You don’t have to be in the mountains to enjoy the winter.

If you find yourself longing for the outdoors during the winter months but want a more interesting activity than simply walking through the snow, try cross country skiing. Cross-country skiing touts many fitness benefits without the steep hills of downhill skiing. Cross country skiing is also easier, safer, and less expensive to try than its well-known counterpart. Fortunately for you, Chicago sits within close driving distance of many cross country skiing areas. Thanks to lake effect snow, you can count on snow in the UP of Michigan, but you don’t always have to travel that far to find snow. The places below all offer cross country ski rentals as well, so you won’t have to worry about breaking the bank buying equipment you may never use again (or is that just us?). Once you find your favorite place, head to our homepage to see real-time snow cover on the ground, and then go make the most of your winter days!

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

5.5 hours from Chicago

Situated on the northeast coast of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s trails provide adventure for all abilities. Offering both classic and skate style cross country ski trails, the park allows you to choose your preferred technique (or both!). As you can deduce from the name of the park, some of the trails involve trekking up the dunes, but once at the top, you’re rewarded with views of the frozen Lake Michigan. The creaking of ice in the wind and miles of frozen lake in front of you will cause you to question if you’re standing in Michigan or trekking the Arctic Circle.

Click Here for Park Information

Equipment Rental

Brick Wheels in Traverse City offers XC ski rentals for $25/day or $125/week. Suttons Bay Bikes also rents skis $25/day, but it is slightly further north.

Park Conditions

For the latest trail conditions, visit the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes blog.

Where to Stay

Located on East Bay, Cherry Tree Inn and Suites provides rooms with views of the water and a cozy place to thaw after a day outside. For another option on water, try Bayshore Resort in Traverse City.

Marquette Area – Upper Michigan

6.5 hours from Chicago

Due to lake effect snow from Lake Superior, the Marquette area guarantees a satisfying cross country experience throughout the winter months. About thirty minutes from Marquette, Hiawatha National Forest offers 90 miles of cross country ski trails. The park is divided into two sections–east and west. The west section borders two lakes–Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and the east section also borders Lake Huron, all of which provide many miles of shoreline for exploration. For beginners, start with the Noquemanon Trail Network in Marquette before heading to Hiawatha. You can rent skis and practice your moves before adventuring into the national forest.

Click Here for Hiawatha Trails

Noquemanon Trail Network

Equipment Rental

Downwind Sports offers XC skis for $20/day. Skis are also available at the Forestville trailhead for $15/day where you can rent, walk outside, and begin skiing immediately,

Park Conditions

Hiawatha trail conditions can be found here.

Where to Stay

A popular town, Marquette has plenty of hotel options to choose from. For a place with a view, try Hampton Inn Marquette-Waterfront. You can enjoy a hot breakfast at the Country Inn & Suites or head out to try a local restaurant before starting your winter adventure.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

7.5 hours from Chicago

Photo via Wikimedia

The largest state park in Michigan, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park’s 60,000 acres provide endless opportunities for discovery. Twenty-five miles of cross country ski trails are groomed for winter fun, but you can find your own adventure on the over 90 miles of ungroomed trails. Trails take you through old growth forests to discover frozen waterfalls and panoramic views. Bordering Lake Superior, this park allows you to experience many environments–from a shoreline ski to a climb up the mountains.

Click Here for Park Trail Map

Equipment Rental

Porcupine Mountains Ski Area rents cross country ski packages for $25/day.

Park Conditions

While geared towards alpine skiing, the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area report conditions on how much snow is in the region.

Where to Stay

AmericInn by Wyndham Silver City provides you close access to endless wilderness. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, try the AmericInn located in Ironwood.

Potawatomi and Peninsula State Parks/Door County

4 hours from Chicago

Photo via goodfreephotos.com

A popular summer escape, Door County often is overlooked for winter activities. With many parks in the county offering cross country skiing, you can find as many trails as desired to properly wear yourself out in the snow. Potawatomi State Park offers several miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, all of which conveniently start by the picnic area shelter. The XC trails consist of 9 miles of classic groomed trails and 8 miles of skate groomed trails. Peninsula State Park also has 16 miles of groomed trails on the northern part of the peninsula.

Click Here for Potawatomi Park Map

Click Here for Peninsula Park Map

Click Here for Door County Recreation Activities

Equipment Rental

Nor Door Sports for $13 daily or $28 for 3 days.

Park Conditions

Visit the park’s page for the latest trail conditions and park updates.

Where to Stay

Staying in Sturgeon Bay affords a convenient location near rentals and trails. The Best Western Maritime Inn presents a great value for a place to crash after hitting the trails. For a cozier option, try Inn at Cedar Crossing. The Inn also has a restaurant onsite, which will reduce the amount of driving and decision-making you’ll have to make when worn out from skiing..

High Cliff State Park

4 hours from Chicago

Photo via goodfreephotos.com

Near Appleton, Wisconsin, High Cliff State Park’s groomed cross-country ski trails make the perfect escape from Chicago. With over 1,100 acres, this park grants beginners easy access to snow from the city with plenty of miles of trails to explore. Located on Lake Winnebago, you can expect to ski along the shoreline as well as through forests.

Click Here for Park Map

Equipment Rental

Wheel and Sprocket in Appleton offers skis for $25 per day, $35 overnight, and $50 for the weekend. Skis are also available at Bubolz Preserve for $15.

Park Conditions

Visit the park’s page for the latest trail conditions and park updates.

Where to Stay

Choosing Appleton as your base provides easy access to the park, dining, and hotel options. The Hampton Inn Appleton-Fox River Mall Area offers free hot breakfast every morning to keep you energized for your outdoor adventures. The nearby Copperleaf Boutique Hotel and Spa provides a more posh experience with granite countertops in the room and a spa onsite.

Huron-Manistee National Forests

4 hours from Chicago

Photo via USFS

Located in the northwestern corner of the lower peninsula, the Huron-Manistee National Forests comprise almost 1 million acres of forest for exploration. The six groomed cross country ski trails encompass over 100 miles of available cross country skiing. A mere four hours from Chicago, these forests top the list of easy cross country ski trails for a weekend escape.

Click Here for Trail Information

Equipment Rental

Bill and Paul’s has cross country ski sets for $17/day, $34/3 days, and $75 for the full week.

Park Conditions

Visit the park’s page for the latest trail conditions and park updates.

Where to Stay

For easy access to the forests, try Harrington Inn in Fremont. The Hilton Garden Inn in Grand Rapids provides more dining options but you’ll have to drive farther to reach the forests.

Find Snow Near You

Visit TripLlama.com to find more snowy destinations near you and view up-to-date snow depth estimates provided by the National Weather Service.