, a potluck, and overall loads of family fun. The Porkies will also offer discounted lift tickets for the weekend if you tell them you’re there for the Telefest; you know we love great times at great prices. Check out their Facebook page for updates and schedules so you don’t miss out on “shredding the gnar!”
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
For a more relaxing way to spend your time outdoors, Ontonagon and the Porkies provide an abundance of scenic trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Glide through the peaceful forest on more than 25 miles of groomed trails, surrounded by towering trees draped in snow. The park also caters to different skill levels, providing an opportunity for anyone to galavant around the untouched winter landscape at their own pace.
Snowshoeing is another fantastic way to immerse yourself in the area’s natural beauty and enjoy the quiet serenity of the snow-covered forest. Did you know that in January and February, you can enjoy a nighttime lantern-lit cross-country ski and snowshoeing trail? Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park hosts this event yearly and sets up an easy 1-mile trail to enjoy a unique and chilly evening jaunt. You can stop halfway through to warm up by the campfire and enjoy some hot refreshments. If you’re traveling with your honey, what a romantic date night idea!
Snowburst Winter Carnival
In true Yooper fashion, a party can occur no matter what the temperature is outside! Make sure to check out the Snowburst Winter Carnival that takes place every February at the Porcupine Mountain Sports Complex. This event has something for everyone including live music, a pasta dinner, trivia, kids events, and fireworks to cap off the evening. It’s a true celebration of all that Ontonagon and the Porkies offer during the snowy season; you won’t want to miss this event! But of course, layers are your friends, so bundle up accordingly. (This will be a recurring theme – comfort first, always!)
Winter temps should not deter you from getting outside, enjoying cardio, and basking in the splendor of the hiking trails throughout the Porcupine Mountains. There are over 90 miles of recreational trails that range from easy to “wooo, that’s a doozy”. The longest and most challenging trail is the Lake Superior Trail at 17 miles. If you can muster up the energy, the views here are unreal. No worries if you’re not looking to break records or impress anyone – Beaver Creek (1.2 miles) and Escarpment Trails (4.3 miles) will also feed that hiking craving and the latter will get you stellar views of Lake of the Clouds!
Do you want 350 miles of groomed trails to cruise around on? Then rev up your engines and experience the thrill of snowmobiling through Porcupine Mountain’s wintery terrain! There are many photo-worthy stops along these trails. Check out Bond Falls, which provides stunning views in its frozen state during winter months. Snowmobile Trail 3 will take you right to the falls. Of course – please follow safety guidelines and make sure your permit is valid before heading out!
If you’re a snowmobile lover and you enjoy racing, then get ready for the best of both worlds with MASTERS (Mid America Snow and Expert Racers)Terra-X & Vintage Enduro. You can be a casual audience member and enjoy the race OR you can enter as a racer! The Terra-X races include riding your stock or modified 600 or 850 class sled and the Vintage Enduro races will feature the same trails as the Terra-X but will only feature sleds that are 20 years or older at 500cc’s. This event takes place in February, has a $5 entry fee, and is a fundraiser for the North Country Snow Mobile Club. Information from this past year’s event can be found here, so keep an eye out for what they have planned for 2024!
This winter, you’re not catching a cold – you’re catching dinner! Ontonagon‘s frozen lakes provide a haven for ice fishing enthusiasts. Grab your auger, tip-ups, and hang out in your shanty while you patiently await a bite. Lake Superior is known for its trout, salmon, and whitefish, making it a prime spot for ice fishing. Fish of all sizes are plentiful in Lake Gogebic, including smallmouth bass, jumbo perch, and walleye. Enjoy the tranquility of the frozen landscape while engaging in this time-honored Yooper right of passage!
Some people think winter is a time for hunkering indoors to survive the cold. Maybe this is why people feel winter is so much longer than it is; it’s all in your state of mind! With the right gear and mindset, exploring fun places or picking up a new hobby can be the breath of fresh air you need (literally and figuratively!)
Weathering the winter temps is worth it when you visit the Porcupine Mountains in Ontonagon, Michigan. Your trip will satiate every adventurer’s desires, from adrenaline-pumping downhill skiing to peaceful winter hikes. This charming and quaint area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula caters to all interests and all ages. We encourage you, dear reader, to embrace the winter spirit, explore the fluffy trails, and create memories amidst God’s country, enveloped in a winter wonderland. Plan your visit today, and let Ontonagon‘s winter magic enchant you!