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Waiting for Ski Season
The snow is coming. We promise! And when it does, not every weekend has to spent driving to northern Michigan to find a well groomed Nordic Trail. In this issue of Trail Mix, contributor Jim DuFresne writes about his favorite cross-country ski destination in southeast Michigan. For other Nordic trails, check out our new cross-country ski page on MichiganTrailMaps.com and keep coming back to it throughout the season as we will be constantly adding new trails … as long as there is snow on the ground!
Nordic Skiing at Independence Oaks
By Jim DuFresne
I have a friend who lives in Saginaw and is an avid cross-country skier. I’ve repeatedly invited him to experience the Nordic trails at Independence Oaks County Park but he just can’t bring himself to drive south to go skiing.
“It goes against my better judgment,” he said.
Nordic skiers, even those who live in Oakland County, are often pleasantly surprised the first time they ski at Independence Oaks County Park. Not because the trails are so well groomed or the lakes-and-woods scenery is so stunning in the winter but because of the change of elevation they encounter.
There are some serious slopes at Independence Oaks. Who knew Oakland County could be so hilly?
That increased elevation not only provides terrain to zip down on skinny skis but is also the reason for a mini-snow belt that surrounds the park. Often when there is no snow in Birmingham to the south or Grand Blanc to the north, there is still enough powder to ski at Independence Oaks, a 1,274-acre county park that includes several lakes and 4 miles of the Clinton River. Last winter the ski season lasted from early January to early March, a time when the park groomed more than 7 miles of trail for both classic and skate skiing.
The park’s most challenging trails are Springlake Loop and Ted Gray Trail which combine for a 3.6-mile loop and include seven downhill slopes, one of which is a wicked dogleg hill. Lucky for beginners and novice skiers, Independence Oaks’ most popular and scenic trail is Lakeshore Loop, an easy 2.4-mile run that is rarely out of view of Crooked Lake and features only two minor downhill slopes.
Click on the map to the right to view a larger version or print.
This 2.4-mile loop is rated Easy and can be picked up at the park’s boat house which doubles up as the ski rental office in the winter. Lakeshore has only two short downhill slopes, one at the northeast corner and another at the southwest corner, and the loop is rarely out of view of Crooked Lake. Along much of the east side skiers follow a low bluff above the lake; on the west side they are often skiing right along the lakeshore.
In less than a mile from the ski rental office is post No. 5, marking the junction where Springlake Loop peels off and heads into the hilly interior of the park. At this point Lakeshore Loop hugs Crooked Lake in one of the most scenic stretches of ski trail in Southeast Michigan. On one side is the frozen surface of the lake, sprinkled with ice fishermen, while on the other side are steep wooded hills.
Eventually skiers loop around the south end of the lake and end up at the boat house where on weekends an outdoor fire pit is stoked.
Springlake Loop and Ted Gray Trail
Independence Oak’s most challenging route is the reason it offers some of the best skiing in Southeast Michigan. The 3.2-mile Springlake Loop is rated More Difficult and begins at the ski rental office. It utilizes Lakeshore Loop until post No. 5, where it heads west (right), crosses the park road and then enters the hilly backside of Independence Oaks.
In the next 1.77 miles, there are four downhill runs, including a furious one down North Hill. The heart of the loop, however, is the long climb to the top of South Hill, the highest point in the park, and the equally long descent down its backside. Hold on! The downhill run bottoms out at post No. 11 where the loop merges back into the Lakeshore Loop.
To lengthen the loop and make it even more challenging add Ted Gray, a trail rated Most Difficult. The 0.7-mile side trail is picked up at the post No. 13, at the top of South Hill, and includes three descents, the second a challenging dogleg. More than one ski has been snapped on this hill.
Ted Gray makes Springlake Loop a 3.6-mile ski. You can also begin in the nature center trailhead and return along the two-way track on the west side of Crooked Lake for a 3-mile outing.
Most of the ski trails have a posted direction of travel but the Lakeshore Loop has two-way travel on the west side of Crooked Lake, allowing skiers to begin at either the boat house or the Lewis E. Wint Nature Center parking lot.
The boat house also serves as a warming center during the winter, with heated restrooms. Outside the park maintains a skating rink. Both cross-country skis and snowshoes are available for rent when there is sufficient snow, while on most Saturdays in January and February ski lessons are offered.
Independence Oaks is located near the village of Clarkston and can be reached from I-75 by departing at exit 89 and heading north on Sashabaw Road for 3 miles.
Early and late in the season or during those mid-winter thaws it’s important to call the park office (248-625-0877) to double check if the trails are groomed or if the rental office is open.