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Trip Report: Alpine Village, Skiing With Elk, Downhill Choices At Gaylord, Mich.

Treetops Resort Ice Bar

If you like cross country skiing laced with nice amenities, downhill choices, an appealing village dressed for winter, and a touch of nearby wilderness boasting the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi, check out Gaylord, Michigan. 

Located in the central highlands of the Lower Peninsula just a stone's throw off I-75, Gaylord is arguably one of the best winter towns in the Great Lakes area. I just returned from there.

The village has a charming alpine motif that would fit right into the Swiss Alps. There are two ski resorts, state land trails and the wilderness-like Pigeon River Country State Forest nearby. There's an abundance of lodging choices, from resorts to quaint "mom and pop" motels, and a wide variety of restaurants; something to fit just about every budget and ski appetite.

Downtown Gaylord buildings have mansard roofs, textured stucco and shake shingles mix with balconies, painted flower boxes, and A-frames to bring a bit of Switzerland to northern Michigan. The supermarket even boasts a glockenspiel. The village embraces winter and puts you in the mood to enjoy it.

Two of Michigan’s top ski resorts are located nearby.

Treetops Resort’s high elevation and scenic beauty provide a perfect location for skiing and riding. Located just east of the village along a ridge overlooking the expansive Pigeon River valley, it offers 23 runs, The Yard Terrain Park, four chairlifts and a couple of surface tows.  There’s also the Extreme Tubing Park with its own lift. The Yard features 10 to 20-foot rails, a 16-foot battle ship kinked rail, a 16-foot rainbow rail, and numerous tabletops and natural jib features. They also offer 20-kilometers of cross-country skiing.

Boyne Mountain, located less than a half-hour away, offers over 60 runs, seven terrain parks, and 10 lifts, including America’s first high-speed, six-seat, lift. There’s also over 40-kilometers of cross-country trails and the Midwest’s largest indoor water park connected to a ski resort. A real plus for those occasional drizzly days we get during a Heartland winter as I witnessed this past week.  One day was a beautiful sunny day, perfect ski conditions. The next was all rain, which was a perfect day to enjoy the ambiance of Avalanche Bay Waterpark. 

There are two cross-country venues near Gaylord where you may see elk, wild in the wilderness, and one other where you’re guaranteed to see these magnificent creatures up close and personal. There’s a herd of about 30 animals in the city elk pen, which the city’s Aspen Park cross-country trail system passes right by.

One of the wilderness area trails, Shingle Mill Pathway, is located about 20 miles north of Gaylord in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, which contains the largest wild elk herd east of the Mississippi River. You can ski up to 10 miles through the forest and along the river. I’ve been lucky enough to see elk on outings through this beautiful wilderness. 

The other trail, Buttles Road Pathway, is located about a half-hour east of the village off M-72. The remote pathway offers about six miles of trail that loops around a valley with a couple of small lakes. I haven’t seen elk here, but have found hoof prints along the trail.

While in Gaylord I stayed at Marsh Ridge, a small golf resort offering scenic cross-country trails along ridges and marshland. The resort dates back to 1940s when it was a cross-country touring center only. It’s being refurbished under new ownership and offers a quiet setting, intimate lodge and nice rooms. The lodge serves dinner nightly in Jac’s Place overlooking uplands where you often see deer strolling by while having dinner. This would make a wonderful romantic getaway for Valentine’s Day. Most rooms have a Jacuzzi tub.

Photo: Treetops Resort/Facebook


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