2023 Midwest Snowmobiling Guide

One of the best parts of winter is the emergence of the “sled trip.” Whether you’re going an hour down the road or halfway across the country, the experience of traveling somewhere to enjoy time on a snowmobile can add so much to the sport we all love. At Boondock Nation, we put on thousands of miles each winter seeking out the best snowmobile destinations in the United States and Canada, and while many of our trips are to the mountains, we’re Wisconsin residents and cheeseheads at heart. 

Nearly 100 years ago, Carl Eliason built the first snowmobile just a few miles down the road from where we call home. Today, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Minnesota are home to over 50,000 miles of groomed trails and tens of thousands of acres of public lands that can be explored on a snowmobile. We’re going to share our experience and break down how to make the most out of your winter snowmobiling in the Midwest!

snowmobiling in the midwest

Get The Gear

Snowmobiling is all about the experience, and your experience will differ depending on the sled you’re riding. With the technology in today’s manufacturing, every brand is making a great snowmobile these days, but there are different types of snowmobiles built for different purposes. 

Picking a Sled Track Length

For those who pack on the trail miles, enjoy cutting up twisty corners through the woods, and hauling the mail across the lake: the shorter the track, the better. Today’s full-size sleds offer track lengths from 129 inches to 175 inches, but trail sleds will typically have a 129-inch or 136-inch track length. If you plan on exploring a bit of off-trail terrain but still primarily trail ride, a crossover model in a 136-154-inch track length is the sled to have, providing extra floatation while still being capable of hitting the trail.

What to Wear 

Once you’ve found your trusty steed, you need to protect your body with the proper gear. Winter weather conditions can change rapidly throughout the day in the Midwest, so it’s important to be prepared for all situations. It’s always a good idea to have waterproof boots. Going up from there, layering properly with base and mid layers underneath waterproof outerwear will provide many options to keep you comfortable without overheating. For those venturing off trail, you’ll tend to run a little warmer from throwing the sleds around, getting stuck, and digging out, but it’s a great idea to pack an extra layer in your tunnel bag or backpack in case of a breakdown or survival situation. 

Finally, a DOT-approved helmet is mandatory, and we don’t recommend cutting any corners on brain protection. We trust Fly Racing outerwear from head to toe every day we hit the snow, as their waterproof gear has insulated and uninsulated options to fit every rider and their helmets are as safe as it gets in the snowmobile world.

Communication and Navigation

When riding off-trail, we always use radios to communicate between riders as it’s easy to get turned around out in the woods, but some trail riders find radios or in-helmet communicators enhance their ride as a group too. Either way, each trip you take requires a route plan and the means to execute that plan. For these purposes, we use the onX Offroad App. 

onX Offroad’s Snow Mode is the perfect tool for planning your trip in the Midwest. It includes up-to-date maps of all the snowmobile trails in each state, along with information about each trail, parking lots and trailheads, gas stations, recreational sites, and more. Plus, onX Offroad shows you all the public lands that are open to snowmobiles, so you can explore with confidence knowing you aren’t crossing any boundaries into wilderness or private lands. Additionally, onX Offroad provides detailed local weather information so you can track storms and chase snow just like the pros.

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The Places You’ll Go

The Midwest is truly a winter wonderland for a good chunk of the year, but there are hidden gems within these states that take the cake for us. Here’s our favorites in each:

Sault. Ste. Marie, Michigan

One of the most iconic sled towns in Michigan is Sault Ste. Marie. Home to the International 500 snowmobile race, sled roots run deep in this Michigan area. Sault Ste. Marie receives hundreds of inches of lake effect snow per year, and its unique location provides different scenic trail options along the Lake Superior shoreline to check out nearby areas like St. Ignace, Newberry, Paradise, and Cedarville. This part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is renowned for its trail riding not only in our book but in the eyes of many.

Pro tip:Take Trail C west out of town to catch some stellar Lake Superior views.

Calumet, Michigan

Known as the heart of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Calumet was once a booming mining town home to thousands of immigrant miners and hundreds of copper mines. Today, Calumet is Michigan’s northernmost hub for four-season recreation with its central location, great access to trails, rich history, and myriad local attractions. 

Pro tip: Take Trail B to Trail UP3 to the top of Brockway Mountain for an epic Lake Superior overlook.

Minocqua, Wisconsin

While the Bearskin State Trail itself is only about 26 miles long, it provides access to nearly 1,600 miles of other trails. Located near Minocqua, Wisconsin, this trail is part of the Wisconsin State Parks trail system that’s open year round. Originally built in the late 1880s, this old railroad grade was purchased by the state in the 1970’s to be converted into a trail. The route includes 16 trestle crossings, eight of which span Bearskin Creek. The longest trestle brings you 375 feet across Minocqua Lake to the “Island City” itself.

Presque Isle, Wisconsin

Spanning between Land O’ Lakes and Presque Isle, Wisconsin, Trail 5 & 6 wind 30 miles along lakes and through the trees. Offering a surprising amount of elevation change as you travel East-West along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, this trail is both exhilarating and scenic. You won’t see much development here, as Trail 6 winds mostly through the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest. This tract of public lands offers over 400 acres of snowmobile trails in Wisconsin’s beautiful Northwoods.

Kabetogama, Minnesota

Located at the top of Minnesota, Kabetogama sits near Rainy Lake and offers hundreds of miles of trails both on the lake surface and overland portages in the area. The International Voyageurs Snowmobile Club maintains 158 miles of groomed trails in the International Falls-Rainy Lake area of Northern Minnesota, and this area has plenty of lodging accommodations for groups of all sizes. Voyageurs National Park is a short ride away and offers its own extensive trail system within. Crane Lake, Ash River, Grand River, Hibbing, Ely, Virginia, Bemidji, and many other popular destinations are all accessible from this area.

Midwest Snowmobile Vacation, Rental, and Resort Ideas

The Midwest is known for its hospitality, and no snowmobile trip would be complete without a stop at some of the well-known spots or events that make these communities so special. Here are some of our favorites:

Bent’s Camp Resort

Located eight miles West of Land O’ Lakes, Bent’s Camp Resort sits on the south shore of Mamie Lake of the Cisco Chain, a 14-lake body of water that offers endless opportunities for summer and winter recreationalists. Land O’ Lakes is known as the “Gateway to the UP” and the Cisco Chain provides a straight shot north across the ice to get closer to Lake Superior and that lake-effect snowfall. Bent’s Camp features a historic restaurant and lodge built in the late 1890’s along with year round rental cabins. For some lightning-quick action, we attend Bent’s Camp’s Radar Run on President’s Day weekend each year, an event that gathers thousands of sledders on the ice and raises money for the Frosty Snowmobile Club. At this event, you’ll often see Outlaw sleds putting down 500+ horsepower and running nearly 150 mph in just 500 feet!

World Championship Snowmobile Derby

Eagle River, Wisconsin, is known as the “Snowmobile Capital of the World” and is home to the World Championship Snowmobile Derby and International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. The World Championship Derby draws tens of thousands of people to the area to watch the best in the sport compete in Ice Oval and Snocross racing. In January 2023, Eagle River will host the 60th Annual World Championship Derby, marking the longest-running snowmobile race in the world. Eagle River has plenty to offer outside of the derby as well, with several trails heading in different directions out of town to access nearby areas and attractions. If you need to rent a sled or gear up, check out TrackSide directly across from the derby track for a wide variety of rental machines, gear, and service.

Lake Gogebic

Lake Gogebic is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s largest inland lake, and is home to several iconic restaurants around its shore, including Hoop N Holler, the Root Cellar, Gogebic Lodge, and Fishtales Resort. On the north side of the lake, you’ll find the Timbers Resort, Timberline Sports, and one of our favorite breakfast spots, Antonio’s, in the town of Bergland. If you’re looking for guided tours or sled rentals in the area, check out Hamilton’s North Coast Adventures.

Midwest Sled Fest

Formerly known as The Jack Helgren Memorial Race, this annual event takes place on the ice of Clear Lake in Clear Lake, Iowa. The event features a race with classes for all including vintage and youth divisions. The event is organized by the North Iowa Snow Seekers as the Hancock County Snowmobile Association and features radar runs along with a head-to-head Lemans race on a course on the lake.

midwest sled fest

Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge Races

The Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge circuit brings the excitement of hillclimb, hillcross, and hilldrag racing to the Midwest with a series of races slated for 2023. The Midwest Extreme Snowmobile Challenge aims to offer fun, competitive races for snowmobilers of all ages and abilities. With events scheduled in Pequod Lakes, Misswa, and Biwabik, Minnesota, Midwestern snowmobilers and spectators have new venues to experience the thrill of snowmobile racing.

Share the Stoke! Once your trip is complete, share the stoke online with us using #NationOfRiders and #onxoffroad.

Where can I find a snowmobile trail map?

Each snowmobile club typically creates their own map that’s available for purchase, but onX Offroad’s Snow Mode provides information about all the trails in the region.

Best Time to Snowmobile in the Midwest?

The best time to snowmobile in the Midwest is usually in January and February when trail conditions are typically best.

Where is the best snowmobiling in the Midwest?

A highly controversial question! My answer: the best snowmobiling requires the most snowfall and you’ll find that in the lake effect regions of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Regardless of location, a great sled trip revolves around the company of great people!

Get onx offroad today

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Jack Sarama

Jack Sarama is a backcountry snowmobiler and watersports enthusiast from Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, and Co-Founder of Boondock Nation*, a digital media company that creates snowmobile-focused content. Jack travels all over North America during the winter months seeking out top snowmobile destinations with the Boondock Nation team, producing digital content for streaming along with Boondock Nation’s broadcast television series. You can follow Jack’s adventures by downloading the Boondock Nation+ app on your smartphone or smart TV, or by following the brand on social media.

*Boondock Nation is an onX Offroad Ambassador.