This time of year, people often start whining about winter: It’s so cold! Enough snow! When will spring ever get here? But that’s the wrong attitude for the Upper Midwest, where you need to embrace Old Man Winter. And it’s actually easy to do when there are places like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore nearby. Pictured Rocks sits along more than 40 miles of Lake Superior shoreline northeast of Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The park’s name comes from its famous sandstone cliffs, adorned with colorful mineral stains formed when groundwater trickled through cracks in the rock. Pictured Rocks also features waterfalls, sand dunes, lakes and forestland. Freeze all of those over, dump about 150 inches of snow on top and voilà — you’ve got a winter wonderland that won’t even consider thawing out until April. So get packing.
You can do pretty much any winter activity at Pictured Rocks, but a few are especially worth mention.
Snowmobiling: The Munising-Pictured Rocks area is a snowmobiler’s paradise, with hundreds of miles of trails in Pictured Rocks, the adjacent Hiawatha National Forest-West Unit and beyond. Bonus: Munising allows sleds on virtually all of its streets.
Nordic skiing: The national lakeshore offers more than 20 miles of groomed, tracked trails for cross-country skiing in two sites, one near Munising and one near Grand Marais, Mich. Even better is Valley Spur, 10 minutes south of town. A 27-mile trail system in Hiawatha National Forest, Valley Spur’s trails are meticulously groomed daily or as needed, for both classic and skate-skiing, by a dedicated group of trail enthusiasts. There’s also a heated lodge on site staffed by friendly volunteers, plus a heated portable toilet (valleyspur.org).
Snowshoeing: Check out the not-quite-2-mile snowshoe trail at Valley Spur, which twists and turns through picturesque forestland. Or, if you’re more ambitious, hike from Pictured Rocks’ Sand Point trailhead to Miners Castle, the park’s most famous sandstone formation, and back. It’s about 9 miles round trip, with much of the route along a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Although the route isn’t always marked in the winter, you can usually follow other visitors’ tracks pretty easily. And the trail’s beauty and solitude are worth it.
Waterfall peeping: There are many waterfalls in the parks and the general area. One not to miss: Munising Falls, which sits a short walk off one of the city’s main drags. Although it can be slippery around the frozen falls, make sure to walk behind them for a really, ahem, cool experience.
Where to stay
Get set up in Munising on the park’s western end. The 62-room Holiday Inn Express (1-906-387-4800; hiexpressmunising.com) sits in a picturesque spot on Lake Superior — and also right on the 300-plus mile Munising Snowmobile Trail. The hotel offers a breakfast and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Where to eat
There aren’t a lot of restaurants in the Munising area, but here are a few to try. The Brownstone Inn (1-906-892-8332; www.brownstoneup.com) serves up fresh whitefish, burgers, steaks and more in a quaint log-and-stone building 15 minutes west of town. It seems like every Munising resident has a coffee mug hanging from a labeled hook at Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore (1-906-387-3008; fallingrockcafe.com).
Besides serving a wide variety of coffee drinks and tea, the cafe offers breakfast dishes plus soup, salads and sandwiches, including a smoked whitefish bagel and quinoa salad. Check out the attached bookstore with handcrafted gifts for sale before you go. If it’s Friday, head to the local Moose Lodge (1-906-387-2879) for its weekly fish fry. For about $10 you can nosh on cod, perch, whitefish or walleye, plus homemade French fries, coleslaw and desserts. Not only is the food tasty, but all proceeds support local causes.
Every winter Munising hosts the Michigan Ice Fest, coming next Feb. 11-14, 2016. The annual event is an ice-climbing extravaganza, featuring educational courses and gear demonstrations for novices and experts alike, plus the opportunity to climb the famous ice formations at Pictured Rocks and on nearby Grand Island (downwindsports.com/icefest).
If you go
Munising, like most of the Upper Peninsula, is on Eastern Time. But the U.P.’s four counties that border Wisconsin are on Central Time. For more information, contact the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association at 1-800-562-7134 or see UPtravel.com.
Melanie Radzicki McManus writes about health and travel for a variety of publications. She lives near Madison, Wis.