Every Northern Michigander is eventually asked the question, “So … what is there to do when it’s that cold and snowy?!” Well, here’s the answer. (Hint: there are so many fun things to do in Michigan in winter!)

Featured in the February 2020 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Subscribe.

We Float

Get outside! Raft along wild rivers where the serenity of the crystalline current is disturbed only by a branch snapped by a browsing deer, or the splash of an otter using the icy bank as a water slide. Experience the Jordan River in winter with Jordan Valley Outfitters.

Photo by Angela Seefried

We Grow (Yeti-Inspired) Beards

We talked to Jamie Catlett, female barber and beard whisperer at J. Catlett & Co. in Manistee, for tips on caring for facial hair in frigid temps. Here, her must(ache) dos:

POO. Yes, poo. She suggests using beard shampoo and conditioner like Beard Poo from Detroit Grooming Co. The name is fun and so is their website, where they promise that their bergamot- (think citrus!) and lavender-scented Poo will drench your beard in “savage hydration.” The company uses all-natural avocado oil to get the job done and was named Best of Detroit in 2019 by Detroit Metro Times.

OIL. Catlett suggests applying beard oil after each wash. Her favorite comes from Lockhart’s, also a Michigan-based company. Try Frankincense+Myrrh beard oil to tame flyaways in bigger beards.

BUTTER. The ultimate finish is a bit of beard butter. Yes, from poo to butter! Catlett carries a selection from Detroit Grooming Co. in her barbershop. Try Traverse City Butter (cherry tobacco) or Leland Butter (mango and lime). Use just a dab and warm it up by rubbing your hands together before massaging it into your beard. Use it twice a week, more if you work outside. Bonus: Your significant other may love it more than you do.

LINES. Finally, keep your (now soft!) beard trimmed and be sure to maintain its lines. “Keep it looking dapper instead of like a wild man,” Catlett says.

Illustration by Gail Snable

We Chill in an Igloo

Picture this: You and up to seven of your closest friends sipping craft beers (or wine or cider) inside a toasty-warm igloo. Trust us, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars for a perfect night in the four-season beer garden at Hop Lot Brewing Co. in Suttons Bay. Two fire pits. Eight cozy igloos. Sandwiches and tacos stuffed full with slow-smoked meats. Brewery Bingo on Thursday nights. Reserve your hygge headquarters here.

Photo by Dave Weidner

We Soak Up the Sun

Of course, with our furry friends by our side.

Photo by Kandace Chapple

We Ice Fish

In Traverse City’s other downtown—West Bay.

Photo by Dave Weidner

We Hike and Bike on Ice

It’s the ultimate Traverse City winter adventure: crossing the ice to Power Island, an uninhabited patch of land perched in the middle of West Grand Traverse Bay.

According to the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, the bay is officially considered frozen when the ice reaches Power Island and stays for at least 24 hours. It only happens every four or five years. When it does, it lasts only a weekend, maybe two.

In 2019, it happened on Valentine’s Day. Everyone started buzzing: Would it get cold enough, long enough, to create a solid ice bridge to the island?

By early March, the ice fishermen had good news: They were reporting ice anywhere from 8 to 14 inches thick, plenty to venture out on safely. (Five inches is considered a minimum.)

Word spread. Snowshoers, ice skaters, curious passersby … Mountain bikers organized a group of almost 100 to cross for a party on the island.

Starting points included Jolly Pumpkin (about 2.5 miles one way to the island) and Bowers Harbor boat launch (3 miles one way). Several spots along Peninsula Drive also served as trailheads (Buchan Drive was popular, offering a shorter 1-mile crossing).

Once on the island, explorers could climb “Mount Ford,” a small hill named after Henry Ford, who once owned the island, or follow a hiking path beaten in by the hardiest of Michiganders.

If the ice is thick enough again in 2020, it will be considered a true stroke of luck. Watch local websites for updates on the phenomenon and, if the ice bridge is on, follow the beaten path for safety. (And be sure to heed all warnings from officials—safety first, selfies second!)

Photo by Kristi Avery

We Play Euchre

Northern Michiganders love their Euchre, and while we play it anytime, anywhere—huddled around the Formica table at deer camp, after pancakes on winter mornings—it is always best played with those for whom it’s their love language. You’ll know them by the deck of cards they can make appear out of nowhere. They have peanut M&Ms at the ready for brain food, and cold drinks they keep eternally refreshed. Anyone can learn, but, as with any new language, it’s best to practice, and practice often, until you stop staring blankly at the suits and bowers, and—at last—get that perfect hand and the confidence to go it alone. Here are the rules. 

Illustration by Gail Snable

We Eat Doughnuts … and Hibernate

Order a doughnut. Sit down. Enjoy. Head back up to the counter at Johan’s Pastry Shop and order two dozen more to-go. Locations in Petoskey and Harbor Springs.

Photo by Dave Weidner

We Curl

There’s a saying: “Curling is for the young and the old, the big and the small, the athletic and the arthritic.” True that, and it’s also a potent cure for cabin fever, considering that the game (think shuffleboard on ice) gets you out of the house and onto a rink where you’re a part of a four-person team. The object? Slide a 44-pound chunk of granite (called a stone) down the rink to a target. The closest stone to the target wins. Course, when the beers are cracked après-game, everyone wins. Try it at Broomstack Kitchen & Taphouse, home to the Leelanau Curling Club, in Maple City.

We Bartend in the Snowbank

One more reason snow is amazing: it gifts you with an ice cooler wherever your adventures take you, even if it’s just cutting loose out in the backyard snow pile. Come end of February, cabin fever is real.

Recipe: You’re Not in Manhattan Anymore Manhattan

  • 2 parts Traverse City Whiskey Co. whiskey
  • 1 part Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Traverse City Whiskey Co. Premium Cocktail Cherries

Illustrations by Gail Snable

We Have Afternoon Tea

Itty-bitty lemon bars, tender scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches (yep, layered with crisp cucumbers and with the crusts cut off) … You’ll want to utterly devour the tray of delights that the talented pastry chefs at the Inn at Bay Harbor serve as part of this lovely tradition. Afternoon tea is served 2–4 p.m. daily, with reservations required. 231.439.4066.

Photo by Rachel Haggerty