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!

The Keepers Behind Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses

What is it about lighthouses that keeps spirits lingering, long after the lights have been extinguished? Perhaps it is an undying passion for these beloved beacons or maybe it is a tragic loss of loved ones that ties these ghosts to these hallowed grounds. With more lighthouses than any other state, many of Michigan’s nearly 120 lights remain home to the restless souls of their former keepers. Guest blogger Dianna Stampfler gives the story behind a few keepers of Michigan’s haunted lighthouses.

Photo of James Donahue

James Donahue, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Captain James S. Donahue was a wounded Civil War soldier when he was appointed the keeper of the South Haven Lighthouse in 1874. Having lost a leg in battle, the physical demands of tending were even more taxing for him. Yet, during his 35 years of service, he is credit with saving more than a dozen lives. Today, the keeper’s residence sits perched atop a bluff overlooking the Black River and out to Lake Michigan and the 35-foot red tower. The Michigan Maritime Museum uses the building as an archive and research facility, and many have reported sounds they attribute to Donahue. Footsteps, self-opening doors and eerie sounds are among the unexplainable occurrences.

Some may argue that the White River Light Station in Whitehall might never have been built had it not been for Captain William Robinson, who moved to the area in 1860s with his wife, Sarah, and seven of their eventually 13 children. A thriving lumbering industry brought them there from England, and Robinson had hoped he would be able to find work to support his growing family. With the amount of traffic traveling in and out of the White River, Robinson was surprised there was no light to guide their safe passage.

He began petitioning the lighthouse service to have a beacon built, and in the interim would hang a lantern on a pole at the end of the channel every night to aid the passing ships. When the light was constructed and lit in 1875, the Robinsons were appointed the first keepers. For nearly 50 years, the Robinson faithfully kept his light shining—passing away there in 1919 at the age of 87. Yet, he and Sarah are still said to be the permanent residents of the home. While Bill prefers to walk up the spiral staircase to lantern room, Sarah finds peace in an upstairs bedroom where her youngest children slept.

Photo of Captain Townsend

Captain Townsend, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Visitors to Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver, south of US2 in the Upper Peninsula, have been documenting strange activities there for decades. From the pungent odor of cigar smoke, to hazy faces in bedroom mirrors and moving furniture, the antics of Captain Joseph Willie Townsend are never-ending. Appointed in 1902, his tenure was cut short after he passed away in 1910.

Given the remote locale and the time period, the Captain’s body was embalmed in the basement of the light and his body lay in state in the parlor for nearly three weeks to allow family the time they needed to trek to the U.P. to pay their respects. Perhaps that is why Townsend lingers on. Members of the historical society who maintain the lighthouse complex have collected countless reports, photographs, videos and other “evidence” of the keeper’s presence. There’s even a book, “Spirits at Seul Choix Pointe” by Marilyn S. Fischer, which features many of the more noteworthy ghost stories.

Seul Choix Lighthouse

Seul Choix, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Spending the night in a haunted lighthouse may be more than you bargained for, but it’s what you get at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B located northwest of Marquette. Set along the shores of Lake Superior, the first keeper at this 1896 light was H. William Prior. About five years into his service, he enlisted the official help of his son, George, as an assistant keeper. However, that arrangement was short lived for both of them.

George had an accident, which eventually lead to his death. The grief-stricken father was last seen headed into the woods. It was a year later, in 1902, when a hunter found Prior’s skeleton hanging in a nearby tree. Innkeepers attribute the slamming of cupboard doors in the kitchen to an angry Prior, yet according to reports from paranormal teams who have visited the light, as many as five spirits are present.

Big Bay

Big Bay, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

When Saginaw River Range Lighthouse keeper Peter Brawn became disabled and bedridden shortly after his appointment in 1864, his wife Julia was quick to step in and fill his shoes as the acting keeper. Following his death in 1873, she remained in the head position in an official capacity and her son, DeWitt, became her assistant. Within a short period of time, Julia married a man named George Way and she was subsequently demoted while her new husband took the helm. He ended up dying at the lighthouse in 1883, after which Julia and her son left lighthouse service. Today, the property is private and under restoration but those who have had access report hearing footsteps, voices and other interesting sounds that may be attributed to the two keepers (and husbands of Julia) who died there.

Photo of Julia Tobey Brawn Way

Julia Tobey Brawn Way, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Have you visited one of these? Share your experience in the comments, spooky or not!

Dianna Stampfler lives in Petoskey and is the president of Promote Michigan. She has been researching Michigan’s lighthouses for nearly 20 years, presenting “Michigan’s Ghostly Beacons” and “Ladies of the Lights” to groups around the state.

5 Ways to Enjoy Cocktail Week Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids launched Cocktail Week GR last year – and the response was so great, the city is gearing up for a second go-round, November 9-20, 2016.

Sip local! Bebidas Estilo GR!

Logo for Grand Rapids Cocktail Week

Cocktail Week Grand Rapids was created to celebrate Michigan-made spirits and the art of the craft cocktail. New distilleries are popping up all over Grand Rapids and throughout the state, and Cocktail Week GR is a great opportunity to taste their handiwork in delicious drinks created by West Michigan’s best mixologists.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of this spirited event.

1. Pair and Share. Participating bars and restaurants are offering a special food-drink pairing deal – get two Michigan cocktails and a shared-plate appetizer for $25 or less. Chefs and mixologists have collaborated to create pairings that perfectly complement each other, adding balance and depth to your gustatory experience. Last year, a crowd pleaser was, The Drapple – made with Beer Barrel Bourbon from New Holland Brewing – which was paired with Duck Confit Leg at Reserve Wine & Food.

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

2. Go the Extra Glass. Enjoy enticing extras to enhance Cocktail Week GR including local events. Check cocktailweekgr.com for this year’s schedule.

3. Get in the Mix. Learn how to create your own delicious drinks at a Downtown Market cooking class. “Thanksgiving Cocktails and Desserts: Beyond the Pie” takes over the Teaching Kitchen on Wednesday, November 16.

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

4. Take a Tour. Long Road Distillers, established in 2015 and already the winner of multiple international awards, offers tours of its facility on November 11, 12, 18 and 19. You’ll learn how Long Road uses local grains and fruits to craft vodka, whisky, rum and more.

5. Think Global. Attend the International Wine, Beer & Food Festival (November 17-19) to sample spirits – plus wines, beers and ciders – from around the world. More than 1,500 beverages will be featured, along with gourmet foods, workshops, seminars and more. It’s billed as “Michigan’s premier tasting event,” so bring your appetite!

“Flowers in the Window” is a cocktail made especially for Cocktail Week GR by Zac Williams from Six.One.Six.

What is your favorite place to enjoy a cocktail in Grand Rapids? Let us know in the comments below!