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Why schlep to the mountains for your winter sports fix? An average 100 inches of snow piles up annually in central Michigan, making it a bargain for snowmobiling and skiing (downhill too!).
Come January, the triangle stretching from Ludington and Manistee on the shores of Lake Michigan to Cadillac, 45 miles inland, becomes a great getaway for outdoor adventure. Prefer shopping and sipping hot cocoa at a historic inn? Not to worry. Michigan's snow country caters to the athletically challenged, too.
Surrounded by the Manistee National Forest, the reborn lumber town of Cadillac reigns as the Lower Peninsula's snowmobiling capital. More than 200 miles of routes fan out from this town on the shores of two inland lakes.
Zip over the new White Pine Trail, a converted railbed that stretches almost all the way to Grand Rapids. Or take another popular route, the Boon Trail, through the pines to the Boon General store, a century-old wayside stop. The owners stoke a roaring bonfire, and even lend long forks for roasting hot dogs. Pick up detailed trail maps at the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau.
You'll need a home base for trailblazing. McGuire's Resort, a posh retreat on 300 acres just south of town, entertains guests with a 10-kilometer Nordic trail system, themed weekend packages, and moonlit rides in horse-drawn sleighs. Budget-minded vacationers can opt for the Cadillac Sands Resort, with motel-style rooms on the lake and on-site snowmobile rentals.
The North American Snowmobile Festival brings thousands of sledders and their machines to town every winter. Join cheering spectators, or race along with the speedsters through snowy woods and across the sparkling frozen lake. You'll see displays of the latest gear and haggle for equipment bargains at the "swap meet."
Although snowmobiling steals the show in Cadillac, you'll also find great downhill and cross-country skiing nearby. The twin summits of Caberfae Peaks Ski Area tower above the treetops of Manistee National Forest west of town. Experienced skiers love plunging down the "Bullet," the "Cliff," and other challenging South Peak descents. Beginners can take a more leisurely glide down family-oriented runs like Smiling Irishman, a mile novice trail.
Cross-country skiers flock to another spot, the Big M Ski Area in the Manistee National Forest. Ridge-top trails wind through a forest so serene, the swishing sound of your skis will likely send startled deer bounding for cover.
For more laid-back fun, take Route 55 west from Cadillac to the shores of Lake Michigan. It's a great excursion for older family members who might not take to wild winter sports.
In Manistee, on the banks of its namesake river, spires of old churches rise above a historic downtown district. Stop for lunch at Topo's, an Italian pizza restaurant, where you'll look down on a river draped in ice. Or pop into Hollyhock and the Hitching Post, two shops downtown selling collectibles, candles, linens, and gifts.
Another lovely lakeside spot is Ludington (30 miles south on Route 31,) where ornate Victorian homes built by 19th-century lumber barons line the boulevard all the way to the shore. In nearby Ludington State Park, crunch through snow-crusted dunes to Big Sable Point Lighthouse (a 1.5 mile walk each way). The jaunty black-and-white sentinel towers 100 feet above Lower Michigan's westernmost point, a windswept spit of land jutting bravely into the lake.
After the chilly hike, warm up with roast turkey and homemade trimmings at Ludington's family-owned House of Flavors, a cheery 1950s-style restaurant. A neighboring dairy makes ice cream that you'll want served atop the restaurant's trademark hot apple crisp.
Type of trip: Winter sports, scenic drive
Best ages: 6 and up
Ideal trip length: Weekend
Distance: Grand Rapids (96 miles), Flint, MI (143 miles), Detroit (208 miles), Toledo (250 miles)
Best time to go: All year for outdoor sports, but there are the fewest crowds in winter.
Weather: Bundle up! 20/5 degrees in January and February. Heaviest snowfall in January (one day out of two, on average).
Lodging: For a complete list, visit the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau Web site.
Tip: Go midweek for lowest rates.
McGuire's Resort 7880 Mackinaw Trail, Cadillac 800-622-7302
Cadillac Sands Resort 6319 East M-115, Cadillac Phone: 800-64-SANDS
Caberfae Peaks Ski Area Caberfae Rd., Cadillac Phone: 231-862-3000
Big M Cross-Country Ski Area Udell Hills Rd., Manistee National Forest Phone: 231-723-2211
Topo's 312 River St., Manistee Phone: 231-723-4200
Hollyhock 431 River St., Manistee Phone: 231-723-2051
Hitching Post 87 Division St., Manistee Phone: 800-851-5919
Ludington State Park North M-116, Ludington Phone: 231-843-8671
House of Flavors Restaurant 402 W. Ludington Ave., Ludington Phone: 231-845-5785Contact:
Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau 222 Lake St. Phone: 800-369-3836
Possibilities for your Home 209 N. Mitchell, Cadillac Phone: 231-775-0753 Information: This local shop carries art, homemade soaps, local food specialties, gifts and home accents.
Hermann's European Cafe 214 N. Mitchell, Cadillac Phone: 231-775-9563 Information: It's a deli! No, it's a restaurant! No, it's a country-inn hotel! Actually, it's all three, and a wine shop to boot, in downtown Cadillac. Bone-sticking Austrian-style cuisine will keep you warm on the trail.
Best souvenir: Handmade Caberfae Puffs (marshmallow covered in caramel, pecans and two kind of chocolate are made to look like the ski hills at Caberfae Peaks Ski Area) or Snowbirds (a patented white-chocolate and pecan treat) from Sweet Shop, 117 N. Mitchell, Cadillac, 231-775-2201.Annual events:
North American Snowmobile Festival Cadillac Phone: 800-369-3836 Late January - Early February
Traffic alert: Check road conditions at 888-381-8477 or the State Police Web site.
Do you love ice fishing (or want to watch others who do)? In January, Houghton Lake, located 45 miles east of Cadillac, celebrates its annual Tip-Up Town festival.
Anglers try their luck on special ice-fishing rigs that give the festival its name, with pop-up flags signaling a catch. Toddlers can take free pony rides, while brave souls (more than 300 last year!) dive into frigid waters during the Polar Bear Dip. There are ice sculptures, carnival rides, kids games, snowmobile races, and Saturday-night fireworks, too. Tip-Up Town Off Hwy M-55 Two weekends every January Phone: 800-248 5253
Reviewed May 2004.