Ice-glazed lighthouses. Glittering ice caves. Snowshoeing between wineries. A Bavarian village? Michigan in the winter is a surprisingly cozy blend of vibrant cities, charming towns, and a pristine wintry wonderland. The long, cold, and — yes, snowy — winters are ideal for exploring blanketed trails, cozying up in a fascinating museum, and warming up with a drink in a heated igloo.
You might know Michigan for its growing reputation for being an idyllic summer destination. With its vast Great Lakes, Caribbean-like inland lakes, and sugar-sand beaches, the state welcomes a lot of tourists when it’s warm and sunny. But winter in Michigan is an unexpected — and fantastic — winter destination, too.
In the midst of winter, thick snowflakes pour from the sky and the coastline transforms into a wonderland of ice. Big cities and small towns sparkle in twinkling lights and snowy magic, bringing a festive energy to the long, northern nights.
With such an intense winter, Michigan residents just have to embrace it. Skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, snow sculpting, winter festivals— if there’s anything that’s quintessentially “winter,” you can do it, see it, eat it, or drink it in Michigan.
So let’s check out the most beautiful places to visit in Michigan in the winter!
Looking for more winter travel inspiration? Take a look at some of our other winter posts to help you plan your winter getaway:
- 8 Magical Winter Getaways in Ontario
- 43 Cozy Things to do in Chicago in the Winter
- 14 Things to Do in Montreal in the Winter
Need a handy dandy checklist to help you pack? We’ve got a printable version of our Cold Weather packing list that includes EVERYTHING you’ll need for your trip to Ontario in the winter. Sign up in the box below and we’ll deliver it right to your inbox. Just call us the fairy godmother of packing lists!
Printable Winter Packing List
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Travel Tips for Michigan in the Winter
Before making reservations, know what to expect when traveling through Michigan in the winter.
How cold does it get in Michigan in the winter?
Temperatures and snowfall vary across the state of Michigan, but you can count on cold and snowy weather throughout most of the winter. In Marquette, the Upper Peninsula’s biggest city, the average high doesn’t exceed freezing during the winter. In the southeast corner of the state’s Lower Peninsula, Detroit’s average winter highs hover in the low- to mid-thirties.
Michigan also experiences lake-effect snow — a winter weather phenomenon common in the Great Lakes region. When cold air from the north passes over the massive Great Lakes, warmer air and moisture rise, cool, and form clouds that can drop a lot of snow in a short amount of time.
Because of wind patterns, the western side of Michigan gets more lake-effect snow than the eastern side. Marquette, which sits on Lake Superior’s southern shore, gets a whopping 150 inches of snowfall each year. And the Keweenaw Peninsula — the little finger of land reaching north into Lake Superior — gets even more.
All this to say, you should prepare for snow and cold on your winter visit to Michigan, but you’ll be wowed by a fresh snowfall and frozen beaches!
Who are the original inhabitants of Michigan?
The three largest groups of Indigenous Peoples in Michigan are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi. Together, they’re known as the Anishanabe, meaning “original people.” These three tribes have a partnership known as the Three Fires, which unites them in common language, culture, and traditions.
Today there are twelve federally recognized tribes and four state recognized tribes in Michigan.
Where’s the best place to fly into Michigan?
Detroit is the best option for flying into Michigan. It’s the biggest (by far) and most accessible airport in the state.
It also makes a great start/endpoint for a trip around the state. If you want to stay here at any point on your trip (we definitely recommend it!) look to stay in the Downtown, Corktown, or Midtown neighborhoods.
If your trip will center around West Michigan, you could consider flying into Grand Rapids. The airport is much smaller (though very pleasant), but would save you a long drive across the state.
We recommend using Kayak to compare flights from both airports and find which has the better deal.
How do I get around Michigan in the winter?
If you’re planning to visit multiple cities or regions within Michigan, you definitely need a car. On the other hand, if you limit your visit to one of the biggest cities — like Detroit or Grand Rapids — you can see a lot without a car. Walking, public transit, and rideshare programs make getting around easy in these two cities.
If you’re driving to or through Michigan in the winter, take extra precautions. Sudden snowstorms and blizzards can cause whiteouts and slick roads in an instant. Always check the forecast before driving, and take winter weather warnings seriously.
If you rent a car, it’s worth picking (and paying extra) for one that can handle winter driving. Cars with four-wheel drive, high clearance, or even snow tires can make all the difference. We recommend using Kayak or DiscoverCars to compare car rental deals and find the best one for your trip – and book with a travel credit card that includes primary rental insurance, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (our favorite travel credit card – here’s why).
Last, if you plan to visit both the Upper and Lower Peninsula, you’ll be crossing the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge — also known as the “Mighty Mac” and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.
Driving the bridge over the Straits of Mackinac is an adventure for some and a nightmare for others. If you fall into the latter category, you can let someone else do the driving while you
curl up in a ball in the backseat calmly enjoy the ride. The Mackinac Bridge Authority offers a driver assistance program, where someone can drive you and your car across the bridge for $10.
The Best Places to Experience Winter in Michigan
With two snowy peninsulas full of charming towns, beautiful countryside, and wintry magic, there is no shortage of seasonal charm in Michigan.
Below are our favorite places to enjoy the best attractions, activities, sights, and festivities that a Michigan winter entails.
Petoskey and Harbor Springs: A Moutain Resort Retreat
The northwest tip of Michigan’s mitten – that’s the lower peninsula for the uninitiated – is home to some of the most beautiful lakeside towns in the state. Full of tourists in the summer, the neighboring resort towns of Petoskey and Harbor Springs are snowy, quiet, and quaint in the winter.
Sitting on opposite sides of Little Traverse Bay, these two little outposts are popular among skiers and snowboarders – at night, you can see the other town’s lights across the water. But it’s not just the snow that makes this area so lovely.
A quick jaunt around either’s sleepy winter downtown will remind you of a literal Christmas card: locals huddled over their drinks in a cozy pub, kids bundled up for the snow like amorphous blobs, and garland-wrapped gas lamps lighting up the snowy streets.
Here are our favorite things to do in Petoskey and Harbor Springs in the winter:
- Hit the Slopes: With all the snow that falls in Michigan, the state’s got its fair share of ski resorts. Some of the best are set among the gorgeous lakeside hills near Petoskey. Boyne Mountain is 25 minutes south of Petoskey and offers 60 runs. Its sister resort, The Highlands at Harbor Springs, is 15 minutes north of Petoskey — and you can catch gorgeous Lake Michigan views from the top of the mountain on a clear day. Both Boyne Mountain and The Highlands have onsite lodging and dining. Just a mile away from the Highlands is Nub’s Nob, a no-fuss locals’ hill that’s known for having “the best snow in the Midwest.”
- Snowshoe Through an Enchanted Forest: When darkness falls, strap on your snowshoes (or you can also go without) and head into the woods for a magical adventure. The Enchanted Trail is a 2-mile path along a twinkling forest trail at The Highlands at Harbor Springs. Snowshoe through the snow-covered forest, guided by festive lights strung across the trees, and arrive at a winter celebration in the woods: a yurt complete with hot drinks, s’mores, and a bonfire.
- Stuff Your Face… With Chocolate: When you need a break from the cold outside, Kilwins (the original) is the place to be. You’ve probably seen Kilwin’s across the country, but this national chocolate empire has its humble beginnings in northern Michigan. The little town of Petoskey is home to the OG Kilwins shop downtown — and the Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen, where you can take a very chocolatey tour. The smells — of freshly made waffle cones, fudge, and caramel — are as good as the tastes.
- Warm Up With a Drink: After hitting the slopes, snowshoeing through the woods, or — let’s be real — eating an entire brick of Kilwins fudge, you’re probably ready to cozy up with a drink. While the towns in the “tip of the mitt” are small, they’ve got plenty of spots to grab a beer or a cocktail on a chilly winter evening. In Harbor Springs, find cocktails and small plates at the new One Thirty Eight Cocktail Lounge. And Petoskey’s Beards Brewery sits right on the bay, with killer views, pub fare, and a fire pit-and heater-adorned patio.
Where to Stay in Petoskey and Harbor Springs
- If your idea of a winter getaway includes a snowy cabin in the woods, look no further. The log cabin in the Tunnel of Trees is just as cute as it sounds. Located near the town of Harbor Springs, the cabin sits on one of Michigan’s most scenic roads and provides sweeping views of Lake Michigan. And bonus — it’s got a fireplace.
- The historic Perry Hotel has been impressing visitors with its grand elegance since 1899. With its location near the bay in downtown Petoskey, the views from the hotel — especially at sunset — are priceless.
Detroit, Michigan: The Music Lover’s Paradise
What began as a French settlement across the river from Canada has transformed over the years into a major US city. “Detroit” is a French name, meaning strait — describing the city’s geographic location between Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron. After 60 years of French rule, the city was turned over to the British, then on to the United States in 1796.
Soon after, Detroit burned almost to the ground in the Great Fire of 1805. Detroit, of course, was rebuilt, and the city’s motto captures the spirit of this revival: “We hope for better things: it will arise from the ashes.”
Today, Detroit is perhaps most famously known as Motor City and the hub of the automobile industry. But it’s known for a lot more than just cars. Music is a huge part of the city’s culture — and Detroit’s Motown legacy is a gift to us all!
Today the city offers fantastic museums, a rich art scene, a blossoming urban farming movement, and gorgeous architecture. A winter visit is the perfect time to both explore cozy museums and to bundle up for big city sightseeing.
Here are our favorite things to do in Detroit in the winter:
- Ice Skate at Campus Martius Park: You can’t beat a city dressed up for the holidays, and the vibe at Detroit’s Campus Martius Park is pure magic. The park is one of historical significance and national acclaim, recognized as the “Top Public Square” by USA Today in 2021. In the winter, take to the park with a pair of ice skates and glide under half a million twinkling holiday lights. The backdrop? Detroit’s grand and glowing skyline!
- Get to Know Michigan’s History: As Michigan’s biggest city, Detroit’s got rich history and culture that you really can’t ignore. Winter is the best time to warm up in one of the city’s famous museums. To gain a better understanding of this fascinating city, start with the Detroit Historical Museum. You probably already know some of Detroit’s musical legends (The Temptations, Eminem, Lizzo? They’re all from Detroit), but to dive deeper into Detroit’s musical legacy, you have to check out the Motown Museum housed in the original headquarters and studio of Motown Records. If you’re still up for more, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Arab American National Museum, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History are all fantastic choices.
- Visit Eastern Market: Eastern Market is everything a city market should be: vibrant, huge, and local. This 6-block market has been around since 1891, welcoming vendors and shoppers wanting to connect over fresh produce, meats, handmade goods, and of course, community. While a market might seem like more of a summer thing, winter means smaller crowds. While not everything will be available, you can still explore a large public market and get a hot lunch, too. It’s not all about shopping here, either. Seeing the market is an experience in itself, with lots of public art, events, and even tours to enjoy.
- Take a Tour: Bundle up and explore the city with a guide on this 2.5-hour walking tour. Detroit’s beautiful art deco architecture, complex history, and vibrant communities come to life on this tour. Meet your guide at Campus Martius Park, and explore stops at the GM Renaissance Center, Hart Plaza, and the Shinola Hotel.
Where to Stay in Detroit
Here’s where to base yourself during your stay in Detroit:
- Near downtown and all its attractions, the Corktown neighborhood is Detroit’s oldest and offers a fantastic food and drink scene. This Luxury Corktown Apartment was built in 1850 and remodeled in 2020 — it’s a gorgeous blend of historical charm and modern beauty reflecting the surrounding neighborhood.
- The midcentury, funky Siren Hotel sits in what was once one of the world’s largest music stores. This hip hotel is in the middle of all of the downtown action — close to the Fox Theater, the Opera House, and the big sports venues. In addition to the personality-filled rooms, you’ll find a candy-pink cocktail lounge, a coffee shop, a piano karaoke bar, and so much more.
Frankenmuth, Michigan: A Charming Bavarian Town
Frankenmuth, in east-central Michigan’s Saginaw Valley, is Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Immediately upon arriving in town, you’ll understand why. Frankenmuth began with a group of Bavarians sent over by a German pastor in 1845.
The idea was to bring a sense of German community (and of course, churches) to German pioneers who were struggling in the Midwest. They also wanted to convert the native Chippewa, who for the most part left the area after the Germans cleared the land for farming.
What started as a little German outpost in frontier Michigan is now a bustling Bavarian village with food and architecture to match (well, sort of — it’s still Michigan, not Germany).
In the wintertime, Frankenmuth shines. It truly is a holiday destination – and home to the world’s largest Christmas store – with snow sculptures, cozy, family-style dinners, and quaint German shops. Cover it in a blanket of snow, and you’ve got yourself a genuine holiday fairy tale!
Here are the best things to do in Frankenmuth in the winter:
- Celebrate Christmas: It doesn’t even have to be the holiday season for you to visit Bronner’s — it’s open year-round. But this Christmas store — the largest in the world — is certainly more magical in softly falling snow and twinkling holiday lights. This gigantic store has everything you could possibly need for your Christmas decorations and more. With an area of more than 5 football fields plus gigantic Santas and dozens of displays, this winter wonderland is a true holiday spectacle.
- Stuff Your Face With a Famous Chicken Dinner: Dinner in Frankenmuth is famous. And two competing restaurants — Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth and the Bavarian Inn — have been serving up the same classic meal for more than a century. Both restaurants serve all-you-can-eat dinners of mashed potatoes, fried chicken, soup, and much, much more, with a subtle German influence. Have dinner at both and join the classic Michigander debate over which is better.
- Shop Downtown Frankenmuth: Step back in time and across the Atlantic while shopping in Michigan’s Little Bavaria. German-inspired shops and architecture add some character to this little town’s shopping district. In addition to cuckoo clocks and quilts, you can shop for German favorites — sausage and cheese, anyone? — at one of more than 35 stores. Local Tip: Don’t miss Frankenmuth Cheese Haus!
- Attend Zehnder’s Snowfest: You’ve never seen snow sculptures like this before at Zehnder’s Snowfest, like a ten-foot-tall frog or an elaborate, kid-sized castle. This is more than just a festival, it’s also a collection of fierce competitions, including the State of Michigan Snow Sculpting Competition, the World Class Double & Single Block Snow Sculpting Contest, the 100-Block Ice Carving Competition, and – believe it or not – more. The festival takes place in the depths of winter, at the end of January.
Where to Stay in Frankenmuth
- The Historical Franklin House gives you plenty of winter comfort all within walking distance of downtown shops, restaurants, and bars. Cozy up by the adorable bay windows and watch the snow fall, or take a soak in the gorgeous bathtub to warm up after a chilly day in Frankenmuth!
- For a comfortable stay in the middle of the action, the Marv Herzog Hotel is a fantastic and affordable choice. A cozy lobby reflects the town’s Bavarian charm, and the rooms are clean and well-appointed. This hotel lacks the bustle of the famous Bavarian Inn’s waterpark, so unless waterslides are your thing, you’ll love the relative quiet at the Marv Herzog.
Kalamazoo, Michigan: The Craft Beverage Lover’s Paradise
The name “Kalamazoo” may have you tongue-tied — or perhaps wondering where the heck it came from. Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer. What we do know is this: Upon first being settled, the town was called Bronson.
The name came from the first white settler who made his home in the area. However, Bronson wasn’t a popular man (reports say he was eccentric and selfish, and possibly stole a cherry tree), and the town was renamed Kalamazoo. (Needless to say, Bronson quickly left town).
The origins of “Kalamazoo” are still unknown. The word is most likely rooted in the Native American word “Kikalemazo,” which appears in Potawatomi legend. There are several translations of the word, including everything from “place where the water boils” to “reflecting river.” Regardless, Kalamazoo is a much better name than Bronson, wouldn’t you say?
Names aside, Kalamazoo is the perfect place to cozy up during a winter trip. Known for its craft beverage scene — and no, not just beer — Kalamazoo is a hip, eclectic college town with both indoor and outdoor pursuits.
Here are the best things to check out in Kalamazoo:
- Go Tobogganing: If you’re seeking a thrill after a day of cozying up indoors, you can’t do much better than flying down the hill at Echo Valley Winter Sports Park! Hit speeds of 60 miles per hour on your toboggan — or, if you’re looking for something slightly less
terrifyinginvigorating, they offer tubing as well. Plan ahead, because Echo Park is only open on weekends (with some exceptions).
- Experience a Festival: Winter is long in Michigan, but that doesn’t mean we hibernate! Kalamazoo hosts the perfect wintertime festival to make this season special: in January, Kalamazoo Craft Beverage Week comes to town. This week-long festival celebrates this town’s passion for delicious, homemade beverages and the brewers, winemakers, and distillers behind them. Find specials and events like Beer Yoga, ‘cause why not?, all week long.
- Take a Tour: West Michigan Beer Tours offers walking tours year-round in downtown Kalamazoo. Though a small city, Kalamazoo has a big beer scene, and it comes alive on this tour. Stop at three favorite downtown breweries for a tasting with a side of history: that is, Kalamazoo’s craft beer history. If your tour doesn’t make it to Bell’s, make time to go – and check out the Eccentric Cafe location downtown. It’s one of Michigan’s most-loved breweries and can’t be missed when in Kalamazoo!
- Relax in a Coffee Shop: Take a brew tour of another kind — coffee! (Or tea, if that’s your…cup of tea). What better way to spend a snowy, winter afternoon than snuggled in a cozy coffee shop with a latte and a book? Kalamazoo is so chock-full of amazing coffee shops that you could do this at a different cafe for days on end. Make sure to check out Black Owl Café — it’s been voted Michigan’s best coffee shop and offers winter specialties like the warms-you-from-the-inside cardamom maple latte. Other great cafés include Chocolatea (not downtown, but worth a visit), Factory Coffee, and Rose Gold Coffee.
Where to Stay in Kalamazoo
- This Luxury Downtown Loft has giant, floor-to-ceiling windows providing unbeatable, snowy city views. The interior is clean and modern and the location is ideal for walking to downtown coffee shops and breweries.
- The elegant and ornate Kalamazoo House Bed and Breakfast has ten lovely guest rooms with private bathrooms — some with cozy fireplaces or jetted soaking tubs. There isn’t a better place to warm up after a cold day in Kalamazoo. The warmth of this Victorian house is as charming as it gets.
Holland, Michigan: A Truly Dutch Town
Known for its Dutch heritage, spring tulips, and — not joking — heated sidewalks (why these don’t exist in other Michigan towns is beyond me), Holland is a charming year-round destination on Michigan’s west coast.
Situated on Lake Macatawa just a couple miles from the big lake (Lake Michigan, that is), Holland boasts a quaint, small-town feel and beachy scenery that’s absolutely stunning in the winter.
While it’s no time to see tulips, winter in Holland means gorgeous views (and photo ops), snowshoeing and skiing, strolling downtown (remember, heated sidewalks), and of course, a trip to see an authentic Dutch Windmill.
- Explore Holland State Park: Holland State Park is a summertime paradise, but an absolute gem in winter, too. Known for pristine beaches, Lake Michigan views, and the iconic “Big Red” lighthouse, this park sparkles in wintry wonder. Don your warmest clothes for a walk along the beach, and pack your camera for some dramatic icy lighthouse shots.
- Shop (and sip) in Downtown Holland: Take advantage of those heated sidewalks by strolling through picturesque downtown Holland with a dark, wintry beer in hand, preferably while fluffy flakes of snow fall from the sky. Holland’s Social District allows you to sip and (window) shop — no alcohol allowed in the stores, sorry — the quaint downtown area, so long as you buy a drink from one of the participating businesses. New Holland Brewing, Big Lake Brewing, and Our Brewing Company are all great choices with have cozy pubs to escape the cold). Once you’ve finished your drink, be sure to head inside some favorite local shops, like the Apothecary Gift Shop, Reader’s World, and Garen Huis Yarn Studio.
- Take in the View at DeZwaan Windmill: This grand yet quaint DeZwaan Windmill came from the Netherlands in 1964, making it the only authentic, working Dutch windmill in the country. The windmill sits on the appropriately-named Windmill Island in the Macatawa River, making for a fantastic winter photo opp. In the summer, the windmill is framed by thousands of colorful tulips in the foreground — and while the blooms aren’t there in the winter, you can enjoy this picturesque scene without the crowds in its winter beauty.
Where to Stay in Holland
- This Downtown Cottage is steps from breweries, shops, restaurants, and the movie theater, but it’s got a private, homey feel. With a full kitchen and cozy living space, you can decide to stay in and relax at the end of the day or bundle up for an evening in town.
- For a luxury loft feel, the Teerman Lofts are in the center of everything — you can’t get closer to the festive charm of downtown Holland. The modern lofts are inside a historic building above the best shops, bars, and restaurants Holland has to offer. Also, a cute touch: each suite is named after a Michigan lake!
Grand Rapids, Michigan: An Artsy Winter Escape
Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest city, straddles the Grand River and is known for its beer, arts, and food scene. What’s not to like?
Known as “Beer City USA” (other cities try to claim the title, but GR is the real deal), Grand Rapids’ Beer City Ale Trail features more than 80 breweries. A trip to Grand Rapids isn’t complete without a thorough exploration of some of the country’s best breweries.
Art comes alive in Grand Rapids when the epic ArtPrize festival takes over the city in the fall. But you can still enjoy the city’s artwork in the winter, as many permanent installments have been created over the years. Plus, a new winter festival brings its own sparkling art to the long winter nights.
This vibrant, down-to-earth, West Michigan city is a fantastic destination any time of year, but it’s got some special charm when winter rolls around.
Our favorite things to do in Grand Rapids in the winter:
- Take a Tour on the Ale Trail in Beer City, USA. From big names like Founders to small, cozy joints like Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids has the brewery (and the beer) for any occasion. Take a Beer Tour to get a taste of some of the city’s best brews.
- Celebrate Christmas at Meijer Gardens. This botanical garden and sculpture park includes massive indoor gardens and conservancies, nature trails, and sculpture gardens and galleries. Each winter around the holidays, hundreds of thousands of bulbs illuminate the grounds in sparkly magic. Indoors, a beloved annual tradition takes over the gardens and galleries. Walk among almost fifty beautifully decorated trees representing different cultures around the world, then head into the indoor gardens to see the festive “Railway Garden,” where miniature trains wind their way past handcrafted replicas of city landmarks.
- Experience the World of Winter Festival: The 2-month-long World of Winter Festival lights up downtown Grand Rapids during the depths of winter. It’s basically a month-long celebration, bringing gorgeous, twinkling light installations, interactive artwork, and tons of events to the city. Stroll downtown to explore the art, stop for a hot bite at a food truck, and enjoy some of the festival’s events — like catching a pop-up concert, taking a downtown walking tour, or celebrating Winter Beerfest by grabbing a drink at an ice bar!
- Catch a Show: There’s something fun about dressing up and catching a show — a concert, musical, or ballet — during the winter season. Follow it up with a mug of hot cocoa and you’ve got yourself a lovely afternoon! Around the holidays, catch the Grand Rapids Ballet Nutcracker performance or see the Grammy Award-nominated Grand Rapids Symphony perform a holiday concert. Afterward, head to the luxurious and historic Amway Grand Plaza Hotel for a hot cocoa or a cocktail.
Where to Stay in Grand Rapids
- The new City Flats Hotel is a modern and eco-friendly option in downtown Grand Rapids. Plus, it’s gorgeous! Rooms are built and furnished with beautiful reclaimed wood, glass, and cork, and furnished with locally-made furniture.
- This downtown apartment is hard to beat with its bright, updated interior and prime location in the heart of the city. Walk to restaurants, museums, breweries, and even the river — this is a perfect home base for exploring the winter festivals and art displays in downtown Grand Rapids.
Traverse City, Michigan: A (Winter) Beach Getaway
Traverse City is situated at the foot of Grand Traverse Bay, about 20 miles east of some of the most beautiful Lake Michigan beaches. This small city is a summer haven for tourists coming from all over the Midwest and is known for its numerous lakes, fabulous wineries, and famous National Cherry Festival.
In the winter, tourism slows down and the town breathes again. Locals flock to cozy bars, snowy trails, and favorite shops. During the snowy season, the hilly farmland and dunes along the lakeshore welcome skiers, snowshoers, and wine lovers. Pubs and restaurants embrace the cold, welcoming chilly customers with fire pits and heated igloos.
Traverse City is also a great basecamp for exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — a summertime paradise that transforms into a winter wonderland.
With amazing access to winter trails and a fantastic food and drink scene, Traverse City is so much more than a summer destination (psst: take a look at our a summer guide to things to do in Traverse City!).
Here are our favorite things to do in Traverse City in the winter:
- Go Snowshoeing at a Winery: The latitude (45 degrees north) and the moderating effects of neighboring Lake Michigan make Traverse City a wine lover’s paradise. Winter is a charming time to visit some of the more than 40 wineries in the area — views of snow-covered vineyards and the blue waters of Grand Traverse Bay dominate. Why not combine the scenery and wine with an outdoor activity? Several wineries offer self-guided snowshoe tours around the wintry grounds, followed by a glass of wine in a cozy tasting room or heated patio. Check out the following tours: Vine to Wine, Snowshoe, Wine, and Brew, and Snowshoe, Vines & Wines.
- Explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Directly west of Traverse City you’ll find an untouched winter wonderland of snow-covered dunes, Narnia-like forests, and a deep blue inland sea. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the place to have a snowy outdoor adventure. Rent a pair of skis or snowshoes at Crystal River Outfitters and hit the trails or take on the dunes. Alternatively, grab a hot cocoa at Leelanau Coffee Roasting Co. in Glen Arbor and head over the Dune Climb — the one place that retains a crowd in the winter — and witness some of the most extreme sledding you’ll ever see.
- Sip Local Beer From Inside an Igloo: The neighboring village of Suttons Bay attracts a surprising number of winter visitors for a chance to hang out in a wooded, magical beer garden. At Hop Lot Brewing Company, you can choose between a cozy fire pit under strands of twinkling lights or a warm and inviting igloo — think literal snowglobe — from which you can watch the snow falling all around you. If that weren’t perfect enough, sip on a local beer or cider and warm up with a bowl of chili.
- Shop the Charming Downtown: Traverse City’s downtown is charming year-round with its location between rolling, forested hills and the stunning Grand Traverse Bay. Add in a fresh snowfall and the sparkling lights that adorn the streets in the winter, and it’s a postcard-perfect scene. Walk the small downtown area and stop in a few shops for local favorites: Cherry Republic for all things cherry (wine, hot cocoa, mustard, you name it), Horizon Books for bestsellers and local literature, West Bay Handmade for Michigan-inspired artwork, and Brew for a handcrafted espresso drink – spiked, if you like!
Where to Stay in Traverse City
- There’s a ton to see and do in downtown Traverse City, and staying at the Park Place Hotel means you’re close to it all. Just a block from the shopping and dining on Front Street, this newly renovated hotel is a wonderful and cozy basecamp for your winter adventures.
- You may never leave this Industrial-chic loft. The renovated apartment is part of a historic building within the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Bright, sunny, and modern, you’ll be tempted to stay in and relax. But the shops, restaurants and trails in the Village are steps outside your door!
Marquette, Michigan: A Nature Lover’s Sanctuary
The biggest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette is also the only U.P. destination on this list. That’s not to say there isn’t more worth exploring in the U.P. (da Yoop, as locals say), but Marquette is a great basecamp for exploring the best of this remote region.
Marquette sits on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the deepest, coldest, and most pristine of the Great Lakes. The natural beauty and the outdoor recreation opportunities are a major draw for many. However, the city got its start as an iron mining town, and the legacy of this past is obvious today.
In the Lower Harbor, one of Marquette’s famous Ore Docks is a sight you have to see – and quite literally can’t miss. Marquette served as a shipping port for iron ore, and these gargantuan docks have been aiding in the process since 1912. One of them is still an active dock, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a freighter in port!
While here, you’ll get a sense of the local U.P. culture. A distinct accent, an appreciation for the seasons (yes, even in a town that receives 150 inches of snow each year), and a sense of local pride sets this northern community apart. Even in the winter, Marquette’s got a unique magnetism that will have you planning your return trip in no time.
Here are our favorite things to do in Marquette in the winter:
- Hit the Trails: Marquette is known as a pristine destination for outdoor activities, and winter is no exception. When the snow falls (remember, 150 inches per year), the forested trails welcome cross-country skiers, fat tire bikers, and snowshoers. There are lots of trail systems near Marquette, but the Noquemanon Trail Network is hard to beat. With over 125k of groomed ski trails and 35 miles of winter single-track, these trails are the pride of local outdoor enthusiasts. Rent skis and snowshoes at Downwind Sports and fat tire bikes from MQT Bike Rental.
- Explore the Eben Ice Caves: Michigan is a land of water, and in the winter, that means ice. A special place just outside Marquette allows you to step into the real-life version of Frozen (singing optional). A short hike or snowshoe takes you to the Eben Ice Caves, where melting snow freezes as it seeps out of a cliff edge. With the help of traction cleats (like Yak Trax), you can actually walk behind the “caves” and channel your inner Elsa.
- Stuff Your Face With Yooper Favorites: The Upper Peninsula is known for more than long winters and funny accents. It’s got its own hearty, winter-appropriate cuisine you’ll have to sample while you’re here. Start with pasties at Jean Kay’s— these meat and veggie-filled pies are the size of your head and a (delicious) relic of the area’s mining history. You’ll find whitefish on the menu almost anywhere you go, but try the legendary whitefish bites (fried in beer batter) at The Vierling. Originally from Italy but now a U.P classic is the Cudighi sandwich, a type of Italian patty melt —try the one at Vango’s. Wash it all down with an al fresco beer at Blackrocks Brewery, and bundle up — when it’s winter half the year, you’ve got to embrace it!
- Take in the view from Sugarloaf Mountain: A few minutes drive outside downtown Marquette, a scenic, forested trail leads you to one of the grandest views in the state. Sweeping views of Lake Superior, the town of Marquette, the Huron Mountains, and Presque Isle Park dominate the horizon. It’s a short hike — but a steep one. Traction cleats are helpful, but you can hike the trail in your snow boots, too. In the winter, you’ll only be sharing the trail with a handful of other people rather than the busloads that show up in the summer.
Where to Stay in Marquette
- This modern downtown house is steps away from pubs, breweries, coffee shops, and shopping. You can’t beat the location or the cozy charm you’ll find inside.
- The Landmark Inn is in the midst of downtown and just a short walk from Lake Superior. This grand hotel has played host to some rather impressive guests — including Amelia Earheart and the Rolling Stones. Opening in 1930 as the Northland Hotel, the Landmark continues to offer luxurious accommodations while honoring Marquette’s rich history.
Mackinac Island, Michigan: The Idyllic American Town
Visiting Mackinac Island (pronounced “Mackinaw“) any time of year is like stepping back in time. This 4-square-mile island sits in the middle of Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Not only are cars banned from the island, but Mackinac is home to two historic forts and plenty of Victorian architecture.
This unique place has been on the country’s radar for a while: it was actually America’s second national park, after Yellowstone. It later became a Michigan State Park when the military closed Fort Mackinac in 1895.
So, what is Mackinac like, and if no cars are allowed, then how the heck do you get there? In the summer, you can take a ferry to the island, where horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are your modes of island transportation. Summertime activities include hiking, biking, kayaking, exploring the forts, and stuffing your face with famous Mackinac Island fudge.
But in the winter, the island transforms. Packed with tourists in summer, the population shrinks dramatically in the winter. If the lake isn’t frozen, you can still take a ferry to the island – the only other option is a small plane.
Horse-drawn taxis, snowmobiles, and fat tire bikes are how you’ll get around, and most activities revolve around playing in the snow and celebrating the holidays. Most businesses are closed, and the ones that aren’t are often “open by request” or open “as long as the ferry is running.”
Despite (or because of) this deep sense of quiet, Mackinac Island is a one-of-a-kind winter destination. Oh, and it’s also one of HGTV’s top 10 Christmas towns!
Here are our favorite things to do in Mackinac Island in the winter:
- Celebrate Christmas: The “frozen in time” vibe doesn’t end with the absence of cars on the island. If you want a taste of old-fashioned community, celebrate the holiday season at the Mackinac Island Christmas Bazaar and Tree Lighting. The Bazaar is a fundraiser for the island’s churches and medical center. You can purchase quilts, soaps, and other handmade, winter-appropriate gifts or bid on items at both live and silent auctions. Along with the Bazaar, there’s a tree lighting and singalong. Yep, it’s a scene straight out of the original Grinch. Fahoo fores dahoo dores…
- Cross-country Ski on a Deserted Island: Literally. Okay, the ski rental situation on Mackinac isn’t exactly straightforward. There aren’t any shops to rent skis or snowshoes, but you might be able to borrow gear from your accommodations, depending on where you’re staying. (You’ll notice that a lot of things on the island just depend). Anyway, if you have your own skis, definitely bring them. For a small island, there are more than 70 miles of wooded trails, some of which are groomed for cross-country skiing.
- Ride a Fat Tire Bike: The fact that there are no cars on Mackinac Island makes it a cyclist’s paradise — even in winter. Add in the ubiquitous lake and forest views, and you’ve got the perfect activity. Obviously, a regular bike won’t cut it in the snowy, icy, winter. You’ll need to call ahead to arrange a bike rental from Mackinac Wheels, then you take the 8-mile road circling the island for a snowy, lakeside ride.
Where to Stay in Mackinac Island
- Lodging options diminish dramatically at the end of peak season, but the Pontiac Lodge stays open for tourists in the winter. This nautically-themed lodge is the heart of the village, so you can walk to one of the two(!) year-round restaurants (the Mustang Lounge and The Broken Spoke) and enjoy the decked-out Main Street lit up for the holidays.
What to Pack for Michigan in the Winter
Ever heard that saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?” In addition to keeping you warm as you explore, weatherproof clothing is especially important if you’re going to do outdoor activities. So, be sure to bundle up in your favorite cozy sweaters, a warm coat, and waterproof winter boots! We’ve got all the details you need.
We recommend wearing a base layer underneath your clothing on cold days during your winter trip – that means that the layer closest to your skin should all be made from merino wool. Merino wool is super warm, incredibly soft (nope, it’s not itchy) and much more lightweight than synthetic fabrics, as well as being naturally antibacterial, which means you can re-wear it without the re-wear funk. If wool isn’t your thing, wear an equally insulating textile like hemp or silk. Avoid non-insulating fabrics like cotton, and remember that natural fibers are pretty much always better than manmade textiles like polyester.
After your base layer, you’ll need to add on at least 1 additional layer before your outerwear, like a pair of pants and a sweater. On REALLY cold days, where the temperatures are below 10 degrees, we recommend adding on another base layer before your clothing layer & outerwear. And if you’re doing winter activities, add a waterproof layer as well, like lined snow pants. For more winter travel packing tips, head over to our Cold Weather Packing Guide.
Here are our tried and true travel essentials for winter travel.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. They’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. Jeremy has this pair. You’ll want to wear these underneath your pants on cold days during your trip.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Undershirt: Laying is crucial when it’s this cold, and you’ll need to start with a layer of insulation on top and bottom. If it’s not terribly cold that day, I can sometimes get away with a short sleeved or even sleeveless wool base layer. I also defintey just wear my long sleeved base layer as a shirt somtimes! This is mine and this is Jeremy’s.
- Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks for your trip – they won’t keep your feet warm while you’re out in the snow! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these.
- Warm Walking Boots: We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are weatherproof and waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’ve found the best boots for winter, and we’re OBSESSED with them (and yes, we both have the same ones. Because we’re kinda gross like that). They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather with warm thermal insoles, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. We can’t recommend these boots enough, and they’re the only shoes we bring on cold weather trips. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
- Travel Jeans: My favorite travel jeans have 6 POCKETS. 6!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly even after walking through the snow, and roomy enough to layer over an insulating base layer (or two). They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans on the Aviator USA website.
- Warm Flannel Shirt: I’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-down from Royal Robbins. It’s stretchy, it’s cozy, it’s blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, it’s warm AF and super breathable. It’s also wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, and has a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, like one that didn’t give me that annoying button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
- Lined Leggings: On very cold days, I add an extra layer of insulating warmth by throwing a pair of lined leggings on over my base layer and under my jeans (I’ve also worn them without extra pants on top of my base layer because leggings are real pants, fight me). I have two pairs of warm lined winter leggings, one lined with merino wool and one lined with fleece.
- Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! Did I just rhyme? You want a hat that will stay on your head when it’s windy wind and keep your ears nice and warm – bonus points if it’s lined. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon.
- Warm Coat: Your jacket is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring on a winter trip other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos. I bring this this cozy fleece-lined coat with me, and Jeremy wears a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
- Packable Down Jacket: Jeremy and I each bring two jackets each on our winter trips: our heavy/bulky coats, and a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket. It’s perfect for those days when I want the freedom of not wearing a big heavy coat, and it’s also a fantastic added layer of warmth on super cold days. For this trip, I brought this down jacket and Jeremy brought this down jacket.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in the winter without gloves on! Jeremy and I both have these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves. Over those gloves we layer on a thicker pair that allows us to do things like throw snowballs at each other.
- Scarves: I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
- Winter Sports Gear: If you’re planning to go skiing or snowboarding on your trip, bringing a few things can easily be packed in your suitcase will save you cash on rentals. We recommend these goggles and these gloves for snowboarding, and these travel-friendly crampons for snowshoeing.
Whew! That should keep you warm and toasty. Oh hey, want a printable version? Just sign up below and we’ll send a checklist straight to your inbox.
Printable Winter Packing List
This FREE 3-page printable packing list will help make sure you don't forget anything for your next winter trip. We'll also send you our favorite travel tips!
About the Author: Emily is a copywriter, nature lover, and art dabbler who lives in the northern Michigan town of Traverse City. Her favorite parts of travel are the outdoor pursuits unique to the destination — and the best local food and drink she can find. Learn more at emilycarolcopy.com
Are you looking forward to a Michigan in winter trip full of snow, beer, art, and heated sidewalks? What are you most looking forward to on your trip around the mitt? Let us know in the comments below!
Psst: Looking for more Midwestern adventures? Take a look at some of our other blog posts:
- 14 Charming Things to Do in Traverse City, Michigan
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Tour of Cleveland Breweries
- 8 Incredible Weekend Getaways in Indiana
Psst: Save this post for later on Pinterest!
Our Top Travel Tips & Resources
- Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
- Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they've got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we're not fans of Airbnb's unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
- Travel Insurance: We always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY recommend it - visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like no foreign transaction fees, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Read our complete review.
- Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor's office or a walk-in pharmacy.
- Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local's perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
- Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. For rental cars, we use DiscoverCars to compare rental companies and find the best deal. To save money, we also book with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which includes primary rental car insurance coverage.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever we're checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we're running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
- What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!
What a great post! My husband and I got married in Grand Rapids, MI (that’s where he’s from) and we always visit in the summer. I guess I never thought about how magical it could be in the winter!