9 Chillingly Beautiful Winter Vacation Ideas in Northern Michigan

We’ve paired snowy splendor and ice-covered vistas with nearby lodging and restaurants to create a perfectly cozy Northern Michigan winter vacation just for you.

Seven Bridges Natural Area, Rapid River

Dressed in snow, every small river in Northern Michigan transforms into a Japanese garden of contemplation. Local photographer Todd Zawistowski shot this peaceful image of the Rapid River at Seven Bridges natural area, near his home in Kalkaska. Here, the Rapid splits and recombines, a braided tumble through the forest. Bridges over the gurgling threads add to the magic of a Zen-filled snowshoe or XC ski outing.

Shalda Creek, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Though petite, Shalda Creek runs strong, steady and clear before emptying into the southern arc of Good Harbor Bay, in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photographer Ron Strong started there at the mouth one morning when smoldering clouds muted the light, and fresh, wet snow stuck to every twig and pine needle. Donning waders, he headed upstream. “Hoping to capture the most beautiful imagery nature presents,” he says, “I found myself with a soggy right foot—I patched the wrong hole in my waders!”

Straits of Mackinac, Mackinaw City

Throughout 2012, Ludington-based, father-son photographer team Todd and Brad Reed dedicated Tuesdays to shooting images of Michigan, and on one winter Tuesday, they drove north to Mackinaw City on the Mackinac Straits. “As we drove down a steep hill and got our first look at the Straits, we knew we had hit the jackpot. In front of us were miles and miles of massive piles of neon blue ice,” Brad says.

  • Stay: Find Mackinaw City hotels of every kind, from a quick walk to downtown to views of the Straits in winter.
  • Eat: Whitefish, pasties and cozy winter comfort food hits the spot in these Mackinaw City restaurants.
  • Extras: Wilderness State Park, just west of Mackinaw City, delivers 26 miles of shoreline, 22 miles of trails and 10,512 acres to roam.
Ice-Coated Boat, Traverse City

Fossilized in ice, this boat perched at the Maritime Academy docks in Traverse City bears witness to the power of water, wind and cold, as so well captured by photographer Ken Scott.

Sleeping Bear Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Wind-sculpted snow drifts atop wind-deposited sand dunes are what caught photographer Mark Lindsay’s eye while on a snowshoe exploration of Sleeping Bear Point in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. “Recent winds had added untouched layers and texture. I spent the day wandering through the drifted dunes and the incredible beauty that surrounded,” he says.

Empire Bluff, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Rising 40 stories above Lake Michigan, Empire Bluff rewards hikers with one of the most potent vistas in all the Great Lakes. Stand and look north to the great Sleeping Bear Dune itself, South Bar Lake and North and South Manitou Islands rising to the northwest. Photographer Angela Brown hurried to the face on a mild midwinter day after a fresh snow. “The Empire Bluff hike is a great way to get outside and be active without it being too strenuous,” she says (the parking lot is high atop the ridge that forms Empire Bluff, saving you much of the climb). She saw people like herself, out to enjoy the fresh and sunny winter day in an unforgettable place.

Charlevoix Light, Charlevoix

Todd Reed visualized how Charlevoix’s lighthouse might look three hours and 150 miles before he arrived there. “The fresh coat of ice on the Charlevoix pier from yesterday’s north wind and waves looks even better than I envisioned. I am loving being right here, right now in Northern Michigan,” he wrote at the time.

North Breakwater Light, Ludington

“With temperatures in single digits the last few days, it didn’t take long for Ludington North Breakwater Light to become a giant ice sculpture. The mix of light, wind and blowing snow turned the frigid waters of Lake Michigan a gorgeous green color this morning,” Brad Reed wrote back on December 13, 2010, when he focused his lens on this Lake Michigan icon. It’s a must-see on a Northern Michigan winter vacation. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising

When the north wind blows, Lake Superior pounds the coast at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising. Photographer Aaron Peterson captured proof of the liquid violence as a wave crashed and blew high into the forest. Peterson’s winter camping posse had planned to ski the popular shoreside hiking trail that links Chapel Beach with Mosquito beach. “But a big north wind and lake effect snowstorm came up,” he says. “I persuaded them to take the inland route rather than follow the lake. They thanked me once we arrived at Mosquito and looked down the coast to see waves breaking against the 50-foot cliffs and sending spray into the forest, coating everything with ice. We lingered in the howling wind watching the waves crash and feeling rather insignificant.”

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