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According to Snowshoes.com, “From Europe to North America to Asia, people began using snowshoes over 4,000 years ago out of a basic need explore new territories and to find food in the winter…the great success of snowshoes for winter travel was first observed by European explorers with Northeastern tribes such as the Huron and Algonquin, which led subsequent trappers, hunters, and surveyors to adopt snowshoes as their own.”
Here in Michigan, early French explorers and missionaries are said to have learned of these winter accessories from the Native Americans who had been well established throughout the Great Lakes region. While today snowshoeing is more of a winter pastime, it was vital to survival here centuries ago.
Craig Wilson, historian with Mackinac State Historic Parks, created a short YouTube video which shares a bit more information: “Snowshoeing at the Straits of Mackinac”
In our modern era, Iverson’s has been handcrafting snowshoes in the Upper Peninsula village of Shingleton (115 miles from Mackinaw City) since 1954…celebrating 65 years in 2019.
“It started back in 1954 when Clarence Iverson began building his snowshoes for the State of Michigan,” according to the company’s website. “His premise was simple: reduce expended energy by walking on top of the snow, not through it. His designs provided maximum weight distribution for optimum flotation. News soon spread of the Iverson snowshoe, and demand expanded the company into the consumer market.
“Clarence was very picky. He only used the finest materials–premium Michigan White Ash, full grain rawhides, and pure copper hardware. These components are expensive, but well worth the cost when you find yourself in extreme conditions, or when it’s time to pass your Iverson’s on to the next generation.”
Today, Iverson’s handcrafts 17 models of snowshoes which can be purchased online or at retail outlets including The Locker Room in St. Ignace or Kings Fish Market in Naubinway (50 miles northwest of Mackinaw City, in the Upper Peninsula).
Michigan is home to thousands of miles of trails open to snowshoeing and according to the Michigan Department of Transportation, “you can snowshoe anywhere on state land that is open to the public,” but please, if you’re using trails groomed for cross country skiing walk net to the tracks so as to not disturb them for skiers.
So, where can you snowshoe in the Mackinaw City area?
NORTH COUNTRY TRAIL
Created in 1980, the longest hiking trail in the U.S. is managed by the National Park Service and passes through 10 National Forests, with some 800 miles in Michigan. The 46-mile section between Petoskey and Mackinaw City (which skirts the lakeshore through Harbor Springs, Good Hart and Cross Village) includes 14 miles of trails within Wilderness State Park. With varied terrain and four seasons of beauty, the trail is a popular route for snowshoers. The village of Mackinaw City is even one of the handful of “Trail Towns” throughout the state, offering a haven for recreationalists to relax before or after a day on the trail.
An Emmet County Park on the Straits of Mackinac, the Headlands property is made up of nearly 600 acres of forested lands, four miles of trails and two miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline including Michigan’s only Dark Sky Park. The trail network offers hours of inspiration among hardwoods and ferns in the warmer months, and spectacular snowshoeing throughout the winter. There is even a guided trek planned for Saturday, February 3 at 2pm.
Located along the shoreline southwest from downtown Mackinaw City, this state park boats over 20 miles of winter trails throughout the 10,000-acre wilderness, with over 26 miles of shoreline open for exploring. It is advisable to bring a compass since this State Park is, as its name implies, in the wilderness especially in the winter months. It is possible to get lost if you venture off the trails or if you get caught in a winter-time squall off Lake Michigan, and cell service is often limited.
While there is no access to the regular parking lot at this seasonal attraction, you can park near the entry area and access the hiking trails from there (at no charge). Situated on over 600 acres of beautiful forests, wildflowers and scenic views, this property has 1.5 miles of trails including a half-mile nature trail that borders the creek and passes two scenic overlooks from where the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island can be viewed.
In addition to offering winter canoeing, kayaking or rafting trips down the Sturgeon River, this Indian River company (just 30 miles south of Mackinaw City) also offers snowshoe rentals for those looking to hit the trails or get off the beaten path.
Looking to keep warm while out on your trek? Be sure to outfit yourself in stylish hats, gloves and apparel (including the noted Mackinaw coat) made by Stormy Kromer (also a UP company). Read more in our Facebook Note: What is a Mackinaw? (including three local retailers who sell Stormy Kromer items).
NOTE: Saturday, January 11, 2020 is the 28th Annual “Pure Michigan Winter Trails Day” presented by the Great Lakes Winter Trails Council …a chance to get out and explore all that the state’s natural wonders have to offer!
Photo Source: Experience Michigan magazine.