Winter in Michigan
There’s nothing quite like wintertime in Michigan, when the frozen lakes and fresh snowfall turn the whole state into a sparkling winter wonderland.
Along the Great Lakes coastlines, the icy-blue water rolls onto the shores and piles up to create naturally-spectacular scenery that is both breathtaking and other-worldly.
The rolling hills and forests are also softly blanketed in snow and make a giant winter playground for kids and adults alike.
Winter is a great time to travel Michigan, exploring some favorite places, and discovering new ones. It’s a great time to try some unique winter activities in Michigan, too.
Whether you cozy up in a snug mountain resort , take in a snowy winter festival of head to a winter sports park, a visit in Michigan during the cooler months is a great idea..
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Michigan in winter (including some indoors ideas, too!).
Plan a Michigan Winter Road Trip
It’s a great time for a Michigan winter getaway: many popular vacation destinations, swarming with visitors in the summer months, are less-crowded.
You can roam freely through Michigan beach towns and charming resort towns, exploring the shops and boutiques, cafes and restaurants, and craft breweries and wineries without a wait.
It’s nice to be able to chat with local shopkeepers and restaurant owners and learn more about each area, too. I’ve learned more than one best-kept Michigan secret destination this way…maybe you will, too!
This adorable little town on Michigan’s blue thumb coast is a slice of Pure Michigan small-town charm. Set on the shores of Lake Huron, it’s a beautifully manicured spot with a Main Street featuring its own General Store (of course) and a gorgeous harbor.
I love to bundle up and walk the wide pier the juts out into the Lake and take in the sweeping vistas of Lake Huron. It’s a Michigan winter-must especially if you’re in southeast Michigan: Lexington is just an hour’s drive from the metro Detroit area.
If you’ve visited world-famous Oval Beach in the summer, it won’t surprise you to know that this popular southwest Michigan beach is just as stunning in the winter.
Not only can you roam the wide Lake Michigan shoreline almost alone during the winter, you can also duck into some of the boutiques and restaurants that stay open year-round, and do some shopping. This is a perfect spot for a romantic winter getaway in Michigan, here’s some of our favorite hotels and Bed and Breakfast’s in Saugatuck.
Hint: Saugatuck is in the middle of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Winter is a great time for some wine tours, when you can linger without crowds.
Lovely Leelanau Peninsula is the home of charming Suttons Bay, set on the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. Just a short ride north of Traverse City, Sutton’s Bay, with its cute boutiques, gourmet restaurants and amazing fudge shop (we’re looking at YOU, Murdick’s), is one of our favorite spots for a quick Michigan winter road trip.
After you’ve spent some time exploring the 1.5 miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails in Bahle Park, head to Hot Lot Brewing, where you can relax in your very own igloo and enjoy some craft beer and cider.
Okay, you might have already seen pictures, but when Marquette Harbor freezes over turn Lake Superior into a GIANT ice skating rink, it’s time to head to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Marquette is an outdoor-lovers paradise and in the the winter it’s no different: the Noquemanon Trail network provides almost 75 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking. You’ll also find endless miles of snowmobile trails to explore.
When you’re through head into hip and historic downtown Marquette for food and drink, and if you’re really brave, check out the haunted Landmark Inn.
More Great Places for a Michigan Winter Road Trip
- Traverse City
- St. Joseph
- Kitch-Iti-Kipi near Manistique
Winter Hiking Along Michigan’s Frozen Great Lakes
The awesome beauty of Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreline increases in the winter months, when the stillness of the shore contrasts with the wild waves to produce a breathtaking landscape.
Shoreline hikes can reveal beautiful pieces of rocks and stones on the frozen beach, polished by years of tossing in the freshwater sea. Driftwood – even pieces of sunken ships forgotten by time- washes up on shore after a rough journey through the waves.
As a child, I would venture out ever-so carefully a few feet on to a frozen Lake Huron, looking for spots where the clear ice provided a window into the sea life below.
Here are some of my favorite winter hiking trails:
Home to endless miles of hiking trails, the 35-miles long stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has many trails for winter hiking.
While the Dune Climb and Pyramid Point are picturesque, our favorite winter hiking trail is the 1.5-mile Empire Bluff Trail. Heavily trafficked in the summer, in the winter you’ll have this trail pretty much to yourself.
Follow the well-marked trail through a hardwood forest until it opens into spectacular views of Lake Michigan and South Bar Lake.
Rosy Mound Natural Area in Grand Haven
It’s about a mile hike from the parking lot to Lake Michigan through wooded and open dunes, and you’ll be rewarded with a miles of Lake Michigan shoreline to explore.
Be aware the hike includes about 350 stairs to a stunning dune lookout, but if you’re up to the trip, it’s a simply amazing view.
Negwegon State Park
This remote state park along Lake Huron just south of Alpena is somewhat of a legend; it was one Michigan’s only unmarked state park until a few years back.
It’s ever more remote in the winter and the stillness is mesmerizing. You’ll find 12 miles of hiking trails, leading through deep woods and miles of Lake Huron coastline.
We like the 3.3-mile Potawatomi trail that takes you alongside Lake Huron where you can explore the tiny inlets and bays.
If you think those colorful sandstone cliffs are pretty in the summer, wait until you see them blanketed in white snow against a backdrop of dark, blue Lake Superior.
Use Munising as your home base to start exploring the 42-mile-long national lakeshore, where you’ll find stunning ice formations, frozen waterfalls and breathtaking scenery an icy Lake Superior.
Wagner Falls is a short hike (about ¼ miles) and best of all, you can bring your pup. You’ll find a peaceful waterfall of about 20 feet high – a perfect picture of Michigan during winter.
More Great Places for A Winter Hike in Michigan
- Port Crescent State Park in Port Austin
- Corsair Hiking and Cross Country Skiing Trail in Oscoda
- Keweenaw Trails in Calumet
Michigan’s lighthouses have stood the test of time: braving years of snow, rain and other cold lake-effect weather to act as a beacon of safety for sailors battling the fierce Great Lakes.
See these historic lighthouses in the winter, when the bright red-and-black-painted structures stand out starkly from the bright white snows and provide a picturesque setting against the frozen landscape.
Lake Michigan landmarks like the historic Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort and the St. Joseph Pierhead Light are worth a visit in the winter just to see and experience the raw winter beauty of the area.
On Lake Huron, historic Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron (Michigan’s oldest Lighthouse) and the Tawas Point Lighthouse are both beautiful spots with grounds to hike in the winter.
Farther north on Lake Huron, the Cheboygan Crib Light stands at the mouth of the Cheboygan River and overlooks the Straits of Mackinac and serves as centerpiece of the charming lakeside town.
In the winter month, the neatly-kept Lake Huron lighthouse is a striking vision as it overlooks a vast frozen sea of snow and ice.
In the Upper Peninsula, the Marquette Harbor Light and the Whitefish Point Lighthouse are worth a road trip to see in the Winter. If you go to Whitefish Point, plan an extra day to check out nearby Tahquamenon Falls, where you can take an unforgettable dog sled ride through the pristine forest at Natures Kennels Sled Dog Racing.
PLEASE Remember to NEVER walk on piers in the winter or in wet weather: not only do you endanger yourself, you endanger the lives of first responders who may have to rescue you.
Experience Michigan Blue Ice, Ice Caves and More Strange Ice Phenomena
Explore Michigan’s Frozen Great Lakes
Along the Great Lake’s Michigan coast, small mountains of ice can form in areas where the water is shallow enough to freeze, creating little ice caves and snowy peaks.
An endless, frozen tundra effect is created as the lake’s opposite shores are out of sight – almost like a mystical landscape from a Star Wars movie.
In recent winters, both Lake Michigan and Lake have experienced a rare and unique occurrence: an amazingly spectacular natural phenomena known as Blue Ice.
Mysterious Blue Ice – great mounds of cracked ice that give the impression of giant piles of frozen sea glass – can grow to three stories tall. While Blue Ice is much more common on glaciers in Antarctica and the North Pole, these great mountains of ice have collected near the Great Lakes shoreline in recent years.
The brilliant blue of the ice gives off a beautiful glow – much to the delight of the throngs of visitors and photographers who take in the amazing spectacle. According to scientists, the ice is not actually blue: it just appears blue because of how light is reflected on it.
The beautiful frozen slabs of deep, translucent azure ice stacking up along the frozen shores can be even more mysterious, disappearing as quickly as they melt away under the sun.
See Strange Michigan Ice Phenomena
In west Michigan, along the Grand Haven and Holland shoreline – not far from Grand Rapids – ice balls- a rare Michigan ice phenomenon that you can read about HERE form along the shoreline.
In places like Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you’ll find a true winter wonderland in the form of a frozen waterfall or two.
Want to explore ice caves? Head to the U.P. and the Eben Ice Caves south of Au Train for a real “Frozen” experience…park, grab some hot chocolate from the concession stand, walk the short trek through the woods and into the word of winter in Michigan.
Try Some New Winter Activities in Michigan
You can chase away the winter blues with exhilarating outdoors activities, and thanks to La Nina, the Michigan winter outlook and climate prediction promises to be perfect for winter snow sports in January and February.
The cold weather in winter time is a perfect excuse for a Michigan winter vacation: the frozen lakes and snow-covered hills offer endless opportunity for fun.
From ice fishing and snowmobiling; snow tubing to ice climbing, fat tire biking and snowshoeing, winter in Michigan is a paradise of outdoors fun.
Oh, and if you’re really brave and looking for unforgettable winter adventures, you can try a real Olympic-style luge in Muskegon. Head over to the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park for tons of winter sports fun. In addition to the Muskegon luge, you’ll find hiking trails, ice rinks and more.
Find more about these amazing winter things to do here:
Cross Country Skiing in Michigan
Fat Tire Biking in Michigan
Snow Tubing in Michigan
Snowshoeing in Michigan
More Outdoor Things to Do in Michigan in the Winter
Skiing and Snowboarding in Michigan
For outdoor enthusiasts, Michigan is a giant, snowy playground with endless opportunity for fun. Skiers and snowboarders can find a variety of ski resorts with perfectly-groomed runs for all ages and abilities. Top Michigan Ski resorts include: Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain Resort, Caberfae, Crystal Mountain, Shanty Creek, Treetops and Ski Brule.
Snowmobiling in Michigan
With more than 6,500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails across the state of Michigan, sled-riders have an endless opportunity for fun under towering canopies of beautiful pines.
No snowmobile? No problem: some locations even provide access to snowmobile rentals. Looking to take in the stunning scenery along the trails? Try these locations:
Benzie County is home to 65 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
The Cadillac area in northwest Michigan has a vast trail system that spreads through the Huron Manistee National Forest with over 200 miles of groomed trails
In northeast Michigan, the Presque Isle area offers more than 132 miles of groomed trails set along a gorgeous Lake Huron landscape.
The Huron Snowmobile Trail, in the Tawas and Oscoda area is the eastern gateway to trails across the state of Michigan.
Munising in Alger County is the snowmobile capital of the Midwest, with 300 miles of groomed trails
PRO-TIP: The Indy 500 Snowmobile Race is held in Sault Ste. Marie every winter and is one of the top winter events in the Upper Peninsula.
For more information on trail conditions for snowmobiling, check out the Michigan Sledhead Trail Report .
[Image: rocky shoreline in michigan in winter]
More Favorite Things to Do in Michigan During Winter
Go Michigan Rock Hunting – Did you know that winter is a great time to search for Petoskey Stones, Yooperlite, Leland Blues, Lake Superior Agates, and Charlevoix stones? The rough winter waves push rocks on to shore…get out there and start treasure hunting!
Take a Sleigh Ride – Load into a sleigh or horse-drawn carriage and take in the sites and sounds of Michigan winter.
Did we miss anything? What are some of your favorite things to do in Michigan in the winter? use the comment section below to let us know your favorite winter activities in Michigan!
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