Michigan and the In-Between: Exploring Off-Season in the Mitten

In the space that lies in between the height of winter and the start of spring, a magical time exists in Michigan.

Sleeping Bear Dunes covered in snow along Lake Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore | Photo Courtesy of Instagram Fan michiganskymedia

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During the off-season, places that are buzzing in the high season slow down to a low-key pace. While you may not find all the amenities that you would during the busier months, this season is a special time when you can arrive at your leisure and enjoy a place practically to yourself. 

Off-season bliss on Mackinac Island

The energy of this summer island dissolves into a hushed atmosphere, where fresh, cool air rolls off the water. Only about 500 residents live here year-round, so between November and April you’ll find yourself alongside the locals at the handful of restaurants and markets that remain open. There are no public restrooms open during this season, but several lodges, inns and B&Bs welcome guests to spend the night – and the deals are pretty sweet. Enjoy the island views, try cross-country skiing and fat tire biking in Mackinac Island State Park, and get around this car-free town in a horse-drawn carriage. If the Straits freeze over during your getaway, enjoy a unique aerial view of the Mackinac Bridge as you fly over the frozen landscape to the island.

Slow it down in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Bears may hibernate, but you’ll feel wide awake in this refreshing landscape that spans nearly 72,000 acres. If there’s snow on the dunes, you’re in for an epic adventure sailing down the hill. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is also open in the off-season, perfect for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing when the conditions are right. Discover panoramic views of Lake Michigan from the tops of the towering dunes just before spring is in full bloom. Come nightfall, clear skies sparkle, and you may even be fortunate enough to watch the fiery northern lights dance overhead from areas like Good Harbor Beach and Glen Haven.

Ever-evolving climbing conditions

While ice climbing is naturally synonymous with a deep winter freeze, the experts say there’s something special about the slight shifting of the seasons. Crampons and ice axes enter more easily when the ice is not rock solid. However, if you’re not an experienced climber, we always recommend going with a guide who can gauge whether the conditions are safe. At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sand Point is the most accessible spot – with towering ice columns and blue ice curtains all along the escarpment. Pay attention to temporary closures, which can be a result of snowmelt or foot traffic having an impact on the environment.

The right weather for wine tasting

It’s never a bad time to go wine tasting, but there is something comforting about cozying up in a tasting room with a flight of wines poured before you. The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail is home to 90% of Michigan’s vineyards, where the climate produced by the freshwater lake nurtures grapes and protects them from extreme temperatures. Visit any number of vineyards and wineries to enjoy warm hospitality and award-winning wines.

When you’re ready to spring into the next season, find more than 20 things to do in Michigan on our Ultimate Spring Bucket List.