Hometown Tourist: Snowshoe at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

We start our day at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire. It’s 16 degrees at 9am, zero precipitation. A pretty ideal day for a winter trek Up North.

Our main man on the trail this morning is Ranger Matt Mohrman—He shows us around the center and checks into our trail conditions for the day.

We wander into an auditorium where fifteen or more snowshoe styles are displayed on the ground. Truly, a style for every kind of hiker. And that rings true even if you’re not sure what the gear actually is… For me, it wasn’t too long ago that I’d mistaken the shoes for tennis rackets. Then I moved to Traverse City. 

We grab a couple of styles and hit the road, but first take a few practice laps in the new digs.

Ranger Matt demonstrates on a pair, “So for all of them, your toe will go into this void here and then you’ll pull it back over your heal.”

There are many easy-maneuvering styles, but then there are some pretty intense pairs too. The Athabascan show shoe, or as I called them “banana shape” is significantly larger than most pairs. So much so that I felt the burn in just a few steps. 

“I might be wrong saying this but I feel like if you’re going for a workout, these are the ones to wear. I feel like I’m lifting my legs more. This is the pre-wedding season snow shoe.”

For today, we stick with a simple pair and get moving on the Treat Farm Trail. It was named after the Treat family who lived on the land in the late 1800s.

Ranger Matt explained, “It’s kind of off the beaten track trail, it’s not even a designated trail on our map but it’s a very popular local trail.”

The trail head starts on the Treat Family’s old driveway, leading up to their farmstead. Eventually, it overlooks a Lake Michigan bluff.

We start the trek on the mostly shallow-hill trail, steadily winding around the steeper parts. After twenty minutes of swishing through the snow, we catch a glimpse of the buildings ahead. 

“We’re getting close now!” the ranger assures.

History has it Mr. Treat was an engineer in Chicago, who gave up the crowded city life for wide-open Michigan meadows. In the springtime the property blooms with wildflowers, but the winter doesn’t look bad either.

We cut across the powdery field and make leeway to our final destination.

“You can see the sand blowing off the dune, under those cedar trees,” we were just feet away from the bluff overlook. 

And suddenly, we’re standing 450 feet above the water, with icy blue lake shore stretching for miles. And the color contrast against the crisp white snow…

“It’s worth the sweat,” I agree with Ranger Matt. 

He identifies Point Betsie and the mouth of the Platte River. “I just like it because you go through the woods, you go through the meadow, you get the farm, you get the bluff over look, it’s kind of a little bit of everything.”

And it’s a little bit of everything that everyone can do. If you’re inexperienced, join a ranger any Saturday through early March for a snowshoe adventure of your own.

“We provide the snowshoes, you don’t need any experience, we can match you up to the right set that’s comfortable for you and show you how to go. The trails are all on the easy side so nothing extreme, just come out and have some fun in the winter.”