13 Cool Places to visit in Michigan in the Winter

lighthouse, winter, ice

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Michigan may not be the first place you think of when the temperature drops below freezing, but there are plenty of cool things to do in Michigan in the winter, from ice skating to snowshoeing and more! And don’t let the cold weather deter you from visiting. Both indoor and outdoor fun is listed below! If you’re looking for some exciting winter activities, look no further than these 13 great places to visit in Michigan in the winter.

What is Michigan like in the winter

Your first question might be to ask, Is Michigan cold in the winter? And truthfully, it depends on where you are and what your definition of cold is. Michigan ranges from the Lower Peninsula and southernmost cities such as Detroit. Here you will get snow and temperatures will go into the teens.

In the Upper Peninsula, you can go as far as Isle Royale National Park, an island in Lake Superior. However, it is closed during the winter. Houghton in the winter has high temps only in the 20s and almost daily snowfall.

Where to go in Michigan in the winter

There are plenty of places to go in Michigan in the winter, especially if you enjoy outdoor activities. Not into braving the cold? don’t worry we have some indoor activities for you as well. I’m going to start this list along the western Michigan side, with my hometown of Muskegon. It’s obviously where I know best. We’ll move up the lower peninsula into the UP and wind up back down to Detroit.

How to Get to Michigan in the Winter

If you’re flying within the United States, you have several options. Detroit and Chicago are both major airports. Detroit is obviously in Michigan, but the Chicago airports are only a few hours from some of our destinations. Plus, you can always hop on a connecting flight to places such as Traverse City and Mar1uette. Grand Rapids, also offers a lot of direct flights on Allegiant air and similar. Unless you plan on staying int the bigger cities, I would recommend renting a car or RV for some winter camping. Make sure you’re comfortable driving in snowy conditions.

Muskegon

Located in West Michigan, my hometown of Muskegon is one of the best places to visit in Michigan in the winter. My favorite is the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park. The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is home to an Olympic size luge track. And for good reason, because Muskegon is home to a Silver Medalist Olympic Luge athlete, Mark Grimmette. He’s a fellow alumni of my high school, so you can understand a bit of the pride. Did you know that this is one of only four luge tracks in the US?

If you’re not comfortable racing down the luge, there is a beginner track you can try. But that’s not all at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. You can also find:

  • Ice Skating – both on a rink and a 1/4 mile trail through the woods. Seriously so cool!
  • Snowshoeing on marked trails
  • Cross Country Skiing

Plus, the winter complex has adaptive sports, for those with limited mobility. Adaptive cross-country skiing, luge, and ice sleds are available.

Check out the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park here.

That’s not all you’ll find in Muskegon in the winter.

  • Visit the USHL Hockey team the Muskegon Lumberjacks
  • Tour a Victorian-style home decorated for Christmas a the Hackley and Hume homes
  • Take in a performance of America’s Tallest Singing Christmas Tree by Mona Shores High School at the Frauenthal Theater.
  • Look for ice formations on the lighthouses at the beach.

Grand haven

Moving south a little bit before we cruise north, Grand Haven is a picturesque town and boasts some of the most beautiful beaches on Lake Michigan. It’s also one of my favorite places in winter. Having lived there for a few years, winter in Grand Haven is quiet. It’s the best time to stroll the lake. I often get asked, can you walk on Lake Michigan in the Winter? I wouldn’t. It’s been a long time since there has been a hard enough freeze on the Big Lake. Some of the smaller inland lakes would be fine. Always check with the locals before you walk on any frozen water.

Downtown Grand Haven also offers a variety of seasonal events throughout winter like Winterfest with a bonfire bash, snow volleyball, and live music. There’s nothing better than gathering around a bonfire in the middle of a snowy day.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids is a great place for families and friends to visit during winter. One of the best things about Grand Rapids is that it’s been ranked as one of the safest cities in America. The city has a number of fun activities and attractions, both indoor and out for your winter recreation. Grand Rapids is a great place to fly in as it’s only a few hours from many natural attractions.

One location that shines in Grand Rapids is Frederik Meijer Gardens sculpture park. this year-round gardens truly takes on another look with snow-covered sculptures. In addition to walking the grounds, you can warm up in the indoor gardens and butterfly conservatory here.

Other notable museums in Grand Rapids include:

  • Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
  • Grand Rapids Art Museum
  • Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
  • and more are listed here.

The World of Winter Festival takes the Grand Rapids’ love of art to a whole new level. Over 40 outdoor art installations are just part of the 2 month long festival. Ice sculptures, outdoor contests, and of course beer make up the festival to draw people outside.

The reason beer is part of the festival? It’s because Grand Rapids is Beer City USA. Their Ale Trail includes over 40 craft breweries, all within 30 miles of each other. If you wanted to expand that to Holland, Grand Haven, and Muskegon, you’d have dozens more within an hour of each other. I’d say that’s enough to keep you going through the winter, but please drink responsibly. Always have a designated driver, especially in the winter.

Traverse City

Traverse City has a population of only 16,000 people. This charming northern Michigan town boasts skiing, golfing, skating and snowmobiling, as well as plenty of terrific restaurants and stores to explore. You’ll be certain to have a wonderful time here.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is near Traverse City and a great place for snowshoeing the dunes. If you just want to see the wild lake toss and turn with snowy and icy whitecaps, a visit here will still impress.

For a more active winter getaway, check out the nearby National Forest which features several miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. If you’re not quite ready to leave your snowy haven yet then book yourself into one of their cozy B&Bs where they serve hearty breakfasts every morning before sending you off on an adventure through all that this great state has to offer.

Come hungry to Traverse City. Restaurant week happens in early February when the areas restaurants draw you in with their best specialty items.

Want to pretend it’s summer? Check out the Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark in Traverse City. This is a popular weekend retreat for many Michigan residents, so book early.

Boyne Mountain Resort

Boyne Mountain is a ski resort and year-round resort located in Boyne Falls, Michigan, approximately 60 miles northeast of Traverse City. It features a variety of skiing and snowboarding terrain, including some designated beginner areas. The ski area has been open since 1948, making it one of the oldest ski resorts in North America. The Boyne Mountain Resort has plenty of winter activities including Sno-go biking, fat tire snow biking, cross-country ski rentals, ice skating, tubing, zipline, and of course downhill skiing.

Where to stay? In one of the cabins or villas at Boyne Moutain Resort.

winter, cross country skiing, mackinac island
Photo by mackinacdesign on Pixabay

Mackinac Island

One of my favorite places to visit during winter is Mackinac Island. It’s a small island located in Lake Huron and has everything you need for a great winter getaway. There are many historic buildings, bike paths, and the best fudge in the world! The views of the frozen lake are incredible and they say it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth during this time of year.

Here’s the thing about Mackinac Island in the winter. You can get there as long as there is a ferry to take you. The main ferry only runs if the lake isn’t frozen over. some places will also be closed during the winter months, but if you can get on the island, you’ll have it practically to yourself. Imagine taking a horse-drawn carriage ride down the center of the empty Victorian-lined streets.

Northern Michigan

Ready to head to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? The Great Lakes State has a lot to explore in this wintery wonderland. Head over the Mackinac Bridge to even more remote winter beauty.

We’ll talk about a few special places in the UP and then move on to some of the cities and special events.

Firstly, let’s talk waterfalls in Notherment Michigan. Many folks know that Tahquamenon Falls State Park as a popular place. It’s also one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, Niagra Falls being the biggest. Tahquamenon Falls has both upper and lower falls. Tahquamenon Falls is located in Paradise, quite literally. Paradise, Michigan is on the Whitefish Bay of Lake Superior and about an hour from Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignace.

There are over 300 waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula and many of them freeze during the winter months, making the ice sculptures a sight to be seen. Find a full list of falls and road trip ideas here.

Choose from plenty of snowmobiling adventures in Northern Michigan as well, with either easy or challenging terrain. For an easier ride, try renting a single-track machine that is designed for the beginner rider. For more experienced riders there are lots of opportunities to challenge yourself on both groomed and ungroomed trails.

Where to stay:

Marquette

Marquette is one of the “bigger” cities in the UP and home to Northern Michigan University.

The UP 200 sled dog race is an annual event that takes place in Marquette, Michigan. Each year the race draws participants from all over the country. Usually, they are testing their dogs for a longer competition or trying to qualify for the Iditarod. The race covers 200 miles of snow-packed trails, with a total elevation change of 10,000 feet and eight checkpoints along the way. If you love dogs (or just need some adrenaline), this is a great event to check out! There are plenty of lodging options near the starting line, so even if you can’t make the race, there are plenty of activities for your winter trip.

From museums and ice fishing to shopping downtown or warming up with hot chocolate at a local cafe, Marquette has plenty of things to do in the winter months.

Nearby Marquette is Eben Ice Caves, a truly spectacular occurrence in Michigan in the winter. The Rock River Canyon Ice Caves, also known as Eben Ice Caves are in Eben Junction. When the snow melts, as it can do even in winter, it forms a waterfall effect and natural cave. You will have about a mile hike to the caves and experts recommend using ice cleats to walk on the hard packed snow and ice.

Kid playing in a cave with snow
Photo by Anne Small on Pexels

Munising

Located on Lake Superior, Munising offers a rugged and remote experience.

Located at 66 miles west of Munising along highway US-41, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers scenic views of the Lake Superior shoreline with miles of trails leading to sandy beaches. The Grand Marais is also a picturesque town located in the heart of the Great Lakes region that has many shops and restaurants to explore. Head back east past Munising towards Houghton, home of the University of Michigan Copper Country Research Center. A great stop for those interested in copper mining history, this is one site where you can see what life was like during this period through preserved buildings from around 1900.

You’ll find other points of interest such as Ojibwa (Chippewa) cultural sites, local museums and geological features. You won’t want to miss nearby Porcupine Mountain ski resort for their adventurous snow tubing slopes or try ice climbing on the cliffsides!

A truly unique event, whether you go to participate or observe, is the ice climbing that happens in February. Munising is home to the Michigan ice fest. You can even take a course to increase your skills. In the evenings, attend one of the many parties. If you’re there to watch, catch the action at Sand Point Road for climbers and incredible scenery.

Frankenmuth

Back to the lower peninsula and the town that looks like it came straight from Bavaria. There’s always something going on at Frankenmuth. At Christmas time, they have all sorts of fun activities, and are home to the largest Christmas store in the US. They also have a great German restaurant with live music and dancing! You’ll be sure to enjoy yourself in this quaint little town.

Frankenmuth is located on the Eastern side of Michigan, about 3 hours from the bridge in Mackinaw City.

In the winter, Frankenmuth is home to Snowfest. Zehnder’s Snowfest features large snow and ice sculptures throughout the town. A tradition for over 30 years, you can come early to watch the ice sculpture carve blocks of ice with chainsaws and chisels. The annual event occurs in late January.

Ann Arbor

To the west of Detroit lies a town that is not just about the Maize and Blue. If you knew I was talking about the University of Michigan, you’d know I was in Ann Arbor. This is more than just a college town, however. Ann Arbor invites you to get “Wintersmitten” each winter. I love the nod to the fact that we’re in the Mitten State too with this moniker. Wintersmitten is a perfect romantic weekend destination, with unique retail, vintage, and specialty shops. Plus, it’s home to a massive international food scene, with over 400 restaurants packed in this small destination. You can always take in a basketball or hockey game at the UofM while here, as well as hike or bike one of the many trails still open in winter.

Tecumseh

Just south of Ann Arbor is Tecumseh. They, too, have an Ice sculpture festival each year and the clear-cut glass-looking sculptures are truly something to behold. The town is filled with small-town community feelings as there is plenty of family-filled events such as scavenger hunts, games, and even balloon sculptures.

Ice hockey
Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Detroit

I feel like Detroit really shines in the winter. It is nicknamed Hockeytown, after all, as the popular home of the Detroit Red Wings NHL. Whether or not you’re. a hockey fan, there’s nothing like seeing a game in person. And Red Wings fans are as fanatic as they get, in a good way of course. They have one the most Stanley Cup championships, and this town is truly proud of their team.

On the flip side of exciting hockey fans, Detroit is home to a number of phenomenal museums, to keep you warm inside during the winter months. Detroit Institute of Arts The institute hosts many different types of exhibitions and has one of the most comprehensive collections of western art in the US.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation at Greenfield village is open year-round. You’ll discover America’s culture, inventions, people, and can-do spirit at The Henry Ford, where you can explore, enjoy, and be inspired by hundreds of hands-on activities. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and Giant Screen Experience are some of the many attractions around the region.

For a winter wonderland, head north to Lake St. Clair. There are miles of pristine beaches perfect for strolling and snow-covered hills for sledding. Pack up your cross-country skis or snowshoes and spend a day exploring snowy forests with your family and friends.

Another great place you can visit during the winter months is Kensington Park. It’s a short drive from downtown Detroit, and has beautiful views of Kent Lake and access to miles of hiking trails. There are many family-friendly activities such as walking paths, sledding hills, cross-country skiing, tobogganing and skating too.

Other things to do in Detroit include outdoor ice skating at Campus Martius Park. Take a tour of Eastern Market with local vendors selling produce and other foods on Saturdays. On Belle Isle, you can go skiing or snowboarding on the island’s ski hill.

And we haven’t even talked about the food yet. If you haven’t tried Detroit-style pizza yet, spend a day warming up and trying various pizza places to see who has the best Detroit pizza.

Want to try the best food rivalry in Detroit? Check out Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island greek style hot dogs. These two businesses are literally right next door to each other. The story goes that Gust Keros opened American Coney Island in 1917. A few years later, his bother William opened his own store, Lafayette Coney Island, in the adjacent storefront.

Things to do in Michigan in the Winter

Even if you can’t visit some of these iconic places in Michigan, and you will be in the Mitten State, these are some fun things to do in Michigan in the winter. Any of these activities take place in small towns and cities throughout the upper and lower peninsulas.

  • Ice Fishing
  • Sledding
  • Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Ice Skating
  • Hike in any of the state parks

Plus, check out your local visitors’ bureau for winter festivals near you. You never know what you might find.

What to pack in Michigan in the Winter

Planning to ski when you’re in Michigan? Did you know that you can ship your own cross-country skis or downhill skis? When you use a luggage site like ShipGo, you can ship these items ahead and not worry about checking them. Depending on what you plan to do in Michigan in the winter, this may be a more affordable option.

Bring a coat that is waterproof and has some insulation to it. A hat and insulated, waterproof gloves are also important because they can protect your head and hands from frostbite. Boots or sturdy shoes will be necessary as well, because it may be difficult to walk on slippery surfaces without them. If you are visiting a nature preserve, then boots with treads will be best. Something like Yaktracks traction will help give you extra traction you may need in the snow and slippery surfaces, especially if you’re out hiking.

Sunglasses are important too. The reflection off of the snow is often brighter than the sun.

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