My exhilarating introduction to luging came 15 years ago at the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park. Its 650-foot-long natural ice track was a rare winter gem designed so first-timers could experience the thrill of luging. Should I dare try? I hesitated. But then I thought that if a 10-year-old Boy Scout could luge, why couldn’t I?
Speeding downhill on that slick, twisting track on a tiny sled sounded a little scary at first, but my initial lightning-fast run was a blast. It was so much fun, in fact, that I returned for more. One season, I even competed in the local Tuesday night luge league. It’s so exciting, I urge you to give it a go!
The sports park, housed in Muskegon State Park, has evolved since my early luging days into a year-round destination, and offers a variety of silent-sport activities. In the winter, visitors can lace up their skates for a game of pickup hockey or venture into the woods on the quarter-mile ice skating trail. Lighted, groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails track into the forest or out to Lake Michigan.
Originally built in 1984, the winter complex relies on the snow and cold weather to keep the attractions open, since nothing is refrigerated. The luge track was redesigned in 1990 by three-time luge Olympian Frank Masley, and is one of only four luge tracks in the United States.
“A lot of people call it (luging) a bucket-list item,” says Jim Rudicil, longtime executive director of the nonprofit Muskegon Luge, which leases the land from the state park. “It’s rewarding not only as a coach, but as an outdoor recreation enthusiast, to see people confront their fears and learn a new sport, and have a blast doing it.”
Learn How: Nestled in a back dune near Lake Michigan, Muskegon Luge becomes a winter wonderland when the lake-effect snow machine turns on. The public Luge Experience — held weekends, weather-permitting — typically sells out months in advance; tickets must be purchased online.
Each luge session is capped at 30 sliders and lasts two and a half hours. Sessions include instructions, equipment, and slide time. Lugers get a few practice runs before a fun and friendly competition and medal ceremony. Muskegon Luge also hosts a Youth Luge program, Locals Luge, school groups, Scout groups, and private groups by reservation.
“Most of the (public) sessions are filled by couples or small groups,” Rudicil says. “They come together, they meet new people, and they race against each other. It’s super fun to see the interaction and how they bond throughout the session.”
Mother Nature has to cooperate by delivering sustained below-freezing temperatures for the luge and ice rinks, and fresh snow for the cross-country ski trails. As the seasons shorten, Rudicil has launched a campaign to add year-round features, including an accessible summer luge, a rock-climbing/ice-climbing wall, an archery range, and more. All fees go back into the operation of the facility and support new attractions.
The park’s 1,400-foot universally accessible dual zip line opened last summer. Visitors can try winter zip-lining for the first time this season, flying high over the park’s snow-covered landscape and luge tracks.
“I think winter zip-lining will be awesome, for sure,” says Dan Bonner, outdoor adventure specialist. “The summer season was amazing. We were booked every single weekend.”
Park staff created a fire garden area, more seating, and an outdoor tent for putting on skates and skis last year, due to COVID-19. The changes will stay for now, says Rudicil, who noted Muskegon Luge saw an increase in visitors last year since all the attractions are outside.
The complex has more than 15 kilometers of ski trails through the woods and back dunes that are good for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers. Staff groom the trails for skate and classical skiing daily, weather-permitting, and keep the lights on until close for night skiing.
If you prefer quiet winter walks, the park has miles of marked and groomed snowshoe trails, traversing the low levels of white pine forest and out to the lakeshore. Other loops follow the dune ridge for views of an iced-over Lake Michigan coast and snowy tree canopy.
“Snowshoeing is becoming one of my favorite things for the mainstream, for the folks who say, ‘I hate winter, I don’t do winter sports,'” Rudicil adds. “It’s accessible, very safe, and a great way to get out and experience winter along the Lake Michigan shoreline.”
The sports park rents ice skates, cross-country skis, snowshoes, and headlamps for night excursions. The campground across Scenic Drive is open year-round. Outdoor enthusiasts can make it a true winter adventure by booking one of the state park’s cabins or yurts.
Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park