Cadillac cross country
Northern Michigan trails draw skiers and cyclists
Though the city of Cadillac, Michigan, is best known as a winter tourist destination for snowmobiling, downhill skiing, and ice fishing, cross-country skiers will find four trail systems offering more than 40 miles of groomed trails in the area.
With ever-increasing government spending cuts, trail grooming on state and national forest cross-country ski trails has been eliminated almost everywhere. Most trail systems for Nordic skiers are privately owned or located at downhill ski resorts. The Cadillac area is fortunate enough to have four ski areas where groups of volunteers are dedicated to maintaining and grooming trails. None of these impose entry fees though each has a slotted pipe where donations can be left.
The Cadillac Pathway, a favorite with the locals, also is a popular weekend destination for vacationers. Lying about three miles east of the city limits, 11.3 miles of trail are laid out through rolling hardwood forest. The southern entry, located near 13th Street, features loops of one, two, five and 10.5 miles. Skiers, selecting this start point, encounter numerous hills. Some are gentle, while a couple are genuine white knucklers.
Easier skiing is accessible from the north end of the trail system starting from the parking lot off Seeley Road just past Boon Road. The one-, two- and four-mile loops on the north end are generally quite level. Extending your skiing to pick up loops of seven and 10 miles will connect you to the southern more challenging terrain. A volunteer group grooms the trail weekly during the snow season creating a smooth packed singletrack trail.
Once the snow leaves, mountain bikers, runners and walkers take over the pathway. The local cycling club has expanded the network of singletrack trails. Concerns about the steeper hills led, in 2010, to the creation of bypasses around the three steepest hills giving skiers and cyclists the option of avoiding the scarier descents.
The Mackenzie Trail, about 12 miles west of Cadillac, is adjacent to Caberfae Peaks Ski Area. When my children were downhill skiers, I would drop them off at Caberfae and then make the short drive over to the Mackenzie trailhead. The outer loop, which might be about six miles long, offers some long easy downhills alternating with some moderate climbs. The interior loops are dicier with some quick drops and sharp curves. As with the Cadillac Pathway, cutbacks in state funding have eliminated grooming formerly done by Michigan Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest personnel. However, volunteers periodically drag a singletrack groomer through the Mackenzie trails.
The Big M trail system, located about 35 miles west of Cadillac and several miles south of M-55 off Udell Hills Road, was developed by the Manistee Cross-Country Ski Council in 1984. Today the council owns two groomers and volunteers are out at least once a week grooming the system's 18 miles. On weekends, the warming hut is open, often with a blaze in the fireplace to warm chilled skiers.
The grooming, although not wide enough for skate skiing, does allow one to push out a strong snowp low permitting safer descents on hills marked with yellow caution signs. Skiers choosing the "Oh Me ll" or "Catamount" loops will definitely welcome the option of jamming their skis into a wide snowplow so they won't careen out of control down steep inclines.
My favorite loop is Catamount, which has a half dozen hills, most of which feature hidden descents leaving you to discover the way as it unspools ahead of you. The last twisting downhill ends with short steep drop that demands a snowplow unless you are a true Alpine downhiller. Other than those two loops, which bear the signs with black jagged lines indicating these routes are difficult, the other loops are suitable for novice skiers.
Once the snow leaves, mountain bikers take over the Big M trails. Some years an ultramarathon has been staged here.
Missaukee Mountain is a small downhill ski facility located 3.5 miles north of Lake City, a village located 15 miles west of Cadillac. I knew the downhill area was open on weekends but I never realized that five miles of groomed cross-country trail looped through the pine forest at the base of the ski hill then climbed up the back side of the ski hills, crossed over the peaks before dropping back into the forest.
A friend of ours from Lake City took us there on a week day when we were the only car in the parking lot. The trail had a light dusting of snow in the tracks but was packed firm. We saw no other skiers and it was both a little eerie and exhilarating to stand on top the ski hill looking out past the silent empty chairlift down across the valley. It felt like we had our own private ski area for the day. Cadillac does have one private cross-country ski option. McGuires Resort, on the south end of Cadillac, grooms 10K of trails for skating and diagonal stride skiers. In addition, it has rental equipment.
Dave Foley lives in Cadillac, Michigan, and enjoys not having to drive far to find great cross-country skiing.
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