Northern Michigan Travel: Winter Trek in Sleeping Bear Dunes and More

Northern Michigan Travel: We've searched for iced beauty locales worth visiting on your next Northern Michigan weekend. Here, we tell you how to find our seven discoveries for yourself.

LOCATION: Arcadia Dunes, Arcadia

photographer: Brian Confer

Ask photographer Brian Confer the precise location on the bluff where this shot was taken and his reply is, well, vague. Not deliberately, it’s just with so many extraordinary vistas in the Arcadia Bluffs Nature Conservancy property, specifics elude him. Generally speaking though, to reach the bluff, travel 9 miles south from Frankfort on M-22 to the trailhead parking lot for the Arcadia Dunes CS Mott Nature Preserve. Hike to the split in the trail marked Old Baldy and take the left fork (short half mile) to the dunes. Follow the small arrows, always staying to the left, which guide you to the overlook of Lake Michigan. Strike south along the ridgeline to find Brian’s spot, or just explore the dunes to discover your own scenic treasure. Eat: Drive south the 2 miles into Arcadia and try ribs slathered in locally famous Grillin’ Thauth at Rigger’s Bar and Grill, 231.352.4702. In Frankfort, hang with the locals and enjoy nightly specials at Dinghy’s Restaurant and Bar. Stay: In a cozy, winterized cottage at Watervale Inn, 231.352.9083. (You can even access the Old Baldy trail from Watervale.) Or, for a small-town vibe, head to Frankfort and stay at the renovated Betsie Bay Inn, 231.352.8090.—Lisa Confer

LOCATION: Laughing Whitefish Falls, Alger County

photographer: Aaron Peterson

The Laughing Whitefish River is born as a trickle back behind my buddy Randy’s farm in Rock River Township at the western edge of Alger County in the Central Upper Peninsula. The creek works its way along the edge of his hay field, past a donkey named Rosy and under the patched blacktop road where his boys shoot baskets at a hoop on the shoulder. It’s a tad surprising when this little tannin-stained, C-student of a stream hurls itself over the lip of a gorge and boils down the sloped side of a 100-foot-deep limestone cauldron at nearby Laughing Whitefish Falls State Scenic Site. To reach the falls in winter you’ll need skis or snowshoes, since the access road isn’t plowed. Take Sundell Road north from M-94 for about 2.5 miles, then park as best you can where it dead ends. You’ll go on foot for about a quarter mile, then take a right at the large wooden sign for the falls. In about another half mile you’ll come to the parking and picnic area and a trailhead for the final one-mile journey to the head of the falls. Eat: Don’t eat anywhere but Rock River Café in Chatham (facebook.com/RockRiverCafe; 906.439.5509). Stay: Lodging options are 25 miles northwest in Marquette (The Landmark Inn is upscale but not pretentious) or east in Munising (all the ma-and-pa places are clean, cheap if a little quirky).—Aaron Peterson

LOCATION: Petoskey Pier, Petoskey

photographer: Charles Dawley

When mighty northwesterlies blow, gigantic waves hammer harbor towns all along the Great Lakes coast—here, Petoskey’s pier takes a direct hit in a photo by Charles Dawley. If you haven’t seen the wave show, you’re missing out on a classic Michigan experience. Keep a weather-watch and launch a trip shoreward when the winter winds howl. Eat: Many tasty options in downtown Petoskey. Twisted Olive for eclectic, well-executed fare—a fave for breakfasts, 231.487.1230. Palette Bistro for inventive menu choices and a window overlooking that churning bay, 231.348.3321. Stay: Stafford’s Perry Hotel, downtown Petoskey, puts you in walking distance of the pier. 231.347.4000, staffords.com.—J.S.

LOCATION: Grass River Natural Area, Bellaire

photographer: Angela Brown

Many of winter’s enchanting moments are intimate and up close, not vast and grandiose. Angela Brown’s image of Finch Creek at Grass River Natural Area makes the point. The play of winter light on the water, the resonant red of willow scrub along the shore, the tawny gold of tamarack trees in the distance—outstanding. Grass River Natural Area is open daily from dawn till dusk and offers about 4 miles of well-maintained hiking trails over gentle terrain. Perfect for a casual snowshoe or cross-country ski outing. Grass River Natural Area is 4.2. miles northeast of Alden. 6500 Alden Highway, Bellaire, 231.533.8576. Eat: Swing into Bellaire for live music, elevated pub fare and award-winning micro-brews at Short’s Brewery, 231.533.6622. Around the corner is the more urbane Lulu’s, one of the north’s first bistros, and still among the finest, 231.533.5252. Stay: Bellaire B&B, an immaculately restored manse standing in lemony splendor on a Bellaire knoll, 800.545.0780, bellairebandb.com.—J.S.

LOCATION: Bar Lakes Overlook, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

photographer: Ron Strong

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, the 7-plus-mile route that traverses the broad, rumpled back of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, is closed to vehicles in winter. Photographer Ron Strong snowshoed up the snowy road (located off M-109 north of Empire) last January for this shot taken from the Bar Lake-Lake Michigan overlook. If you are steady on boards, the landscape is skiable, too. Just know there are steep hills—and that no matter what snow-gear you choose, this micro-world of ancient landforms and ephemeral moods and color will render you breathless. 231.326.5134, nps.gov/slbe/. Eat: Wrap up a winter dunes sojourn with a burger and beer amid the pennant-festooned rusticity of Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor (231.334.3754, artsglenarbor.com) or at the dimly cozy Joe’s Friendly Tavern (231.326.5506) in Empire. Stay: Find Up North quietude at the farmhouse turned Cottonwood Inn in Empire (231.326.5535, thecottonwoodinn.com). For a more luxe experience The Homestead (231.334.5000, thehomesteadresort.com) in Glen Arbor offers hotel rooms and condos and a host of amenities—restaurants, a spa, a ski hill.—E.E.

LOCATION: Rocks National Lakeshore

photographer: Steve Largent

Mosquito Beach, not an inviting name, but in winter, no insect worries. Plus, if you luck into good ice at this stretch of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore you can walk under the arch of Jacobsville Sandstone at Lover’s Leap—glorious! To get there, at the micro-burg of Melstrand, turn north on Chapel Road and park where the county stops plowing. Suit up with either snowshoes or skis and follow the snowed-over road to the trailhead, then follow trail signs to Mosquito Beach—all told about 5 or 6 miles from your car. Head east down the beach to the arch. Steve Largent, who took this photo of his wife, advises: Don’t go on ice alone; take rope; shoe ice-grippers like YakTrax recommended. Eat: Largent likes the hearty bar food at Bear Trap (corner of H15 and H58.) Stay: In winter you can camp (permit needed) at Mosquito Beach. Not into it? Rent a righteous little cabin on Chapel Road in Melstrand. Rates depend on size of party, 906.452.6511, thecozycabin.wordpress.com. Affordable hotels in nearby Munising.—J.S.

LOCATION: Portage Lake, Onekama

photographer: Angela Brown

On a temperate winter’s eve, ethereal twilight lingers long over a frozen lake, captured in this photo by Angela Brown. Pretty from shore, but better yet, get out in it. Spud a hole and drop a line. Portage Lake, at Onekama, serves up legendary yellow perch possibilities. Ice fishing gear is cheap and access is easy—no boat needed. Eat: Blue Slipper Bistro, in Onekama, never disappoints, 231.889.4045. Shay's Chop House for steaks, 231.889.3121. Stay: Portage Point Inn, a classic resort in a stunning shoreside setting, 800.878.7248, or Bear Lake Manor, a beautifully restored brick Victorian in quaint Bear Lake village, about 7 miles north, 231.864.2242.—J.S.

This article was originally featured in the 2012 February issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. Get your copy to see gorgeous photographs of these seven inspiring Northern Michigan locales!

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