Find the snow and dive into these Northern Michigan winter festivals!
Northern Michigan Town Festivals
This two-weekend-long festival in Houghton Lake is proof we Michiganders don’t let winter slow us down. In fact, the event’s lineup gives you most of what you’d expect at a summer celebration, including carnival rides, outdoor concerts, and a petting zoo. Of course, you can also partake in some cold-weather staples like an ice fishing competition and—if you really want to prove your northern mettle—the Polar Bear Dip. January 19–21 and January 26–28.
We’re not surprised one of Michigan’s northernmost cities has given rise to one of the country’s largest and longest-running winter festivals. The annual Winter Carnival in Houghton includes elaborate and massive snow sculptures, sleigh rides, a winter queen pageant, a beard-growing contest, a broomball tournament, and plenty of other antidotes to cabin fever. February 7–10.
This day is jam-packed with activities for all ages. Make a cardboard car for a “drive-in” movie at Darcy Library, go bowling with frozen turkeys at Beulah Park during the chili cookout, test your snowball-throwing accuracy at the target competition, take your kids ice fishing, watch the parade, and wrap the day up with fireworks at a bonfire on the beach! February 10.
This year marks the 90th year for the annual celebration, which has one of the most packed lineups of any winterfest in the North—including a full day of carnival activities just for the kids. Outside, you can enjoy sledding, curling, figure skating, several hockey games, and a broomball tournament. Or if you’d rather stay toasty inside, check out the wine tasting events and progressive dinner at several downtown establishments. February 16–19.
This small-town festival keeps it earnest and low-key with an all-ages perch-fishing contest on Big and Little Glen Lakes, a chili cook-off, and an outdoor party on the deck at Boonedocks. All proceeds benefit the Glen Lake Schools Scholarship Fund. February 18.
Northern Michigan Ski Resort Festivals
Once the kids have torn through the presents, pack them in the car and head to Schuss Mountain for a full day of free skiing alongside Santa himself. The event also doubles as a chance to give back—so bring your donations of nonperishable foods or gently used household items and winter clothing. December 25.
If you’re thinking this year’s the year for that new snowboard or pair of skis, this free event at Boyne Mountain Resort will let you shop gear from a dozen major brands all under one roof. Plus, the demo area lets you try before you buy. December 27.
First-time skiers and snowboarders are front and center at this internationally celebrated event designed to introduce youngsters and newbies to the world of winter sports. Best of all, Crystal Mountain’s full-day local festivities are completely free. January 21.
Reconnect with some familiar faces or make new friends at this weekend party that’s rich in old-school, family-friendly charm. Warm up at the community bonfire before heading out for a night cross-country ski, a torch-lit snowshoe walk, or some cardboard sledding. Then head back in for drinks, dinner, live music, dancing, and end the night with fireworks. January 26–27.
The flagship event of this Mardi Gras celebration is no doubt the Soaker Cup—a downhill ski run where thrill seekers attempt to coast across an unfrozen section of Lake Nubs. For those who prefer to not risk taking an unplanned dip, there’s also a full day of games, ski races, and music from the Petoskey Steel Drum Band. March 17.
The ski and snowboard events at this annual winter party are geared toward the brave, with a big air contest and “rail jam” at Jibber’s terrain park. But if you’re favoring a lower-key weekend, head straight to the bottom of the hill to enjoy food, drinks, and live music at the outdoor bar and grill. Or try to snag a prize for best-dressed at the “Halloween in the Spring” costume parade. March 17.
Northern Michigan Food and Wine Festivals
Building on 24 years of ice wine making, Chateau Chantal will host the first of its kind Michigan Ice Wine Festival. In celebration of the remarkable wine, festival events will range from family friendly snowman building, ice bowling, and ice sculpting to outdoor fire pits with roasted treats. The winery’s walking trail will be open for snowshoeing or skiing with a scavenger hunt and prizes. The festival will culminate with a multi-course Ice Wine education dinner on Saturday, including a tour of the cellar and winemaking process. Samples of multiple ice wines will be on hand all weekend along with a specially paired dessert item. Entrance to the festival is free, with a fee to sample and attend the wine dinner. January 26–28.
The 2018 Winter Microbrew & Music Festival is on the move! This year’s festivities will take place at Mount Mancelona, a historic ski hill and lodge that sits just over a mile north of Mancelona, Michigan. This festival will offer fewer tickets and a more intimate atmosphere but will again feature the great music and tasty brews you’ve come to expect. February 10.
With a focus on locally sourced foods, Traverse City’s dining scene has emerged as one of the most dynamic in the state—so much so that it can be hard to keep up with all the inventive menu changes and recent restaurant openings. Catch up on everything you’ve been missing with a $25 ticket that gets you a three-course meal at one of dozens of participating downtown restaurants. February 26–March 4.
Sample all the incarnations of the grape that’s become one of the all-stars of the Northern Michigan wine scene, while touring the rolling wine country of Old Mission Peninsula. Tickets earn you samples at multiple tasting rooms, a souvenir glass—plus the good cheer of other riesling fanatics. Designated driver tickets available. February 17.
Not to be outdone, this two-day annual winter tour of the Leelanau Peninsula’s celebrated wine trail pairs local wines with sweet and savory small-plates. Get in on the “Snow Fun” photo contest and you’ll put yourself in the running for event swag, which includes a complimentary souvenir glass. Grab a lodging package and make a weekend out of it. February 10–11.
This annual late-winter event has gotten so big, it’s actually busted out of the date confines implied by its name. For the last few years, area foodies have enjoyed a full 10 days of lunch and dinner specials at a wide variety of Harbor’s best restaurants. Because of the high demand, reservations are recommended. Dates TBA.
Now a dozen years old, this annual party at Timber Ridge bills itself as TC’s “original winter microbrew event.” Enjoy craft brews, wine, and cider from more than 20 local breweries; food from local vendors; plus live entertainment at two hike-in music stages in the middle of the woods. March 3.
Northern Michigan Winter Races
This feel-good winter event is about as straight up as it gets: simply show up, rent a pair of snowshoes if you don’t have your own, then hit the trail for a lighthearted 5K or 10K through the hilly terrain of TC’s Timber Ridge Resort. Many participants are first-timers, so don’t be shy. Though if you want to learn a thing or two about good form, watch for the handful of serious snowshoe racers who use the Bigfoot as a qualifier for February’s U.S. National Championships. January 20.
Proceeds from this 5K/10K race support conservation and education work at the wooded wetlands of the Grass River Natural Area. The $20 registration also gets you a meal at the after-race chili cook-off, plus a ticket to a soup lunch at Short’s Brewery in nearby Bellaire. January 13 (date changed from the usual weekend).
One longtime organizer calls this premier cross-country ski event “the biggest family reunion on the planet,” and with more than 40 years of history, we don’t doubt it lives up to its billing. Test your endurance on either the 20K or 50K course. Or if you prefer to focus on the scenic Antrim County surrounds, try the non-competitive 10K event. Proceeds benefit the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation. February 3.
Organizers’ decision last year to reverse the usual direction of the cross-country course was such a hit, they’ve kept the “VASA vice versa” for this year’s race. Short’s Brewery is also back as an event sponsor, so expect a full lineup of their creative craft beers at the post-race event tent. And don’t miss Saturday’s fat bike races—plus the return of the “Skifatalon,” a combined ski/fat-bike competition on a 27-kilometer course. February 10–11.
Tackle the snowy winery trails at 45North on your choice of skis, snowshoes, or fat bikes at this share-the-trail event, which also features deluxe treats, sandwiches, soups, coffee, and sparkling wine. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Active Women Now, dedicated to supporting healthy lifestyles for women. Superbowl Sunday (February 4).
Even if you don’t know much about sled-dog culture, every Michigander owes it to herself/himself the experience of taking in at least one running of the UP200. The 230-mile contest—the state’s flagship sled-dog event—is actually just one of three races that take place over four days, meaning you’ll have multiple opportunities to take part in the cacophonous start-and finish-line festivities—and all the celebrating that happens in Marquette in between. February 15–19.
“Pond” might not be the most accurate term when describing the setting for this annual outdoor hockey tournament in St. Ignace. The games, after all, are played on a frozen coastal stretch of Lake Huron. But when you have more than 200 teams battling it out across 75 rinks for one of the most coveted prizes in amateur hockey, you’ll need the extra real estate afforded by a Great Lake. Take it all in February 15–18.
If there’s a winter sports event with a more scenic setting, we’re not aware of it. This annual snowshoe race starts at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls and winds its way through majestic stands of Upper Peninsula pines, cedars and hardwoods. Choose from either a 5K or 10K on the groomed course. February 17.
Unseasonably warm winter temps forced the cancellation of this Gaylord event last year, but with the almanac calling for a cold, snowy winter, snowmobilers have their fingers crossed for a big 2018. Check out the beer tent with live music, snowmobile races, sled rides for the kids, and a slice of snowmobile history at the vintage sled show. February 23–24.
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Cornerstone: Northern Michigan Winter Festivals