Northern Michigan parks are made for Up North wintertime exploration. From a frozen waterfall adventure in the Upper Peninsula to a quiet Grand Traverse County park where you can make your own trails, here are three parks to visit this winter.

Leelanau State Park

With 1,550 acres and a lighthouse, this state park at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula is worth the winter drive.

“All of the park is open for exploration year-round,” says Stephanie Rosinski, park supervisor. “In the northern unit, we keep the road plowed out to the lighthouse so people can visit the shoreline and the lighthouse.The playground is also open to the public. In the southern unit, we have our hiking trails. They can be reached from Densmore Road.”

Besides hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, there is a newer addition to the winter fun: fat biking.

“We allow fat tire biking on specific trails in the winter only,” Rosinksi says. “At all other times, the trails are closed to any type of bike. It is a very limited season.”

Rosinksi’s top three picks are: visiting Grand Traverse Lighthouse (open on weekends throughout the winter), snowshoeing the scenic overlook to see Cathead Bay and enjoying the wildlife that can be found around Mud Lake.

“The blue Lake Michigan trail at Leelanau State Park is a great skiing/snowshoeing trail that leads to Cathead Bay,” she says. “There are a few hills but very doable on snowshoes and many people ski them. It’s two miles roundtrip. A lot of people also use the orange trail for skiing and snowshoeing. It’s longer and hillier.” (Note: Trails aren’t groomed for skiing.)

The park also hosts Saturday snowshoes once a month. Watch for events on Facebook posted by Friends of Leelanau State Park and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum.

Related Read: Searching for more local parks, beaches and activities? Visit our Northern Michigan Outdoors page to start planning your next adventure.

Interlochen State Park

Michigan’s oldest state park has a precious 187 acres between Green and Duck lakes in Grand Traverse County. In winter, people walk or snowshoe the camp roads or atop the ice on Duck Lake.

The beauty of this park is how quiet it is. With no marked trails, it’s a local best-kept secret. You can hike and immerse yourself in a late-rising sunrise (around 8 a.m. in winter) and admire the ice fishermen and women making their way out onto the lake.

The boat launch is plowed so fishermen can park and hike out, pulling their jet sleds to fishing holes either on foot or with four-wheelers. If you want to try ice fishing, expect perch, bluegill or northern pike. Each has a season, limits and size restrictions. Fishing licenses can be purchased online and at most gas stations. Waxworms or pinhead minnows are the bait of choice, available at Buck’s Bait or Cherryland Grocery, both in Interlochen.

Area fisherwoman Mandy Shipman says to wait for 6–8 inches of ice before venturing out. “Once you’ve fallen in, you’ll be sure to wait until it’s thick enough!”

Dog watching sunrise at Interlochen State Park

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Water views at Interlochen State Park

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Sunrise on the water at Interlochen State Park

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Cabin at Interlochen State Park

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Stairs at Interlochen State Park

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

This Upper Peninsula state park is one of the few open for year-round camping, and is, of course, famous for its root beer- colored falls—a must-see landmark in Michigan’s winterscape. Encompassing more than 50,000 acres and stretching 13 miles, there’s no lack of activities.

Park Interpreter Theresa Neal says the Upper and Lower Falls have plowed parking areas and the main walkways to the falls are kept clear of snow (for those who prefer hiking to snowshoeing or skiing). Neal’s favorite snowy activities are: snowshoeing at the Lower Falls, cross-country skiing at the Upper Falls and winter photography throughout the park.

There are four miles of marked snowshoe/cross-country ski trails at the Lower Falls. In addition, the North Country Trail connects both falls, a well-worn trek for those looking to do a thru-hike (a long-distance, end-to-end hike). Starting at the Lower Falls, snowshoe or ski five miles to the Upper Falls, with a warm, cozy landing at Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub on-site. (Note: If you hike, bring ice cleats—Yaktrax are a popular choice—to strap onto your boots. While it’s rated as an “easy” hike, there will be icy stretches.)

At the Upper Falls, the best view and photo opp is at the Brink Viewing Deck, about a quarter-mile from the start of the trail. If you go late enough in the season, you’ll see ice forming along the moving river—a stunning sight.

For those who want to stay after hours, the Lower Falls has 25 campsites that stay open all winter, with electricity at each and outhouses nearby. Restroom and shower buildings are closed.

Photo(s) by Kandace Chapple