My snowshoes squeak as I clomp through stands of hemlock and basswood. These ancient trees are impressive on their own, but the snow blanketing the terrain makes them seem almost magical. Piles of sparkling powder perch atop stumps like top hats, while branches tremble beneath heavy snow. My breath quickens as the trail nudges me up a steep hill. Reaching an outcrop, I gasp as dark blue spreads across the horizon—Lake Superior. It’s thanks to this Great Lake that the Porcupine Mountains receive 200 inches of snow annually, transforming the wilderness into a frozen playground. And I walk through it alone.
Turn-by-turn From the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area parking lot
1) Head downhill from the lot’s east end on the Nonesuch Trail.
2) Turn left onto the River Trail. Make sure to watch for snowmobilers when you cross South Boundary Road around mile 2.
3) You’ll cross the Union River about 2.5 miles in. Step a few yards off the path for a better view of the water.
4) After re-crossing South Boundary Road, veer left around mile 4 and head to Little Union River Yurt for the night.
5) Retrace your steps to the River Trail and head west, continuing straight onto the Spring Trail at mile 6.2.
6) Take a right on the Log Camp Trail at mile 7.
7) Just east of the shelter, turn left onto the East Vista Trail and hike to the top (mile 8.4) for wide-open views across the lake.
8) Return to the Log Camp Trail and continue east. Around 9.2 miles, turn left back onto the River Trail.
9) About 10 miles in, a left onto the Nonesuch Trail will lead you back to the parking lot.
Campsite: Little Union River Yurt (mile 4.5)
This shelter sleeps 4 and is snugged against the Little Union River. Amenities include a table, wood stove for heat, and kitchen equipment. Complimentary firewood and a pit toilet sit just outside the door. Res-ervations required (midnrreservations .com, $65 per night). If the yurt is full, dispersed camping is allowed during the winter. Only one party can stay in the yurt at a time, so get your reservations in early.
Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. Its size means it rarely freezes fully, but the shoreline water ices up between storms and then breaks into floes. Tack on a hike along the Superior Loop to experience the lake’s might from the shore.
DO IT: Trailhead 46.8172, -89.6474; 17 miles west of Ontonagon on M-107. Season November to May for snowshoeing, depending on snow cover. Permit Required ($9 daily, $33 annual for nonresidents).