The fam has been planning all year to get together Up North at the holidays to revel in each other and … snow sports. Alright then. While Northern Michigan ski resorts are rushing to get as many slopes open as possible, you might need a few more activities up your sleeve to keep everyone happy in case of a green Christmas. Here are 12 fabulous ways to get outside this holiday season in Northern Michigan.
The warm temperatures mean the Straits of Mackinac aren’t close to being frozen and the Arnold Line ferry is still running from St. Ignace—so now is a great time to enjoy this gorgeous island in its quiet off-season. What will you do when you get there? As in summer, so in winter—bike the 8-mile perimeter. Unless you want to rent a fat tire bike from Mackinac Wheels, you’ll need to bring your own bikes. Several downtown shops are open as are two restaurants, the Mustang Lounge and Cawthorne’s Village Inn. New Year’s Eve is particularly fun with hayrides to and from Cawthorne’s Village Inn and walks through the quiet downtown with its lit Christmas tree.
For more information: 906.847.3783, mackinacisland.org
This central attraction of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And who needs snow to hike up and roll back down? Pack a winter picnic and a blanket and spread out on top to dine and watch the stars. Chances are you will have this big ol’ bear to yourself. And if it does snow—even a little—know that it doesn’t take more than a nice icy coating to make the dune sled-able.
You’ll need a visitors pass ($10 for 7 days; $20 for the year) to access the Dune Climb. Purchase it at the Philip A Hart Visitor Center in Empire (231.326.4700) open daily all year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Or purchase your pass online and have it sent to you.
The straight-line windstorm that sheared its way across Northern Michigan on August 2, 2015, made Alligator Hill in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore its ground zero. To see the devastation to that forested hill is to stand in awe at the power of nature. The National Park Service has been busily working to re-open the trail system on Alligator Hill. As of this writing, everything on the hill is open except the Intermediate Trail. With no snow, it’s an easy 2-mile hike from the trailhead on Stocking Drive to the Islands Lookout where you can see where the wind whipped off Lake Michigan and took its destructive course up this wooded slope.
Find the trailhead by turning on Day Farm Road at the picturesque D.H. Farm just north of the Dune Climb on M109 or across from the D.H. Day Campground, also on M109 just west of Glen Arbor.
You’ll need a visitors pass ($10 for 7 days; $20 for the year) to access the Alligator Hill trail. Purchase it at the Philip A Hart Visitor Center in Empire (231.326.4700) – open daily all year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Or purchase your pass online and have it sent to you.
Suit up and fly over the treetops on the Boyne Zipline—as much fun in the winter as it is in the summer—snow or not. Choose from the nearly one-hour long Twin Zip ($20 per person) or the nearly 3-hour Zipline Adventure Tour ($64 per person). Click for the schedule and reservation information.
What is a cross-country/snowshoe trail that connects three Leelanau County wineries to each other when the snow falls, turns into a glorious hiking trail with stops for wine tasting during this snowless winter. Pick up the 7.5-mile trail at Blustone or Forty-Fifth North wineries in Lake Leelanau or Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay.
Another great option is to bike (fat tire or mountain) around the trails at Forty-Fifth North winery. Find out more and rent your wheels at Suttons Bay Bikes in Suttons Bay.
Thirty wooded acres sprinkled with 40 larger-than-life sculptures make Michigan Legacy Art Park an amazing (and free!) hike any time of year. Find it on the grounds of Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.
Good thing you never got round to putting that two-wheeler away. Check out the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail—especially the section below Alligator Hill, riding through the giant blow-down area resulting from the August 2015 storm—that runs 13 miles through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore from Empire to just north of Glen Arbor. Click here to see a map.
The 26-mile paved Little Traverse Wheelway is another reason to take your bike out of storage this holiday season. Occasional views of the big water and snack stops in such iconic Northern Michigan burgs as Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs make this a winner.
Fresh air and a spin through the forest are soul food any time you can get it. So round up friends and fam, hop on mountain bikes and hit the Vasa’s 13 miles of single-track to satisfy your outdoor desires. Know that it is easy enough for a wide range of riders. Find the Trailhead on Supply Road near Traverse City.
Lose yourself in the gorgeous Arcadia Dunes overlooking Lake Michigan in Benzie County. Do it on foot or set your mountain bike tires on the preserve’s Dry Hills Trail.
The beaches are empty of people, snow and ice, but for the past couple of months, the storms of late autumn have been ushering in Petoskey stones with the breaking waves and pounding surf. Point is: this could be the best Petoskey-stone hunting of your life. Pick a favorite beach and grab a bucket. If you plan to get serious about it, check with park and DNR personnel about limits on how many rocks or how many pounds of rocks you are allowed to take. Find long stretches of public beach in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (35 miles of Lake Michigan shore), headquartered near Empire and Wilderness State Park (26 miles of Lake Michigan shore), just west of Mackinaw City.
Find peace and fresh air in a canoe or kayak. With the H2O being cold, extra safety is required here, so pick easy paddling stretches, like shallow, protected smaller lakes or sleepy rivers. Stay close to shore and be sure to have a sturdy plastic bag with dry clothes tied to the cross-bar of the canoe or stashed into or on the deck of the kayak. Life vest, worn, is absolutely necessary. Don’t go alone and make sure you share your float plan. But otherwise, expect to relish a quiet and nature-rich experience. Some recommended rivers: Crystal River (Glen Arbor), Platte River (Honor), Victoria Creek (Cedar), Bear River (Petoskey), Au Sable River (Grayling).
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