MICHIGAN—Hibernation is for rookies. Michiganders who crave the outdoors know that winter offers a transformative and completely new landscape to explore, as brief and as special as summer. From the rugged coastline of Lake Superior to the rolling hills of the Lower Peninsula, whether on snowshoes, skis, or simply your own two feet, experts say you need just three things to really enjoy a long winter hike: the right gear, the right attitude, and a plan.
Start by checking weather and trail conditions before venturing out. Remember to always Leave No Trace, and consider following up with whatever inspires you to help protect these public spaces for generations to come.
Before you hit the trails, allow us to suggest the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as your guide: “Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear has grown familiar with your song; I hear it in the opening year, I listen, and it cheers me long.”
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Legendary in any season and the jewel of Michigan, the dunes at Sleeping Bear offer perhaps the most unique and challenging winter hiking experience that should be on your ‘Gander bucket list. The trails to the Big Lake can sometimes be steep and slippery, but the views are well worth it. Plan to navigate a few nature-always-wins-challenges, or have an experienced friend along as a guide. Don’t miss out on the dozens of fascinating side-hikes for any ability that pop up along the way. After the view of Lake Michigan, they’re what make this practically cinematic treasure so special.
The Sleeping Bear Point Trail is a 2.5-mile loop offering stunning views of the lake and surrounding dunes—plus it’s a great place to watch for wildlife. Well-maintained and easy to navigate, it’s a smart option for hikers of any ability level, including kids and leashed dogs.
At 1.5 miles round-trip, the Empire Bluff Trail takes you to the top of Empire Bluff, where you’ll find panoramic views of the lake and the countryside. Moderate in difficulty, with some steep sections, it’s perfect for that “I gotta burn some Ks” determination that follows a month of holiday treats.
Thunder Bay Island
If the sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and dense forest hiking opportunities don’t hook you, then maybe the chance to encounter rare and endangered species in your own home state might. One of eight islands in the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Thunder Bay is on the Mitten’s sunrise side, and is also home to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. What’s more, a roadtrip to Alpena is delightful—especially when combined with a post-hike pint at Austin Bros. Brewery.
Tawas Point State Park
Stretched along the shores of Lake Huron’s Tawas Bay, these trails and state park are famed for birdwatching, with over 250 species recorded so far.
Open year-round, including a campground and visitor center managed by the Michigan DNR, there are multiple trails through forests, along the water, and even to the top of the Tawas Point Lighthouse. Visitors say they’re relatively easy to navigate, and the views of Lake Huron have been officially deemed stunning by the Instas.
Wilderness State Park
Carp Lake outside Mackinaw City
Just southwest of The Mighty Mac, this unbelievable winter adventure zone includes all kinds of trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing with some of the most beautiful views looking Up North(er) that you’ve ever seen. From the 3.5-mile Beach Trail to the more challenging 5.5-mile Pine Ridge Trail, you’ll find yourself stunned at the secret you’ve just discovered. You know that feeling you get when you notice you’re standing on a tiny blue dot in the cosmos? That. Here.
The Porkies are famous for over 60 miles of trails set in the rugged wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Hiking the Porkies offers a chance to explore a challenging variety of terrain, including dense forests, rocky cliffs, and serene—often breathtaking—views of Lake Superior. Adventurers won’t want to miss the Manabezho Falls Trail, which leads to a stunning waterfall. No matter which trail you choose, be sure to bring lots of water, a map, and a good pair of broken-in hiking shoes, as the terrain can be craggy and the weather is often unpredictable.
The Lansing River Trail
Following the Grand and Red Cedar rivers through the city of Lansing, the Lansing River Trail system exudes a unique mix of urban and natural landscapes. Well-maintained and easy to navigate, it’s a great local favorite for exercise year-round.
Approximately 12 miles long, it’s free to use—and it’s a strong symbol of urban redevelopment in Michigan, providing public good right in our state capital.
The Fred Meijer Heartland Trail
Grand Rapids to Cadillac
Spanning more than 120 miles from Grand Rapids to Cadillac, and passing through forests, wetlands, and small towns, this amazing trail is well-maintained and easy to navigate, and it’s a great place to get some fresh air in the winter.
Named after Fred Meijer, a Michigan businessman and philanthropist who was instrumental in the development of the trail, it’s a popular winter destination for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Open to the public year-round, there is no fee to use the trail, although there are some small parking fees at a few trailheads.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Located on the “Art Coast” of Lake Michigan and offering a variety of beautiful landscapes and natural areas for day hikes, climbs, and views, the terrain around Saugatuck Dunes will delight any winter hiker. Much more accessible than national parks, the outdoor experiences near Saugatuck-Douglas are just as fun. We recommend capping off your day with a cocktail in any of the great bars and restaurants lining the downtown areas of both villages.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park is a local go-to with over 2,000 combined acres of possible escapes and hidden gems woven through the inland forests.
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Among the more classic YOLO moments to be had: conquering the 303 wooden steps of Mount Baldhead. Don’t be deterred if you’re a little out of shape—everyone stops to catch their breath as they go, and it’s a famously judgement-free climb. Once on top, the reward is one to remember: Lake Michigan’s wild winter coastline. On your way back down, look for lovers’ initials carved in the wooden stair rails, and give yourself a high five for scoring winter bragging rights.
Looking for a simpler path? The Ox-Bow County Park right next door offers a variety of low-key trails that wind through woods, wetlands, and meadows home to wildlife of all kinds.
— Update: 12-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Beat the Snow: Last-Minute Fall Hiking in Michigan from the website www.awesomemitten.com for the keyword best winter hikes in michigan.
The weather changes are becoming more and more prevalent, which means that soon “The Mitten” will be covered with a white blanket of crystalized snow. However, all is not lost because there is time before that happens to get out and enjoy the last few weeks of hiking without breaking out your mittens, boots, and snow pants. Whether you’re an amateur hiker or professional backpacker, there are trails across the state to keep you occupied before the first blizzard comes rumbling in. The beaches may not be warm enough for swimming, and you may need a hot chocolate after returning to your car, but late autumn is the perfect time to find yourself on normally crowded routes in complete solitude. Here are our top picks for last-minute fall hiking in Michigan…
Hike Sugarloaf Mountain
Offering stunning views of Lake Superior, Marquette, and the vast Upper Peninsula wilderness, Sugarloaf Mountain is a short-but-steep hike with tremendous rewards.
Just outside of Marquette lies a trailhead with easy parking and clear signs to the top of one of the most famous mountains in Michigan. Although the hike is less than a mile, some come unprepared for the steepness to make it to the summit. However, with a couple breaks and patience, the view at the top is better than any picture could portray.
Hikers are welcome and the reward is a 360 degree, unobstructed view of the surrounding region: islands dot Lake Superior off the coast of Presque Isle Park and many of the Marquette streets are hidden by thick tree coverage. Other than a small factory sticking out from above the treeline, you can look around and you may just feel like the only person on the planet – a peacefulness like that is hard to find in today’s world.
Hike Pyramid Point
Always a beautiful sight, rain or shine, Pyramid Point, near Sleeping Bear Dunes, is a short but stunning hike that leads to bluffs of towering sand dunes. Part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it gives stunning views of both North and South Manitou Islands and allows hikers a once-in-a-lifetime sunset location high over Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
The uphill trail winds through wind-blown forests, and during the summer, these trails are packed with tourists ready to adventure, but in late-autumn prepare to be completely alone in the beauty of Northern Michigan. The trail is no more than a couple miles, and even with the occasional hill on the path, almost anyone can find their way to the finish.
It is one of the coolest places to watch a storm roll in over Lake Michigan. A chill in the fall air, the blue tint of the lake, and a dark grey cloud looming in the distance is guaranteed to make an awe-worthy picture fit for a frame.
Hike The Ledges
Along Grand River, on the outskirts of Lansing, sits a hiking path famous among rock climbers for being home to the only natural rock climbing walls in the lower peninsula. Other than locals and climbing junkies, the small and simple trail remains relatively empty and uncrowded during the off season. It’s the perfect place for a short hike before the rain turns to snow. The path along the river weaves in and out of rock formations with some walls towering as high as thirty feet.
To access the cliffs, visitors can park on either side of the river at Fitzgerald Park or Oak Park. The hike is short and flat and is fit for anyone opting for a short outside adventure. Once finished in the cool autumn air, you can head to the Log Jam restaurant in downtown Grand Ledge for good food and a warm atmosphere.
Hike Lake of the Clouds
Lake of the Clouds, situated in the northwestern tip of Michigan, can be an afternoon stop or weekend adventure. Autumn brings massive crowds to witness the spectacle of fall foliage. From Chicago to Minneapolis and Detroit, the parking lot is guaranteed to be full every day in October.
Once the leaves have reached their peak, the tourists thin and the area becomes a silent mountain escape. A chill November day with the first dusting of Upper Peninsula snow is a sight not to be missed. Although, by this time, there is hardly anyone to witness it.
The top observation deck to Lake of the Clouds is a mere 400-foot walk on a wooden platform and provides easy access and a remarkable view. However, there are backwoods cabins and trails that wind through the entire Porcupine Mountain State Park area. These trails encompass layered hikers on a day stroll, taking them down to the lake, up to seemingly abandoned peaks, and through the silent paths hearing nothing but the crunch of newly fallen leaves beneath hiking boots.
Hike Tawas Point
Situated on Lake Huron, Tawas Point is a Michigan gem not to be missed. The point is home to the Tawas Point Lighthouse, which in itself is worth a visit from every Michigander. The small strip of land juts out into Lake Huron and the small hiking path leads out to the very tip. At the end, a small sandbar juts out into the lake for a few dozen feet before giving way to the waves that crash in.
Part of Tawas State Park, going in the off-season has its perks of no visitors and no fee to get into the park. The trail also is a nature path that points out various birds and plants that are commonly spotted along the trail. A place to watch a Michigan sunrise in solitude and even a possible fox joining you and running down the beach.
Where are some of your favorite places to hike in Michigan before the snow starts to settle on The Mitten? Let us know!
— Update: 13-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 48+ BEST Things to Do in Michigan In Winter (2023) from the website mymichiganbeach.com for the keyword best winter hikes in michigan.
Winter in Michigan
There’s nothing quite like wintertime in Michigan, when the frozen lakes and fresh snowfall turn the whole state into a sparkling winter wonderland.
Along the Great Lakes coastlines, the icy-blue water rolls onto the shores and piles up to create naturally-spectacular scenery that is both breathtaking and other-worldly.
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The rolling hills and forests are also softly blanketed in snow and make a giant winter playground for kids and adults alike.
Winter is a great time to travel Michigan, exploring some favorite places, and discovering new ones. It’s a great time to try some unique winter activities in Michigan, too.
Whether you cozy up in a snug mountain resort , take in a snowy winter festival of head to a winter sports park, a visit in Michigan during the cooler months is a great idea..
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Michigan in winter (including some indoors ideas, too!).
Plan a Michigan Winter Road Trip
It’s a great time for a Michigan winter getaway: many popular vacation destinations, swarming with visitors in the summer months, are less-crowded.
You can roam freely through Michigan beach towns and charming resort towns, exploring the shops and boutiques, cafes and restaurants, and craft breweries and wineries without a wait.
It’s nice to be able to chat with local shopkeepers and restaurant owners and learn more about each area, too. I’ve learned more than one best-kept Michigan secret destination this way…maybe you will, too!
This adorable little town on Michigan’s blue thumb coast is a slice of Pure Michigan small-town charm. Set on the shores of Lake Huron, it’s a beautifully manicured spot with a Main Street featuring its own General Store (of course) and a gorgeous harbor.
I love to bundle up and walk the wide pier the juts out into the Lake and take in the sweeping vistas of Lake Huron. It’s a Michigan winter-must especially if you’re in southeast Michigan: Lexington is just an hour’s drive from the metro Detroit area.
If you’ve visited world-famous Oval Beach in the summer, it won’t surprise you to know that this popular southwest Michigan beach is just as stunning in the winter.
Not only can you roam the wide Lake Michigan shoreline almost alone during the winter, you can also duck into some of the boutiques and restaurants that stay open year-round, and do some shopping. This is a perfect spot for a romantic winter getaway in Michigan, here’s some of our favorite hotels and Bed and Breakfast’s in Saugatuck.
Hint: Saugatuck is in the middle of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Winter is a great time for some wine tours, when you can linger without crowds.
Lovely Leelanau Peninsula is the home of charming Suttons Bay, set on the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. Just a short ride north of Traverse City, Sutton’s Bay, with its cute boutiques, gourmet restaurants and amazing fudge shop (we’re looking at YOU, Murdick’s), is one of our favorite spots for a quick Michigan winter road trip.
After you’ve spent some time exploring the 1.5 miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails in Bahle Park, head to Hot Lot Brewing, where you can relax in your very own igloo and enjoy some craft beer and cider.
Okay, you might have already seen pictures, but when Marquette Harbor freezes over turn Lake Superior into a GIANT ice skating rink, it’s time to head to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Marquette is an outdoor-lovers paradise and in the the winter it’s no different: the Noquemanon Trail network provides almost 75 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking. You’ll also find endless miles of snowmobile trails to explore.
When you’re through head into hip and historic downtown Marquette for food and drink, and if you’re really brave, check out the haunted Landmark Inn.
More Great Places for a Michigan Winter Road Trip
- Traverse City
- St. Joseph
- Kitch-Iti-Kipi near Manistique
Winter Hiking Along Michigan’s Frozen Great Lakes
The awesome beauty of Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreline increases in the winter months, when the stillness of the shore contrasts with the wild waves to produce a breathtaking landscape.
Shoreline hikes can reveal beautiful pieces of rocks and stones on the frozen beach, polished by years of tossing in the freshwater sea. Driftwood – even pieces of sunken ships forgotten by time- washes up on shore after a rough journey through the waves.
As a child, I would venture out ever-so carefully a few feet on to a frozen Lake Huron, looking for spots where the clear ice provided a window into the sea life below.
Here are some of my favorite winter hiking trails:
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Home to endless miles of hiking trails, the 35-miles long stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has many trails for winter hiking.
While the Dune Climb and Pyramid Point are picturesque, our favorite winter hiking trail is the 1.5-mile Empire Bluff Trail. Heavily trafficked in the summer, in the winter you’ll have this trail pretty much to yourself.
Follow the well-marked trail through a hardwood forest until it opens into spectacular views of Lake Michigan and South Bar Lake.
Rosy Mound Natural Area in Grand Haven
It’s about a mile hike from the parking lot to Lake Michigan through wooded and open dunes, and you’ll be rewarded with a miles of Lake Michigan shoreline to explore.
Be aware the hike includes about 350 stairs to a stunning dune lookout, but if you’re up to the trip, it’s a simply amazing view.
Negwegon State Park
This remote state park along Lake Huron just south of Alpena is somewhat of a legend; it was one Michigan’s only unmarked state park until a few years back.
It’s ever more remote in the winter and the stillness is mesmerizing. You’ll find 12 miles of hiking trails, leading through deep woods and miles of Lake Huron coastline.
We like the 3.3-mile Potawatomi trail that takes you alongside Lake Huron where you can explore the tiny inlets and bays.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
If you think those colorful sandstone cliffs are pretty in the summer, wait until you see them blanketed in white snow against a backdrop of dark, blue Lake Superior.
Use Munising as your home base to start exploring the 42-mile-long national lakeshore, where you’ll find stunning ice formations, frozen waterfalls and breathtaking scenery an icy Lake Superior.
Wagner Falls is a short hike (about ¼ miles) and best of all, you can bring your pup. You’ll find a peaceful waterfall of about 20 feet high – a perfect picture of Michigan during winter.
More Great Places for A Winter Hike in Michigan
- Port Crescent State Park in Port Austin
- Corsair Hiking and Cross Country Skiing Trail in Oscoda
- Keweenaw Trails in Calumet
Tour Michigan’s Frozen Lighthouses
Michigan’s lighthouses have stood the test of time: braving years of snow, rain and other cold lake-effect weather to act as a beacon of safety for sailors battling the fierce Great Lakes.
See these historic lighthouses in the winter, when the bright red-and-black-painted structures stand out starkly from the bright white snows and provide a picturesque setting against the frozen landscape.
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Lake Michigan landmarks like the historic Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort and the St. Joseph Pierhead Light are worth a visit in the winter just to see and experience the raw winter beauty of the area.
On Lake Huron, historic Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron (Michigan’s oldest Lighthouse) and the Tawas Point Lighthouse are both beautiful spots with grounds to hike in the winter.
Farther north on Lake Huron, the Cheboygan Crib Light stands at the mouth of the Cheboygan River and overlooks the Straits of Mackinac and serves as centerpiece of the charming lakeside town.
In the winter month, the neatly-kept Lake Huron lighthouse is a striking vision as it overlooks a vast frozen sea of snow and ice.
In the Upper Peninsula, the Marquette Harbor Light and the Whitefish Point Lighthouse are worth a road trip to see in the Winter. If you go to Whitefish Point, plan an extra day to check out nearby Tahquamenon Falls, where you can take an unforgettable dog sled ride through the pristine forest at Natures Kennels Sled Dog Racing.
PLEASE Remember to NEVER walk on piers in the winter or in wet weather: not only do you endanger yourself, you endanger the lives of first responders who may have to rescue you.
Experience Michigan Blue Ice, Ice Caves and More Strange Ice Phenomena
Explore Michigan’s Frozen Great Lakes
Along the Great Lake’s Michigan coast, small mountains of ice can form in areas where the water is shallow enough to freeze, creating little ice caves and snowy peaks.
An endless, frozen tundra effect is created as the lake’s opposite shores are out of sight – almost like a mystical landscape from a Star Wars movie.
In recent winters, both Lake Michigan and Lake have experienced a rare and unique occurrence: an amazingly spectacular natural phenomena known as Blue Ice.
Blue Ice on the Great Lakes
Mysterious Blue Ice – great mounds of cracked ice that give the impression of giant piles of frozen sea glass – can grow to three stories tall. While Blue Ice is much more common on glaciers in Antarctica and the North Pole, these great mountains of ice have collected near the Great Lakes shoreline in recent years.
The brilliant blue of the ice gives off a beautiful glow – much to the delight of the throngs of visitors and photographers who take in the amazing spectacle. According to scientists, the ice is not actually blue: it just appears blue because of how light is reflected on it.
The beautiful frozen slabs of deep, translucent azure ice stacking up along the frozen shores can be even more mysterious, disappearing as quickly as they melt away under the sun.
See Strange Michigan Ice Phenomena
In west Michigan, along the Grand Haven and Holland shoreline – not far from Grand Rapids – ice balls- a rare Michigan ice phenomenon that you can read about HERE form along the shoreline.
In places like Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you’ll find a true winter wonderland in the form of a frozen waterfall or two.
Want to explore ice caves? Head to the U.P. and the Eben Ice Caves south of Au Train for a real “Frozen” experience…park, grab some hot chocolate from the concession stand, walk the short trek through the woods and into the word of winter in Michigan.
Try Some New Winter Activities in Michigan
You can chase away the winter blues with exhilarating outdoors activities, and thanks to La Nina, the Michigan winter outlook and climate prediction promises to be perfect for winter snow sports in January and February.
The cold weather in winter time is a perfect excuse for a Michigan winter vacation: the frozen lakes and snow-covered hills offer endless opportunity for fun.
From ice fishing and snowmobiling; snow tubing to ice climbing, fat tire biking and snowshoeing, winter in Michigan is a paradise of outdoors fun.
Oh, and if you’re really brave and looking for unforgettable winter adventures, you can try a real Olympic-style luge in Muskegon. Head over to the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park for tons of winter sports fun. In addition to the Muskegon luge, you’ll find hiking trails, ice rinks and more.
Find more about these amazing winter things to do here:
Cross Country Skiing in Michigan
Fat Tire Biking in Michigan
Snow Tubing in Michigan
Snowshoeing in Michigan
More Outdoor Things to Do in Michigan in the Winter
Skiing and Snowboarding in Michigan
For outdoor enthusiasts, Michigan is a giant, snowy playground with endless opportunity for fun. Skiers and snowboarders can find a variety of ski resorts with perfectly-groomed runs for all ages and abilities. Top Michigan Ski resorts include: Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain Resort, Caberfae, Crystal Mountain, Shanty Creek, Treetops and Ski Brule.
Snowmobiling in Michigan
With more than 6,500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails across the state of Michigan, sled-riders have an endless opportunity for fun under towering canopies of beautiful pines.
No snowmobile? No problem: some locations even provide access to snowmobile rentals. Looking to take in the stunning scenery along the trails? Try these locations:
Benzie County is home to 65 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
The Cadillac area in northwest Michigan has a vast trail system that spreads through the Huron Manistee National Forest with over 200 miles of groomed trails
In northeast Michigan, the Presque Isle area offers more than 132 miles of groomed trails set along a gorgeous Lake Huron landscape.
The Huron Snowmobile Trail, in the Tawas and Oscoda area is the eastern gateway to trails across the state of Michigan.
Munising in Alger County is the snowmobile capital of the Midwest, with 300 miles of groomed trails
PRO-TIP: The Indy 500 Snowmobile Race is held in Sault Ste. Marie every winter and is one of the top winter events in the Upper Peninsula.
For more information on trail conditions for snowmobiling, check out the Michigan Sledhead Trail Report .
[Image: rocky shoreline in michigan in winter]
More Favorite Things to Do in Michigan During Winter
Go Michigan Rock Hunting – Did you know that winter is a great time to search for Petoskey Stones, Yooperlite, Leland Blues, Lake Superior Agates, and Charlevoix stones? The rough winter waves push rocks on to shore…get out there and start treasure hunting!
Take a Sleigh Ride – Load into a sleigh or horse-drawn carriage and take in the sites and sounds of Michigan winter.
Did we miss anything? What are some of your favorite things to do in Michigan in the winter? use the comment section below to let us know your favorite winter activities in Michigan!
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