By Jim DuFresne
Sometimes when people go cross-country skiing, they ski. Sometimes they race, sometimes they are exercising, sometimes they’re just shuffling across a golf course, hoping not to fall. But when there is a group of friends and the day is theirs and the sun is out and they wake up to a powdery layer of new lake-effect snow, they go touring.
Touring is the winter art of enjoying the woods and the company you’re with. You stop often to take pictures, to admire the views, to talk, to laugh, to eat, to sip warm spiced wine from a sack that somebody stores inside their parka.
You just happen to do this on cross-country skis.
The most important aspect of any good tour is the route you choose and for that Scenic Drive Ski Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is ideal.
Actually, Scenic Drive is not a trail but a road built by Pierce Stocking in the early 1960s. Stocking operated the 7.4-mile loop, charging $2 a car, until his death in 1976 when the National Park Service renamed it in his honor and upgraded it with picnic areas, observation platforms and a bike lane.
For most of the year Scenic Drive is true to its name featuring a procession of slow-moving vehicles. But after the first snowfall the road becomes the heart of an 8.75-mile trail system that includes three crossover spurs and Shauger Hill Trail, a challenging loop in its own right. At that point Scenic Drive is one of the most popular destinations in the park for both Nordic skiers and snowshoers.
Scenic Drive Ski Trail is a 6.3-mile loop with long downhills and some brutal uphill climbs. It begins in the parking area near the contact station with a short segment on the Shauger Hill Trail. Scenic Hill is not tracked or groomed in the winter but nearby Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is and the two are connected by a spur to the trailhead parking lot also.
Crossover spurs allows Scenic Drive to be split into a pair of loops. Dunes Overlook at post No. 3 is the destination for what is occasionally referred to as the Easy Loop, a 3.9-mile ski. Many skiers, however, want to reach the Lake Michigan Overlook, posts No. 9 and No. 10, and follow Scenic Drive in a counter-clockwise direction. A crossover spur turns this portion of Scenic Drive into a 3.5-mile loop rated intermediate while another allows skiers to incorporate the southern half of Shauger Hill to extend the outing to 4.1 miles.
Check out the Trail Guide button for a description of the trail and additional information.
Jim DuFresne is a Michigan State University journalism alumni.