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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Snowshoe Your Way Through a Pure Michigan Snow Day

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is an ideal destination to snowshoe, whether you are trying it for the first time or are looking for someplace new to explore. Theresa Neal with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, sells readers on why snowshoeing is a great way to get outside this winter season.

Winter can be a tough time for people to stay active. It’s cold outside, it gets dark early, and curling up in a blanket with a tablet or book sounds SO good! But if you are feeling a bit dreary, maybe gained a few pounds over the holidays, or find yourself in a routine that is getting a bit old, I would suggest giving snowshoeing a try. Many people are intimidated to strap giant paddles to their feet and try walking around, understandably so. I find that once people are outfitted correctly, and given a few pointers, the majority are amazed at how easy it is to snowshoe.

Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

Photo Courtesy of D. Kenyon

Snowshoeing Tips:

  1. If you can walk, you can snowshoe! You may need to adjust your stride slightly, and many people find poles helpful in the beginning.
  2. Aluminum snowshoes are best for icy or hard-packed snow conditions. The crampons (pokey-grips on the bottom) will give you traction, but can trip you up if you drag your feet.
  3. Traditional wooden snowshoes are great for deep, fluffy snow conditions. They are very quiet (no squeaky noises) compared to aluminum, and they leave beautiful tracks in the snow where you have walked!
  4. Used cross-country ski poles from a second-hand store or garage sale work great for snowshoeing.
  5. Expect to sweat! Avoid cotton base layers, as they soak up moisture and can make you cold. Fleece, polyester and wool are good options. Dress in thin layers so you can easily adjust your body temperature while snowshoeing.
Photo Courtesy of T. Neal

Photo Courtesy of T. Neal

Benefits of snowshoeing:

  1. You burn twice as many calories snowshoeing versus walking!
  2. You can be outside WITHOUT getting cold!
  3. After the initial investment of purchasing snowshoes, it’s free! Many state parks offer free snowshoe rental, including Tahquamenon Falls, Ludington, Hartwick Pines and Porcupine Mountains.
  4. You can explore places that are inaccessible during the summer. At Tahquamenon we hike ‘off-trail’, across marshes and through forests that are usually too wet or thick with vegetation to get through.
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Photo Courtesy of Michigan DNR

My favorite part of winter is snowshoeing at night. The cold, crisp air seems so clean and refreshing, forcing the fog from my head and waking up my senses. The light from my headlamp glistens off the snow, and I enjoy scanning the trail for animal tracks to see who has been out since my last hike. Red fox, coyote, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse and deer mouse tracks are most common. The best nights are those without cloud cover, when the moon is shining and the sky is filled with stars, lighting my path without needing a headlamp.

With an average annual snowfall of over 15 feet, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a great place to explore winter on snowshoes. The park is open year-round, with two main destinations for snowshoeing (Upper Falls and Lower Falls). Check our website to print winter maps and join us on Facebook or Twitter to stay up to date on current conditions and events.

Have you ever been snowshoeing? Comment on your experience below!

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Theresa has served as the park interpreter at Tahquamenon Falls since 2005. She began her career as a naturalist with the DNR at Holland State Park as an Adventure Ranger, delivering nature programs and leading hikes for park visitors. She was then hired as a naturalist for DeGraaf Nature Center in Holland, designing and presenting programs for children and school groups. During the summer of 2005, she again worked for the DNR Explorer Program as a mentor for the Explorer Guides in southeast Michigan. Theresa is a proud graduate of Michigan State University.

Plan the Perfect Pure Michigan Snow Day with these Deals

Last week, we hosted a Twitter chat with our fans, and many partners, to discuss the perfect Pure Michigan Snow Day. You all gave us amazing ideas for staycations, winter sports to try, and where to go for our next vacation! In addition to this, we received an abundance of  information on fantastic deals happening around Pure Michigan. Read below to find out where to get money-saving deals for your travel this winter!

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Boyne Mountain, Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @emkotwick

Boyne Highlands/Boyne Mountain

Boyne Highlands is one of Michigan’s premiere all-season resorts with a variety of activities ranging from zip line adventures to golf ranges. During the winter, though, one of the most popular activities is skiing and they have great deals for everyone. From first-timers to seasoned veterans, you can find great deals at Boyne Highlands.

Boyne Mountain is another premiere resort that offers 60 downhill trails, 12 lifts, and ski-in/ski-out accommodations. They also have Zipline Adventures, snowshoeing and so much more! It is a great place to learn how to ski for your Pure Michigan Snow Day!

If you love skiing and will be going regularly this winter, you can buy a frequent skier/rider card for the season to save money on every purchase. Accepted at both Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, the card has no blackout dates and there are even a couple of weeks where you can ski/ride free. Check out the savings here.

In addition to that deal, check out all the deals and packages each resort has going on right now. You can get a $20 gift card if you stay midweek and enjoy shorter lines! Seniors can also ski free midweek. For Boyne Highlands, if you are looking for a fun vacation President’s Day weekend, look no further than the ski and stay package! If you have young children age 8 or under and stay with Boyne Highlands, they can ski and stay for free!

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Photo Courtesy of Facebook fan Scott Maginnis

Holland

Holland, known for its Dutch history, is a fantastic place to visit on your Pure Michigan Snow Day! There are several fun activities such as concerts, theatrical performances and visiting the boutiques and galleries.

There are several discounts and promotions on lodging and travel to Holland. You can save 20% with Amtrak on the Pere Marquette, making it even easier and cheaper to take a trip. Many packages are available at Country Inn & Suites or CityFlats Hotel, including a Romance or Hanky Panky (ha!) package perfect for Valentine’s Day or even celebrating an anniversary!  Be sure to check out the other lodging options that will help you have the perfect trip.

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Photo Courtesy of Shanty Creek

Shanty Creek

Shanty Creek is a four-season resort featuring 72 holes of championship golf on four different courses, 53 ski runs on two mountains, and 30 km of cross-country skiing. There is a ton of lodging choices that fit everyone’s budget. With Valentine’s Day coming up, they also have special romance ski packages!

Shanty Creek also has a bunch of great deals this season. For example, to support “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month”, children ages 8 and under will receive a complimentary season pass after taking a lesson from their Ski School.  If you’re in college, Shanty Creek provides a discounted College Student Season pass as well as College Week Specials!

Be sure to speak to a Shanty Creek reservation specialist while booking your trip, so they can work with you to try and save even more money!

Ski Free with Shell Gas

Last, but not least, one of the best deals this season comes from something you probably already do: buying gas! If you buy 10 gallons of fuel from a participating Shell gas station, you will have the opportunity to purchase one full price adult lift ticket and receive one free. Be sure to check out the website and find a participating Shell station. There is an extensive list of Michigan locations as well as over 20 ski resort participants including Crystal Mountain, Mt. Zion, Treetops Resort and many more!

For more great deals and packages, check out the packages and deals page on Michigan.org 

Do you know of any other money-saving deals helpful planning for a Pure Michigan Snow Day? Comment and let us know!