Overnight guests at the quaint Empire Lakeshore Inn, at the junction of M-22 and M-72 in Empire on the Leelanau Peninsula, can literally pick their own rate this winter season. Typical nightly winter rates are $65 (plus taxes). However, guests staying through April 15, 2009 will “draw” their own rate.

“In response to the press of depressing economic woes, we have introduced a ‘Luck of the Draw’ program,” says owner Chuck Hoover. “When guests check into Empire Lakeshore Inn, they "pick" their own rate from a basket—one of four different amounts—starting as low as $49 per night, plus taxes.”

Winter is a perfect time to visit the Empire area—located in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on historic M-22. In fact, the park headquarters and the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center are located a stone’s throw from the Inn. Park rangers offer guided snowshoe hikes through the lakeshore on select days, providing basic instruction and then sharing interesting facts about the park’s unique features.

Lake Michigan is just three blocks away, adjacent to the towering Empire Bluff, which provides an invigorating snowshoe trek with breathtaking views from the top. Cross country ski trails afford opportunities to enjoy the quiet solitude of winter in Northwest Michigan. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the impressive ice formations (referred to by the locals as “volcanoes”), snowscapes and natural wonders that abound. Winter Fest, February 12-14, allows the exciting opportunity to take the artic “Polar Bear Dip” through the ice of South Bar Lake.

After a day out in the snow, overnight guests can recharge their batteries with a variety of energetic well-being sessions such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Meditation, as well as massages, all of which are offered at the inn at a rate of $75 per hour or $120 for two hours. Programs are available by appointment for individuals, as well as groups using the Inn for retreat purposes.

Empire resembles a Normal Rockwell illustration—a small lakeside town that literally looks like you have stepped back in time. Nearby towns—such as Leland to the north, Suttons Bay and Traverse City to the east and the villages of Benzie County to the south—provide additional avenues for shopping, wine tasting, dining, entertaining, exploring and outdoor winter recreational activities. Reservations: 231-326-5145 

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski