The words “Michigan winter” might bring on a shudder of distaste in other parts of the Midwest, but those folks have obviously never experienced winter in the Keweenaw.
While folks in the Mitten are fighting their way through snow that’s the equivalent of cold wet cement, the hardy citizens of the Upper Peninsula are scampering like happy sled dogs through a winter wonderland of glittering powder. And that goes double for the Keweenaw, where the surrounding Lake Superior creates a microclimate that clears out the heavy clouds as soon as they’ve dropped their snow load, leaving us with bluebird skies and plenty of sunshine. It’s enough to make you wish for six more months of winter!
Now that our legendary Keweenaw winter is in full effect (150 inches so far…and more coming every day!), we’ve created a handy guide to finding winter adventure in the Keweenaw. Check it out for some snow-spo (that's "snow inspo" for you below-the-bridge folks), and if you have a friend who is planning a trip to Copper Country, make sure to send it their way!
Adventure #1: Snowshoeing
Perfect for winter’s most magical mornings, snowshoeing is like a moving meditation. It also might be the only way to get in your cardio without noticing it. The deeper the snow, the deeper the sense of calm and serenity you’ll feel as you softly stomp your way through untouched drifts of glittering powder. You can snowshoe just about anywhere you see a good drift, but some of our favorite destinations include Nara Nature Park, Great Sand Bay Loop, Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, and the trail network at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.
However far you’re trying to go on your first snowshoe adventure, cut it in half. Snowshoeing is a slow-moving, high-intensity activity, and you’ll be surprised how tired you get after just 15-20 minutes on the trail. Use your first few adventures to learn your limits and build up your strength.
Adventure #2: Cross-Country Skiing
Also known as Nordic skiing, this classic Scandinavian sport is a way of life in the Keweenaw. It’s easy to learn, practically injury-free, and customizable to any speed or skill level. Whether you prefer gliding on the groomed tracks at Swedetown Recreation Area, or breaking trail on the backcountry paths between Eagle River and Copper Harbor, you’ll get a full-body workout, an uplifting mental refresh, and a ravenous appetite. (Good thing our Calumet café is right around the corner.)
The most common mistake first-time Nordic skiers make is dressing too warm. No matter what the temperature is outside, you will work up a sweat, so skip the thick down jacket and opt for breathable layers that keep your temperature regulated.
Adventure #3: Downhill Skiing
There’s no feeling like floating at top speed down a mountain of deep, fluffy powder. It’s an addictive rush that will leave you with a huge smile on your face. (And possibly a mouthful of snow, too.) The Keweenaw Peninsula offers the best of both worlds: you can cruise down Mont Ripley’s groomed, straight-as-an-arrow run, or shred pow while dodging trees on Mount Bohemia, the Midwest’s best backcountry skiing mountain.
Not all ski slopes are created equal. Be realistic about your skill level, use caution when attempting a new run for the first time, and wear a helmet when backcountry skiing…you’ll be glad you did when a tree comes at you out of nowhere.
Adventure #4: Sledding
Craving a winter adventure without strapping your feet to something slippery? Take a cue from the kids and run, don’t walk, to the nearest sledding hill. No worries if you don’t have a friend or neighbor with a steep, snow-covered slope—many of the Keweenaw’s public preserves, from Nara Nature Park to Swedetown, feature sledding hills with deep “landing pads” at the base. You can pick up a saucer or a toboggan from the hardware store or—if you want to go in true local style—find a traditional Finnish kicksled that lets you build even more speed by pushing with your back foot. Now all that’s left is to find your hill, take a running start, and let her rip.
Even if your sled comes with a rope attached, you’re better off using body weight to steer. Simply lean hard in the direction you want to turn, using your hand to pull the opposite edge of the sled off the ground if you need to turn quickly. Just always be ready to bail out if necessary—a tumble in the snow is a lot better than taking a tree trunk or a boulder to the face.
Adventure #5: Traditional Sauna
After a long day of winter adventures, there’s no reward that can compare with toasting in the sauna. Whether you opt for the traditional Finnish sauna (an outdoor cabin heated by a wood stove) or a modern version (an indoor room with an electric or infrared heater), this deeply restorative activity will relax your tired muscles and recharge your immune system. You can boost the benefits by swatting yourself gently with a cedar branch—this traditional practice stimulates blood flow while also releasing a fresh woodsy scent that clears your sinus passages. If you’re feeling brave, finish your sauna session with a cold shower or, if you really want to be authentic, a plunge into a snowbank. You’ll sleep like a baby afterward, and wake up feeling ten years younger.
If you’re new to sauna, start with a lower temperature (around 120-140 degrees), and don’t go longer than 15 minutes before taking a break. It never hurts to bring a big thermos of ice water to sip throughout your session. Oh, and always bring a towel to sit on—it’s basic sauna etiquette.