Sunday, January 20, 2013

Skijoring in Iron County Michigan and the Keweenaw: ABR Trails, the Mecca Ski Club and the KNSC Maasta Hiihto & Churning Rapids trails

Iron County falls within Lake Superior's snowbelt; once a reliable snow source. It's not what it once was, but when we visited it was working. The ABR Trails were excellent, though a week ago they'd been lousy.

There are at least two significant dog-friendly ski trails in Iron County, and a couple further west.

The ABR Trails are a commercial system about four miles south of Ironwood. The 70K+ trail system includes about 6 k of dog trails - Rascals Revenge, Spanky's Spill and Rudy's Shoot. We did them with our 3 kids and Kateva. The trails are labeled as “Expert", I'd call them "Eastern Intermediate". They are fully groomed for classic and skating. ABR charges $12 an adult, no fee for dogs.

The SkiMECCA trails is about 30 min south of Ironwood:

The MECCA Cross-Country Ski Trails are located in the town of Mercer, Wisconsin.  They run across a combination of State, County, Town, and private lands.  There are approximately 18 Km of trails groomed for classic and/or skate skiing.  Trails are groomed by volunteers, as conditions allow.  Hiking, snowshoeing, and dogs are allowed only on the untracked portions of the trails...

… The daily trail-use donation suggestions are $8 per adult, $5 per child, $1 per dog, or $20 for however many people you have in your car.

From the trail map I see that "untracked" means ungroomed or groomed for skating. That's quite a bit of this club maintained trail system.

Iron County has several other trails that may allow dogs. Twenty five years ago Porcupine State Park tolerated dogs on many trails, though that may have changed. The Uller and Montreal trails are remote and local practice may or may not allow dogs -- I haven't inquired.

Two hours further west in the Keeweenaw Swedetown does not allow any skijoring -- even on snowshoe trails. Happily, a reliable local source tells me dogs are toleratored or welcome on many Maasto Hiihto trails. The joy of these systems is that they welcome snowshoeing alongside the tracks, and apparently dogs fall into the same category:

Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club (KNSC)

Maasto Hiihto, which means “cross country skiing” in Finnish, is a striding-only trail system that offers kilometer after kilometer of unsurpassed skiing on varied and scenic trails. The trail system connects with the Churning Rapids trails. The two systems contain about 25 kilometers of groomed trails (see the trail map for details)

Snowshoeing is encouraged; there are many single track trails to follow, or on the side of the ski trails, as long as snowshoes do not step on set ski tracks.

The scenery on these trails is exceptionally varied and often breathtaking. Highlights include vistas of Portage Lake, Ruby Marsh, Swedetown Creek, mature forests, and pleasant meadows.

Two trailheads provide access to Maasto Hiihto: one at the Chalet on the Houghton County fairgrounds, and the other at Tomasi Road near the Hancock city garage, north of Portage Health.

The noble KNSC periodically hosts a moonlight ski and bonfire starting at the Thomasi trail head and going to the "triangle," for a fire and roasted weenies. This is a 1st class organization! We haven't made it there yet but it's on our radar.

Update 1/21/2013:

The Wolverine Ski Club maintains a trail system that can be joined at the top of the Powderhorn Alpine resort or from parking near Ironwood.  A club spokesman tells me skijoring is fine on the snowshoe trail and “skijoring wouldn’t work on the Wolverine Trails during the popular times of day, but all of them are suitable during off peak hours, ie early morning or after 4 most days.".

Update 12/30/2015: More on Churning Rapids, Maasto Hiihto

This year my family is planning a late January visit to the Keweenaw. In the post-snow era it may be our last best hope for Nordic skiing.

Since I first published this post there’s now a dog-friendly segment of the Swedetown trails, but more importantly the very extensive, single track only, Churning Rapids, Maasto Hiihto are all open to dogs. Here’s the word on CR/MH from an insider, edited slightly. He was responding to my questions, but you can pretty much guess the questions from the responses so I’ll omit them:

1. Dogs are welcome at MH/CR, in harness, on lead, or free roaming but in control. Dog tracks in ski tracks are inevitable, go to a no-dogs trail if you can't handle it  
2. Poop tossed in woods is fine  
3. Dog etiquette - snarly dogs not appreciated  
4. Christensen trail head has plowed parking for 3-4 cars but better roads to Tomasi or Chalet trailheads and loads of plowed parking and probably less drive time.  
5. 4WD not need at parking lots as they are flat

He added some comments about other trails nearby:

6. MTU has one 1.5K wide ski trail great for ski-joring and another 7K of nice but not challenging single track where dogs are allowed. Tech posts that dogs must be leashed and I have occasionally seen a dog or two leashed. Foot traffic is allowed on those trails also but does not create any problem.
7. Last winter Swedetown's dog trail was terrible and short. I've been told it will improve this year; we'll see.
8. CR has some bc skiing, especially the bike trails but they aren't marked for winter use (ie infrequent trail blazes/markers if any except at intersections) and can be a challenge but I say go for it - you'll never get lost, just turn around and follow your trail back to the van (don't get lost in a storm, this doesn't work)  
9. Not sure about Copper Harbor trails and dogs  
10. Eagle Harbor has some nice trails and say nothing about dogs in the past. I take my dog on them as does a friend.

I’m quite excited about this trip. We’ll be making a generous donation at the trailhead of course.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

William O'Brien State Park: Skijoring and family skiing

It's only documented in a sign posted on the park trail [2], but William O'Brien State Park (Google map - parking) has a skijoring trail.

IMG 0636  2013 01 01 at 13 52 41

That's not quite the only documentation in truth. If you phone the recording mentions a hiking/snowshoe trail that allows dogs. That's the trail we took on a cold January 1, and we had an excellent time.

The trail is mostly flat but there's an intermediate style descent down the broad closed-for-winter access road. Our daughter walked part of it, but she could have easily snow plowed it. Towards the bottom of the road is the hiking trail we followed, here it's shown on a part of the PDF map:

Screen Shot 2013 01 01 at 4 29 01 PM

Starting from the lodge follow the trail to the winter-closed road, ski down it looking for the hiking trail sign. Take the trail as shown here; it returns to the road. If the kids are tired take a shortcut back from the Riverside Group Camp site.

This is a multi-use trail with a lot of walkers, dogs and snowshoe use. In places it is quite packed down, but we really didn't have much trouble skiing it. There's usually softer snow and/or ski tracks at the trail margins. There's quite a bit of dog poop at the start (sigh! We carry our stuff out) but not further down.

The somewhat dull terrain is offset by lovely river views and pretty woods.

The park requires a DNR ski pass; we have two we bought online for the season. [1]

There are extensive groomed trails dogs can't go on, we hope to visit those soon. There are also fairly extensive hiking/snowshoe trails south of the park off Broadway avenue. We didn't visit those and don't know if they allow skijoring but I think they do. Call the park first to be sure. (See update below.)

 - fn -

[1]  The purchase process is awkward. I asked and was told they're going to try to get approval to store a PDF of the pass on smartphones to make it easier to carry.

[2] As of Jan 2014 this appears on the park map as well.

See also

Update Jan 20, 2014

After another great skijoring outing on the short but fun hiking trail, we did some exploring of the mystery loop that shows on the William O'Brian map:


I was told by the Park ranger that this is a new acquisition that they haven't sorted out yet. As of Jan 2014 it's a hiking/snowshoe trail and we can skijor it. (Alas, that will probably change.)

It's hard to find. The "Broadway Ave" on the map is called "Maple" avenue where it meets 95 - directly east of the main entrance to Marine on St. Croix. (Maple is main street of Marine). Watch for signs for "Route 4", follow those through railway tunnel then look for parking on right. Today it was not plowed, only Subarus were parked. The lot is used for access to the Prairie Overlook Trail, but if you park there and walk a few meters west you can see a gate and a steep entrance to the hiking trails:


This isn't what most people want for skijoring, but it's awesome for us -- just what we love to ski. Looks like steep terrain, so be prepared to be good or to walk a bit. Trails are obviously well used and likely easy to navigate.

There's another entrance to the south off Broadway, but there's nowhere to park there.

If you go call ahead and ask if the lot is clear. If not you'll need a Subaru or equivalent -- or some shovels.

Update 2/17/14: We skied the Mystery trail today with Kateva, the skijor dog. It was horrible. Don't go there. Forget you ever heard about it. Bleak, dismal - it will drive you to drink. Just move along now...

Ok, I can't do it. I should, but I can't. It was the most fun we've had on a trail in years. Absolutely beautiful; though probably for intermediate skiers. My kids had no problems at all. Ungroomed of course, but on a snowy day just fabulous. We'll be back.