The Beginner’s Guide to a Pure Michigan Winter Adventure

The car is packed with warm clothes, good boots and a whole bunch of outdoor gear. You’ve even put together a special Michigan mix of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band and Motown favorites consisting of heavyweights like The Temptations and lesser known acts like The Velvelettes. But do you have an honest clue of what sights, sounds, tastes and experiences to take in, making you want to come back to Michigan for more every winter?

Well, that’s where we’re here to help.

If you’re going to Michigan for the first time this winter, we’ve got some activities and places you have to put on your list to get the true Michigan experience. These are the places that make the Mitten State a distinctly great destination when the snowfalls.

So throw on that mix and open up the navigation app on your phone, because you’re going to experience what a Pure Michigan winter really is.

Festivals

Just because there’s snow on the ground and the mercury isn’t rising above the 30s doesn’t mean you should stay indoors snuggled under blankets all day.

Some of Michigan’s best festivals happen during the winter at destinations that are thriving with action and fun.

Frankenmuth is famous for its celebration of German heritage, but it’s also where you’ll be able to experience the long-running Zehnder’s Snowfest on Jan. 25-30. With larger-than-life snow sculptures and intricately detailed ice carvings, Zehnder’s Snowfest also features a warming tent, petting zoo, children’s activity area and fireworks display.

Zehnders-Snowfest

Zehnder’s Snowfest is an annual favorite for many Michiganders, PC: Frankenmuth

Over on the shores of Lake Michigan is Ludington where you can experience the Pure Ludington BrrrewFest. Held on Jan. 28, this annual festival celebrates bundling up and enjoying a cold beer during a Michigan winter. Enjoy live music while sampling the some of the best beer from brewers across the state.

If you’re more interested in visiting the Motor City during the winter, then you should check out the Meridian Winter Blast, held during the month of February in downtown Detroit. From live entertainment that will have you moving to the beat and local cuisine even the fussiest of foodies would drool over, Winter Blast is a tradition that is beloved by Detroiters and visitors alike.

Snowmobiling

Does tearing down a freshly groomed snowmobile trail sound like a great way to spend a winter day?

Well Michigan has more than 6,500 snowmobile trails and one of the most extensive systems of interconnected trails in the United States. The state also boasts a varied terrain, which includes national forests and 11,000 frozen lakes.

Snowmobiling-in-Boon

A snowmobiler exploring the winter season in Boon, PC: Instagrammer andypeninger

Some of the most popular places for snowmobiling are Grayling, Gaylord, Cadillac and Mancelona, with a large number of trails that allow you to take off in just about any direction.

Farther north in the Upper Peninsula, the snowmobile season goes from Dec. 1 to March 31. A popular spot for snowmobilers is Trout Lake Township, which is just 30 miles from the Mackinac Bridge and is home to one of the main crossroads for Upper Peninsula snowmobile trails. Heading southwest from there is the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway, where you’ll find loads of vintage snowmobiles.

Skiing

The feel of fresh powder on your face as you rip down some of the best skiing spots in the Midwest is a true Michigan winter tradition.

With pitch and vertical drops on par with what you’ll find in New England and out West, Michigan is home to 51 ski areas and more than 260 lifts and 1,000 runs.

Two of the most popular places to go are Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls and Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. Boyne Mountain offers 60 downhill trails, 12 lifts and ski-in/ski-out accommodations. Crystal Mountain, located 28 miles southwest of Traverse City, is a family-owned resort with 58 downhill slopes and almost 19 miles of cross country skiing.

Ice-Skiing-in-Michigan

Michigan’s ski scene offers fun challenges for first-timers to pros

In the Upper Peninsula is where you’ll find the Mont Ripley in Hancock and Porcupine Mountain Ski Area in Ontonagon.

Mont Ripley gets an average 250 inches of dry lake effect snow every year, adding to the experiences you’ll have with its 440-foot vertical drop ski area on 173 acres and 24 runs

Billed as the place with trails and views that get kids outdoors, the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area, has 600 feet of vertical drop with 13 trails and four gladed areas. Visitors can also choose to rent snowshoes and experience the peaceful solitude of Michigan’s northern forests as they enjoy a quiet trek through the snow.

Ice fishing

Are you looking forward to landing a big one from one of Michigan’s 11,000 inland lakes as you breath in the fresh winter air?

Then grab a bucket and pole because the Great Lakes State has some of the best ice fishing in the nation, making for a relaxing way to spend a day angling.

Almost any fish available in the summer can be caught during the winter months through the ice. And the ice fishing tradition is so strong in Michigan, that many lake communities host festivals centered on the sport.

Ice-fishing-in-Michigan

Ice fishing offers a unique experience for those looking to relax while enjoying the outdoors

One of the most popular ice fishing events is Tip-Up Town U.S.A., held Jan. 20-24 and Jan. 29-31 in Houghton Lake. Attracting thousands from the Midwest, the annual winter festival is great fun for the entire family with children’s activities, a parade and chili cook-off, as well as an ice fishing contest weigh in and fireworks.

Scenic beauty

Sure there’s plenty to do in Michigan during the winter, but what if you just want to spend some quiet time enjoying the natural beauty of the outdoors, filling up your social media with picturesque photos of sunsets and wildlife.

Maybe you should consider a trip to Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Paradise, which has 50,000 acres of beauty surrounding the Tahquamenon River and waterfalls. The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi with a length that is more than 200 feet across and a drop that almost reaches 50 feet.

Another remarkable place to experience is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, which is rated as one of the most beautiful places to visit in the United States. Between the solitude and beauty of its forest and the elegant ice formations along the jagged cliffs, visitors will have the adventure of a lifetime witnessing this exquisite backdrop.

Something different

What if you want to do the unexpected?

Well if you’re craving to come home with a great story to tell about your winter Michigan trip, than here are a couple of ideas to consider. For example, have you ever considered taking a dog sledding tour?

Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog & Racing Adventures in McMillan offers tours and day trips for guests of all ages and abilities. Guests can learn to drive their own dog sled team and can select from 10- and 20-mile dog sled trips. They can also choose between day rides or an overnight adventure.

Dogsledding-in-Michigan

Dogsledding should be on everyone’s Michigan bucket list, PC: Gina Dewey

Another great exploit is learning to ice climb. Michigan’s miles of sandstone cliffs are lined with hundreds of frozen waterfalls, creating some of the best ice climbing spots in the nation ranging from 20 to 210 feet in height. There’s even the Michigan Ice Fest, held Feb. 15-19 in Munising. Filled with classes for all skill levels and after parties, attendees can have fun while getting great experience from some of the best climbers in Michigan.

So what are you waiting for?

Pack your bags, set the vacation notice on your work email and prepare for a Pure Michigan winter adventure that will have you coming back for more.

What would you suggest a newbie do to have a fantastic winter in Pure Michigan? Let us know in the comments!

10 Michigan Trails to Experience This Winter

Crisp winter air and the sound of crushing snow beneath your feet on a Michigan trail are cravings snowshoe enthusiasts and cross country skiers can’t wait to satisfy.

With thousands of miles of trails throughout the state, Michigan offers a winter wonderland of picturesque scenery and distinct features that can feed this need.  These are trail systems that vary in terrain and level of difficulty – from wide, groomed pathways to more natural, narrow lanes – allowing everyone to get in on the fun.

So if you’re already thinking about where you want to go this winter, you might want to consider adding these to your list.

Heritage Trail
Drummond Island

The Heritage Trail is a 3-mile nature and snowshoe trail offering picturesque landscapes of Drummond Island Township Park.

Visitors can experience beautiful forest scenery and the Potagannissing Bay shoreline on its lower levels, while the upper levels wind along limestone ledges and shallow caves. There is also a 50-foot drop in elevation along the trail.

The majority of Heritage Trail can be snowshoed easily by beginners, although the upper level does have some uneven terrain.

Visitors may also see a wide array of wildlife inhabiting the area, from forest birds to whitetail deer.

Snowshoeing through the snow

Snowshoeing, Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

Big M Cross Country Ski Area
Manistee

With a 37.9-mile trail system, the Big M Cross Country Ski and Mountain Bike Trail is located off of M-55 between Cadillac and Wellston.

The trail includes 18-miles that are groomed specifically for skiers, taking them up and down hills and through a snow-covered forest of hardwoods. While the best skiing taking place during January and February, snowfall can average about 130 inches from December to March.

Corsair Cross Country Skiing Trail
Oscoda

From gently rolling to slightly more challenging, the 28.3-mile, one-way Corsair Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail offers a splendid way to take in Michigan’s winter beauty.

The blue diamond-shaped confidence markers and the Silver Valley Trailhead offers a gentler and less hilly experience for skiers, while the Wrights Lake Trailhead is more challenging with longer loops and steeper hills.

Keweenaw Trails
Calumet

The Keweenaw Peninsula is always a great choice for anyone looking to experience beautiful trails under a canopy of Michigan forests.

The cross country ski season can run from Thanksgiving to mid-April with the region boasting 250 inches of annual snowfall, making it a great way to satisfy your hunger for winter sports. The area also has a wide variety of trails, from the wide and groomed daily to the more narrow striding-only wooded trails.

Keweenaw Trails include four trail systems – the Chassell, Michigan Tech, Swedetown and Maasto Hiihto/Churning Rapids – where visitors can get a combined annual pass or get a day rate for an individual trail.

Winter on the Keweenaw Peninsula

Keweenaw Peninsula, Photo Courtesy of Suzanne M.

Muncie Lake Pathway
Traverse City

Groomed and marked for novice skiers, the 11.5-mile Muncie Lake Pathway is one of the most popular trail systems in Grand Traverse County.

The trail is about 13 miles south of Traverse City and takes visitors through fantastic views of Muncie Lake. While there are numerous hills, there are no sharp grades or sudden changes of directions.  The back loop of the trail system does include three long downhills for more experienced skiers.

Loud Creek Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail
Mio

With its seven interconnecting loops that go from 1.36 miles to 4.34 miles, Loud Creek Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail is a great experience for people of all skill levels.

The complete trail features signage that indicates difficulty information and blue diamond confidence markers.

Visitors will experience the peaceful solitude of northern hardwoods and large pine, as well as bridge crossings, beaver ponds and rolling hills on the groomed trail.

Ogemaw Hills Pathway
West Branch

Experience the scenic beauty of the Au Sable State Forest by hitting the 13.6 miles of groomed trail known as the Ogemaw Hills Pathway.

Located at the corner of Clear Lake and Fairview roads, the trail is perfect for the beginner, as well as intermediate and more experienced cross country skiing enthusiast.

With its distinct features formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers, the opening to the Ogemaw Hills Pathway is actually what is left of abandoned pioneer farms that are being reclaimed by the forest. The location and elevation of the trail also means it will get between six to 10 inches more snowfall than surrounding areas.

Cross Country skiing

Pine Baron Pathway
Gaylord

Loved by locals and built specifically for cross country skiing, the Pine Baron Pathway has four interconnected loops that range from 2 to 2.5 miles.

While much of the trail is flat with some minor changes in elevation, the 2-mile Whoopsy Loop does feature some descents and climbs, but isn’t too challenging for beginners. And since area averages about 180 inches of snow every winter, the Pine Baron Pathway makes for a quick and pleasurable experience for anyone who loves cross country skiing.

Valley Spur Trail System
Munising

Known for getting up to 200 inches of snow during the winter, the Valley Spur Trail is located in the snow-belt of southern Lake Superior.

The trails reside in heavy forest cover, sometimes following old logging roads, in a 27-mile stretch that is groomed daily from December to March. Beginners, as well as more intermediate and expert skiers, can enjoy the mixture pine and hardwoods that populate the forest as they traverse through the winter snow.

Wolverine Nordic Ski Trails
Ironwood

Another great trail on Lake Superior’s southern shore is Wolverine Nordic Trails, where the average winter starts early and lasts longer than other parts of the Midwest.

The trail has five different loops for a combined 10 miles on a natural rolling terrain that is suitable for striders and skaters. The system’s four snowshoe trails are marked with red or blue diamonds and ribbons too indicate difficulty. The hardest of these is the Hospital Loop Trail, which is marked with blue. The easiest, the Snowflake Loop Trail, is marked with red.

Which winter trails do you love to visit during the season? Let us know in the comments below. 

Celebrating 100 Years of the National Parks Service at Michigan’s National Sites

In August, the National Park Service celebrated 100 years of keeping our national sites clean and beautiful. Find out how the 7 National Park Sites in our great state were founded and what to do when you visit, courtesy of guest bloggers representing each of the park sites.

Find Your Park

One hundred years doesn’t come around very often. Indeed, there are few institutions with the staying power of the National Park Service which celebrated that very rare century mark this year.

All year, NPS sites throughout Michigan and beyond are paying tribute to the NPS Centennial – which in fact has been an ongoing celebration since early 2016. The NPS recognizes Founder’s Day as the official birthday of America’s grand institution that serves to preserve and protect its natural wonders.

Each NPS site in Michigan has a truly unique story to tell and offers visitors a chance to escape within a day or less driving distance. Read more about how each park, lakeshore, trail and heritage area were founded as we pay tribute to 100 years.

1. Experience Isle Royale’s unique history and untamed wilderness

Isle Royale National Park, established on April 3, 1940 and designated a National Wilderness in 1976, is the most isolated and wild of Michigan’s seven sites. The park’s stunning vistas are truly a way for visitors to explore wilderness, slow down the pace of life and relax the soul.

The wilderness island has many stories to preserve based around island life and industry. At one time, Isle Royale supported a robust fishing and resort community, and similar to its Keweenaw neighbor, Isle Royale played an important role in the early copper mining industry.

Views of Isle Royale, the least-visited National Park in the nation

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The park has attractions for history buffs as well as outdoor adventurers and hikers. One of the more popular historically preserved sites is the cottage of Elizabeth Kemmer who served coffee and meals to island workers. There are also several beautifully preserved lighthouses on the island such as Rock Harbor.

In celebration of the Centennial, Isle Royale stewards invite adventure-seekers to experience an untamed land for a real escape from life’s hustle and bustle. Here you can enjoy a leisurely guided hike by a park ranger or make unforgettable memories by spotting a moose.

2. Keweenaw: A region shaped by copper

Michigan’s Keweenaw National Historic Park boasts radiant, natural landscapes while also preserving the history of the region’s once vast copper mining industry. In 1992, the National Park Service decided that preserving the natural wonders of the land as well as its history and its assets was important enough to designate the park as a National Historic Park.

The history of Keweenaw’s copper mining dates back at least 7,000 years, and through preservation efforts, industries of long ago such as the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company would be lost to time. According to the park’s enabling legislation, U.S. Congress determined that the Calumet area was essential to telling the story of copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The mining industry was once king in the Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Calumet Unit is just one of many enjoyable assets to park patrons, and one of many featured pieces in the park’s day-long Centennial Celebration. While in the area, check out the local bike trails or snowmobile trails if visiting in the winter.

3. Automotive goes beyond Detroit in the MotorCities National Heritage Area

The story of Michigan can hardly be told without including the creation and evolution of the domestic automotive industry. In 1998, U.S. Congress deemed that history to be important enough to require safeguarding, thus the MotorCities National Heritage Area was established by an Act of Congress to preserve, promote and interpret the history of the automotive industry and labor story in southeast Michigan.

The effort to create the MotorCities, originally established as the Automobile National Heritage Area, was led by U.S. Rep. John Dingell and Sen. Carl Levin. The original legislation recognized that, “…the economic strength of our Nation is connected integrally to the vitality of the automobile industry, which employs millions of workers,” and, “the industrial and cultural heritage of the automobile industry in Michigan includes the social history and living cultural traditions of several generations.”

President Bill Clinton signs the Automobile National Heritage Area Act of 1998 creating the MotorCities National Heritage Area.

Photo Courtesy of the MotorCities National Heritage Area

The MotorCities is one of 49 National Heritage Areas in the U.S. and the only one in Michigan. National Heritage Areas are a unique aspect of historic preservation as they protect and promote the country’s most significant historical events that have shaped and impacted culture and economy.

Throughout the Centennial celebration, the MotorCities encouraged would-be adventurers to “Find Your Road Trip,” with a one-of-a-kind tourism guide showcasing 30 automotive historical sites along with Michigan’s National Parks. While there, the world-famous Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village should be near the top of your list of things to see.

To request your own copy of the “Find Your Road Trip” guide, visit motorcities.org/findyourroadtrip.

4. North Country Trail

The state’s only National Scenic Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail stretches across 4,600 miles and seven states – including Michigan. Headquartered in Lowell, North Country Trail was created by the National Trails System Act of 1968 and is administered by the National Park Service.

The NCT is the longest of 11 National Scenic Trails established in the U.S. When the Trail was established in 1980, portions of it were designed to follow the already existing Finger Lakes (New York), Baker (Pennsylvania), and Buckeye (Ohio) Trails. Their sponsoring organizations became affiliates of the North Country Trail Association and agreed to maintain those portions of their trails to be used by the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Loudenslager

Most of the NCT’s activity comes from adventurous hikers who brave the rugged terrain and experience wide variety of terrain, flora, and fauna. The NCT offers everything from a leisurely afternoon stroll to a multiday, rigorous long-distance hiking challenge. In every locale, opportunities abound for bird watching, botany, photography, and wildlife study, either alone or as an experience shared with others seeking the respite of the outdoors.

5. Pictured Rocks: America’s first National Lakeshore

Michigan’s vaunted Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the state’s oldest National Park unit. Established on Oct. 15, 1966, Congress determined the region was important enough “…to preserve for the benefit, inspiration, education, recreational use, and enjoyment of the public, a significant portion of the diminishing shoreline of the United States and its related geographic and scientific features.”

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill, Alger County became the home of America’s first National Lakeshore.

Lovers Leap at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @mc_angela

Protecting the shoreline was a major tenant of the 1966 Congressional Act. The shoreline zone was established to preserve its scenery and outstanding natural features and to provide the benefits of public recreation. The inland buffer zone was created to stabilize and protect the existing character and uses of the land, waters, and other properties. Today, Pictured Rocks is famous for the breathtaking multi-colored sandstone cliffs in which you can kayak to, in addition to a few incredible waterfalls.

Today, stewards of Pictured Rocks work to keep the region’s incredible natural beauty protected while managing ever-increasing visitorship and interest in the park.

6. Discover Michigan’s role in the War of 1812 at River Raisin

The most recent federal land designate in the state, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park was established to preserve the story of the War of 1812 and its impact in southeast Michigan. Congress created River Raisin under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act signed into law on March 30, 2009.

A portrait of the historic River Raisin militia encampment

Photo Courtesy of NPS.gov

The site tells the story of the River Raisin Militia which was called into action during the summer of 1812 to build a military road which was to link Detroit with Ohio. The militia men were the centerpiece of a U.S. force encamped along the north side of the River Raisin when they met a surprise attack on the morning of Jan. 22, 1813 led by 600 British and Canadians and about 800 Native Americans.

A trip to the River Raisin Battlefield Visitor Center will not only be a learning experience for the kids, but it will also be a great adventure. They will love interacting with the soldiers and scenes; they will feel as if they were really there.

7. Preserving Michigan’s maritime history at Sleeping Bear

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is also celebrating its own milestone marking 50 years in 2016. Established by Congress on Oct. 21, 1970, Sleeping Bear Dunes is rich in history from early Native American cultures to the shipping, logging, and agricultural heritage of the area. Even the name of the area comes from the Native American Legend of Sleeping Bear.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of Michigan's most iconic areas

Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service

Long before there were roads and highways in Michigan, people and goods were being transported regularly on the ships of the Great Lakes. The Manitou Passage (between the Manitou Islands and the mainland) was a busy corridor for commercial shipping. The location of the Manitou Islands made them ideal for a refueling stop for steamers to pick up wood for their boilers. That was one of the driving forces for early settlement of the islands. Docks were built, and trees were cut to fuel the growing Great Lakes Shipping fleet.

The farming legacy of the area is embodied in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District as well as some of the farmsteads on the southern part of the park.

Learn about the logging and farming culture by visiting Glen Haven, the little historic logging village located on the shore of Lake Michigan. There were a number of little logging villages in the area that no longer exist. There isn’t much left of these Ghost Towns, but as you walk around their sites, you will find trace evidence of the people who lived, worked, and played in this country.

How many of Michigan’s seven National Parks Sites have you visited? Share with us by commenting below!