6 Traverse City Winter Activities to Cross Off Your Snow Day Bucket List

Traverse City is ready for snow! Guest blogger Mike Norton from Traverse City Tourism shares some suggestions for your next Traverse City snow day.

Skiiers and snowboarders walking at the base of a ski hill at Mt. Holiday
Mt. Holiday | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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Traverse City is full of opportunities for outdoor winter fun. Each winter, this region’s gently sculpted landscape (carved 15,000 years ago by the last retreating glaciers of the Ice Age) becomes a playground for skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoe hikers. Like me, they consider it one of the country’s most beautiful winter destinations.

1. Hit the Slopes with Skiing and Snowboarding or “Silent Sports”  

For skiers and snowboarders, our premiere winter destination is undoubtedly Shanty Creek Resorts, a 4,500-acre recreational complex in the beautiful Chain of Lakes region, about 30 miles northeast of town. Shanty’s two ski areas, Schuss Mountain and Summit Mountain, provide 53 downhill slopes, six terrain parks, 30km of cross country Nordic trails, and a multi-lane alpine tubing park.
A lot of other skiers and snowboarders have discovered the fun of staying closer to town, taking advantage of low lodging rates and a broad choice of shopping, dining and entertainment options while skiing at TC’s two day ski areas, Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills.
Still, for me (and for many others) this area is loved mostly for the quality of its winter “silent sports” -- snowshoeing and cross-country skiing -- thanks to its vast acreage of forest and parkland. Just one example – and one of my favorites: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has eight marked trails, like the Empire Bluff Trail, or try the Pelizzari Natural Area. Within the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features superb snowshoeing among century-old, castle-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

2. Try Your Hand at Snowmobiling

Snowmobilers tend to head south and east of town to more than 200 miles of the country’s finest and most diverse snowmobiling. The Boardman Valley Trail, just minutes from downtown, is an 81-mile trail system in the Pere Marquette State Forest, where sightings of turkeys, eagles, deer and other wildlife are commonplace. The Jordan Valley Trail, about a half-hour to the northeast, is a network featuring over 130 miles of spectacular trails not far from Shanty Creek and the picturesque village of Bellaire.

3. Go Snow Tubing and Sledding or Fat Biking

Traverse City is also becoming a hub for one of the newest winter sports: fat biking. Fat bikes are specially-adapted mountain bikes with large tires that can actually allow you to ride over the snow, and over the past two years they’ve become part of the local winter landscape. Try the Vasa Pathways at Timber Ridge RV Resort when you hit the tracks. 
You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy winter recreation in Traverse City. Lots of us have discovered that there are plenty of thrills to be had while snow tubing. Tubing has all the thrilling speed of a toboggan or sled, but you get to sit in the middle of a big soft inner tube and ride down a groomed hill where there are people keeping an eye on you. And when you get to the bottom, there’s a towline waiting to take you back to the top so you can do it all over again.
As it happens, the largest tubing hill in Michigan is at TimberLee Hills, a former ski resort in the hills just northwest of town (On clear days, it has breathtaking views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Leelanau). Lots of local ski resorts also have tubing hills; Shanty Creek Resorts, for instance, has a sophisticated tubing park just above their Cedar River lodge. Mt. Holiday Ski Area also has a dedicated tubing park. All three have mechanical lifts, which helps you make the most of your allotted time. These things are popular, especially on weekends and school snow days, so they can get busy!

4. Zip Around on a Winter Zipline

Mt. Holiday has yet another winter activity available for winter fun: a zipline system that lets you soar through the air above the ski slopes. Its “Green Zipper” is a two-station zipline (the first leg is 288 feet and then second is 306 feet) and its new 10-station zipline has a total of over 4,000 feet of cable. You have to make advance reservations for both of them, and you need to be part of a group of at least four people.

5. Shop Til You Drop 

Explore downtown Traverse City and visit local shops for hand-made goods and local favorites. Or head to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, full of boutique shops, wine and food stops and worth visiting just to take in the architecture.  

6.  Take a Wine Tour

Traverse City’s wine businesses don’t stop when the cold season hits! The area is home to delicious, sweet, ice wine. Book some transportation then go from winery to winery the next wintery day. 
About the Author: Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and snowshoer, he lives in the village of Old Mission.