I first learned to love cross-country skiing during my senior year of high school after befriending a Norwegian exchange student named Ingvar. My first trip out was perfection. A snow day from school and the type of snow globe snow falling through the trees onto us as we glided through the trails. Ever since that time, I have felt that if the snow falls, I must heed the call. Luckily, my husband has the same leaning, so we go into the woods.
Here in Newaygo County, when the snowflakes fall, blanketing the many trails in white, a whole new season of fun takes place. Yes, I love the sun and water of the summer. But there’s just something about newly fallen snow and the fresh, crisp scent of winter that is both refreshing and calming. Being new to the area, I began to ask the long-time locals where are the best places to cross-country ski. Today, my husband and I explored just one of the suggested areas, keeping the others on our to wander list.
Coolbough Natural Areas is a great place to hike and horse ride in the spring, summer, and fall. However, it does not lay dormant in the winter. You will find that it has daily visitors who love to cross-country ski or snowshoe; no motorized vehicles are allowed.
What I most enjoyed about Coolbough was the utter stillness, bringing a serene calm I so love from nature. The background music to the crunching and schussing of the snow under our skis was the whisper of the wind through the trees and some hearty northern birds singing. While there was evidence of others recently being on the trail, we never saw anyone else until we got back to the parking lot. At one point, we carefully skied off the main Wetlands Loop trail onto a smaller offshoot-trail to take a closer look at the sugar-glazed pond. A large log was sitting on the pine and snow-strewn shore, so we clicked out of our skis to have a rest, both happy to relish in the stillness.
To get to Coolbough Nature Areas from the city of Newaygo, cross the Muskegon river going north, turn right on Croton Drive to Barberry Avenue going north to East 58th Street, turn right to the parking lot which is then on the left. From there, get your skis or snowshoes on either at the car or in the roofed shelter near the parking lot.
The first loop of “foot traffic only” trail is called Prairie Loop (1.29 mile). However, instead of going around, you can continue forward through the Valley of the Ants Loop on into Cathedral Pines Loop, and finally, onto the Wetlands Loop (which is for horse riding, so the trails are two-skier-wide here.) If you do this, you can then loop around to go back through the other side of each loop bringing you back to your car. This full route would be approximately 3.5 miles. The trails are flat to hilly but never requiring dare-devil courage (which fits me fine). They are not groomed, but because of the traffic and the trail markers, you will easily find your way. Also, you can decide to turn off for a shorter trip at a couple of spots along the way.
This recommendation didn’t disappoint, and we are looking forward to trying out the rest as more fresh snow flies. I’m hoping for a snow globe day on the trails this season.
Other cross-country ski or snowshoe areas we’re planning to visit this winter:
- Branstrom Park in Fremont:Branstrom Park Area Trails is a 1.9 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Fremont, Michigan that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
- North Country Trails: While there are 65 acres to explore, we’re going to start out at the Newaygo County Welcome Center which is 3.8 miles north of the city of Newaygo on M-37.Another suggested trail would be the 40th St. Trailhead just northwest of the Welcome Center.
- Hungerford Recreation Area:There are several miles of well-mapped ski trails. In winter months the trail is not groomed, but visitors can snowshoe or cross-country ski on the trail system. The parking lot is not plowed or maintained in winter.
- Pine Point on Brooks Lake:There are no set ski trails but you can meander down some of the old two tracks that have been blocked off to motor vehicles. Take Summer Avenue south off from M-82 to Pine Point Drive.
We also enjoy skiing or snowshoeing around the local lakes after they freeze over. Many have public access.
by Katie Clark
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