Just because the weather is cold and the skies are a bit grey doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Michigan in winter. Whether you want to hit the snow or stay cozy inside, there are plenty things to do in the winter in Michigan. So pack a coat and some gloves, and get ready for a season full of holiday activities and other great adventures. Whether you’re a local looking to get out of the house or a visitor braving the weather for a chilly vacation, you’ll find lots of great things to keep you busy. This post lists some of my favorite getaways, vacations, and events throughout winter in Michigan.
Head outside for winter sports
Snow and ice go hand in hand with winter in Michigan and even though they can be an annoyance sometimes, we like to take advantage and head out for a variety of winter sports. Outdoor fun is always one of our main pastimes, and the winter weather gives a new twist to familiar landscapes.
Enjoy family friendly skiing during winter in Michigan
Michigan isn’t exactly renowned as a ski destination – down in the Detroit area we even ski on old landfills – but if you head Up North you’ll find several family-friendly ski resorts. It’s the perfect place for kids and beginners to learn how to ski or snowboard because these resorts tend to have plenty of beginner terrain. Even better: lift tickets and accommodations at places like Treetops, Crystal Mountain, and the Boyne resorts are cheaper than heading to the more famous ski destinations out west. I’ve personally taken my humble once-a-year-in-Michigan skiing skills to the Alps, Rockies, and Sierra Nevadas as an adult and managed to hold my own. A weekend skiing Up North is an essential getaway during a Michigan winter.
Not into the downhill skiing? Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also great winter activities.
Go skating in Campus Martius
During the holiday season, Detroit lights its official city Christmas tree in Campus Martius, a plaza downtown. The lighting ceremony is accompanied by music and all of the hoopla you would expect, but once that passes, you can hit the ice on the skating rink nestled in between the tall buildings. Sure, it’s not as famous as the one in New York City at Rockefeller Plaza, but it’s a whole lot cheaper and less crowded. Going for a skate here is a great way to enjoy Michigan in the winter.
Head out to the frozen lakes
Winter in Michigan is cold, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy its many lakes. While the Great Lakes don’t completely freeze, many of the smaller ones do. Once that happens, you can use that ice for all kinds of outdoor sports. Pond hockey and ice skating are classic things to do in Michigan in the winter. If ice fishing is more your thing, you’ll find plenty of places to do that too. For a different kind of icy fun, head to the shore of Lake Michigan where the wind sometimes whips the ice into fantastic formations that are a photographer’s dream. Whatever your plans are, make sure to exercise caution and only step out on the ice if you’re sure it’s thick enough to support your weight.
Slide down a luge track
Michigan is home to a luge track designed by a former Olympian – one of only four tracks in the whole United States! Located in Muskegon, sliders can reach speeds of up to 30 mph heading down the icy track. You don’t have to be a pro either – their Learn to Luge Weekends are their most popular event. Training, equipment, slide time, races, and even awards are included. It’s quite a thrill and somehow simultaneously both easier and harder than it looks.
Explore a snowmobile trail
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is consistently rated one of the best areas for snowmobiling in the country, and with more than 3000 miles of groomed trails, it’s not hard to see why. Its endless seas of state and national forest, lakes, and waterfalls make it the perfect destination for winter in Michigan. The Lower Peninsula also has more than its share of groomed snowmobile trails, so you won’t be missing out if you can’t make it all the way up to the UP. Several businesses offer rentals, so you can give it a shot even if you don’t own a snowmobile.
Attend an event in Michigan in winter
Annual events give you something to look forward to each year and I especially love the Christmas ones. The holiday lights brighten up the darkest time of the year and are some of my favorite things to do in winter in Michigan. Check the event calendars before making plans to get the latest on schedules and experiences.
Be dazzled at Wild Lights
The Detroit Zoo’s annual holiday event is a fantastic display of lights that gets better every year. It’s one of my favorite things to do each winter in Michigan. The tall trees that line the walkways are absolutely covered in twinkling lights, and you’ll feel like you’re in a winter wonderland as you walk through the main path. There are lots of light-up animals along the way as well as light displays choreographed to music. If you get too chilly, the otter and reptile houses are open to warm up in, or you can grab hot chocolate at one of the food stands. You can buy your tickets online in advance, or try to buy them at the gate. It does typically sell out though, so planning ahead is recommended.
Have an old fashioned holiday at Greenfield Village
Greenfield Village celebrates an old fashioned Christmas all through the month of December. Visitors at this specially ticketed event can explore several of the buildings and meet Santa and his reindeer. Performers in period costume stroll the streets, and there are plenty of snacks and beverages to warm up with – or warm your hands up at a classic barrel fire. Rides in the Village’s fleet of real Model Ts are included with the ticket, and taking a spin in these 100+ year old cars is always one of the highlights for me. The event also includes a free skating rink and concludes with fireworks. Learn more here.
Head way Up North for Winter Carnival
Each February, students at Michigan Tech make the most of the area’s heavy snowfall by celebrating with Winter Carnival. With games like broomball and comedy performances, there’s plenty of entertainment. The real highlights of the festival though are the incredibly intricate ice and snow sculptures created by different student groups. During the month leading up to the carnival, students work on their entries in the annual competition. The winning entries truly are a sight to see. Find out more here.
Attend the Tip-Up Town festival
One of the largest winter festivals in the state takes place right on frozen Houghton Lake in the northern Lower Peninsula. Families visit from all over to attend the festivities, which are centered around ice fishing. Even if you’re not into the fishing aspect, there are other fun activities from scavenger hunts to parades to tailgating. The truly brave (crazy?) can participate in the polar bear dip – which involves jumping into the freezing cold lake. The festival is held in mid- to late January. Check out the full event schedule here.
Catch a game in Detroit
If the cold Michigan winter has you looking for ways to spend your time indoors, catching a sporting event is a great way to enjoy an evening or a weekend without having to bundle up too much. Though the Lions usually have a game or two in the winter, they’re not exactly playoff regulars so most of your options revolve around hockey and basketball.
Watch the Red Wings and Pistons at LCA
My beloved Red Wings are going through a bit of a rough patch lately, but hockey love runs strong in the blood of Metro-Detroiters. The team has a fantastic new arena in Little Caesars Arena. The facilities are incredible, the food options are delicious, and there are tons of cool features to explore even if the on-ice product isn’t that great. Going to a hockey game is one of my favorite things to do, and it’s a great way to stay warm inside while still feeling close to the ice and snow that define Michigan in winter. Buy tickets here. For other great hockey on the west side of the state, check out Grand Rapids Griffins games.
After spending most of my lifetime out in the Oakland County suburbs, the Detroit Pistons have finally moved back to Detroit proper, joining the Red Wings at their new arena. You can buy tickets here.
Catch a college bowl game
The Quick Lane Bowl held in Detroit has had a few different names over the years, but the games can be entertaining for football fans. The bowl is held on December 26th at Ford Field, better known as the home of the Detroit Lions, and can give fans one last taste of college football for the year without needing to travel to a warmer bowl game. Unlike some of the top tier bowl games, tickets are usually relatively easy to acquire, so it’s worth it to check out the game even if you’re not a supporter of the teams involved. Buy tickets here.
Great Lakes Invitational
I’m a huge hockey fan, so the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) is one of my favorite winter events. The annual college hockey tournament is co-hosted by Michigan Tech and the University of Michigan. Michigan State is traditionally invited as the third participant and a different school is chosen as the fourth entry each year. Tickets are usually very affordable and easy to get so it’s a great way to take the family to a game without breaking the bank. It originated at Olympia Stadium, moved to The Joe when the Wings played there, and then followed them to Little Caesars Arena. You can buy tickets here.