With Michiganders on the long end of a year that limited us in the everyday activities we often enjoy, the outdoors was a respite through the summer and fall. As we enter the winter months, many are wondering how to keep a degree of sanity and avoid the dreaded cabin fever.

Enter Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Affectionately called The Porkies, Michigan’s largest state park, located in Ontonagon, offers a bevy of outdoor activities. It’s also easy to maintain a healthy level of social distancing with the over 60,000 acres of wilderness to explore.

Photo: Ryan Brown

“People come to the Porkies with different mindsets,” said Katie Urban, park interpreter (maybe the best job title ever). “Some folks want to go on a crazy adventure, that physical act to burn off their energy. Some are looking for some peace and quiet. I just tell people, either way, just make sure you take a moment to look around and take it all in.”

The park also has acres of woods, wild animals (don’t worry, they tend to keep their distance), and the well-known Lake of the Clouds—one of the most photographed features in the Upper Peninsula. There are also plenty of more structured activities to check out. The downhill ski slope is covered in snow made entirely by Mother Nature and offers thrilling trails of fresh powder. It’s the perfect opportunity to try out cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on gorgeously-groomed trails for both the experienced and newbies. Or join Urban on a weekly guided hike by riding the ski lift to the top of the mountains, taking in the vista, and then hiking back to base camp.

Photo: Diane Rhode

The Porkies also allow for winter camping. You can chart where to pitch your tent with the help of the ranger station for dispersed camping or rent one of the cabins or yurts for your crew. The trek out to the cabins is as much fun as the camping itself and includes wood to keep the fire roaring.

“There really is just so much to do and see,” said Urban. “The best part of what I do is watching people engaging with nature, learning something new, experiencing a new sport, or starting a new passion. Everything up here is inspiring.”

Perhaps one of the more inspiring opportunities in winter is the Lantern Walk, a one-mile loop on which to either cross-country ski, snowshoe, or walk with lanterns lighting the way. When the moon is out and shining, it does some of the heavy lifting for the lamps, and in either case, the sky provides fantastical views of the stars for all.

Photo: Diane Rhode

“There’s nothing quite like it,” confirms Urban. “It’s the kind of quiet that brings an amazing amount of peace. It’s obviously great for us physically to be out in nature, but I’m always surprised at how beneficial it is mentally and emotionally as well. It’s a whole other level of happiness.”

For more information visit michigan.gov/porkies or call 906-885-5275.

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