If you are a classic cross-country skier, do not overlook the Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids trails just north of Hancock, MI! With the lake-effect snow starting to kick in and with a couple of upcoming events, now is the perfect time to check out the trails! There are all kinds of ways to ski the trails, but here’s one of my favorite ways to ski them!
Getting to the Trails
Skiers can access the trails from three convenient locations: the back corner of the Houghton County Fairgrounds, the Tomasi Trailhead next to the Hancock Department of Public Works Garage, and Christensen Road along M-203. See the map below for parking locations and an overview of the trail system.
Start at the Tomasi Trailhead
The Tomasi Trailhead next to the Hancock DPW Garage is my favorite place to access the trails given its centralized location. You can start with the Tomasi Loop which includes a short downhill run into an S-curve in the woods that will get you dialed in! Cross over the snowmobile trail and, instead of going down Tomasi Road, take a left and then go right onto the Pine Loop. This beautifully forested trail runs along the edge of the Swedetown Creek Gorge. Take the right turn at junction #4 to go down to Swedetown Creek. This sloped trail can provide for a speedy downhill run! At the bottom, you will be rewarded with the quiet beauty of the creek which is particularly beautiful after a fresh snowfall.
Cross over the narrow Pedestrian Bridge and head northeasterly to pick up trail #4, the New River Trail. The Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club has made substantial improvements and enhancements to this trail with a grant awarded by the Keweenaw Community Foundation from the Portage Health Foundation’s Outdoor Wellness and Recreation Fund and a generous grant from the Besse Family Foundation to acquire a John Deere tractor. This nicely smoothed and extended trail follows Swedetown Creek upstream, passing a few beaver dams along the way. While this trail provides a nice downhill run in reverse, skiing it in this direction allows you more time to appreciate its beauty!
As the trail bends westward, you will enter Churning Rapids. You will be greeted by a well-managed pine plantation that is particularly beautiful after a fresh snow and is a nice spot for quiet meditation!
Entering the Ruby Marsh
Continuing west, northwest from trail junction #22 on trail #4, you will be skirting the south end of the Ruby Marsh. The trail is lined with evergreens and this area takes on an almost magical quality after a newly fallen snow! Watch for the path on the right side that goes through the woods to a new observation tower along the marsh. The tower provides a place where you can spot a couple of beaver lodges and take in a panoramic view of the marsh.
At trail junction #23, you will arrive at “the triangle”. Bear right and then take a right on trail #10 at trail junction #31. This nicely forested trail comes alongside the Ruby Marsh before continuing uphill to reach the Lookout Tower. On a clear day, you can see Lake Superior on the distant horizon from its top!
Continue northward on trail #10, also known as Thoroughfare. The trail turns westward at trail junction #36 and begins a long, steady descent that I rank as my favorite! After coming into a more mature hardwood forest, take the left at trail junction #37 to head southward on the Spring Creek Trail. There is fun, but short, drop that brings you alongside the creek.
Shortly after crossing the creek, you will reach trail junction #33 where you can take a left onto the Ruby Marsh Trail. Take it eastward until you reach trail junction #32 and take a right on trail #10. Start watching for the Long Bridge Trail on your left. Take a left onto this ungroomed trail in order to cross the Ruby Marsh. You will ski through some tag alder and then you will see that the trail lives up to its name when you start crossing the long bridge. Be sure to stop during your crossing to enjoy the beauty of this place. If you have time, consider jumping off-trail to ski and explore the marsh. If it happens to be a sunny day, the late afternoon light creates a beautiful environment.
Continuing onward, ski back to trail junction #22 and head southward on trail #8. This trail is fairly level to slightly downhill. Be sure to watch for the photo-worthy stands of aspen and birch on your right-hand side as you get farther south! Ski down the hill on Tomasi Road to Swedetown Creek and then make the climb up to the snowmobile trail. Closeout this adventure by finishing up with the Tomasi Loop and you will find yourself back at the trailhead!
Events at the Maasto Hiihto & Churning Rapids Trails
The Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club will be hosting two events this winter that will provide additional opportunities to check out the ski area! The Retro Ski on February 21st is an opportunity to go backcountry skiing in your retro ski equipment/fashions with KNSC board members who are knowledgeable about the Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids’ untracked opportunities. Learn more about the Retro Ski. The Glide-N-Gorge on February 27th will be an opportunity to get out in a socially-distanced manner with friends to ski up to three different routes starting at the Chalet located at the Houghton County Fairgrounds. Covid-19 is changing the format of this year’s event, but stay tuned for details.
About the Author
Keith Meyers is a retired resident of Chassell who also serves as Secretary for the Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club’s board of directors. Keith gets out, with his wife Julie, to cross country ski, snowshoe, and distance run as frequently as possible during the winter. Keith directs the Remote Workforce Keweenaw initiative and would encourage those who embrace winter and have the ability to work remotely to consider locating in the Keweenaw! Follow the Remote Workforce Keweenaw Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RemoteWorkforceKeweenaw.