Before the start of every summer, we have already created a bucket list or wish list of what we want to see and do over the course of the next three months. We can enthusiastically make a bucket list for winter, too.

In fact, think of it as a challenge. And it will be a challenge. Instead of heavy crowds, you’ll be facing heavy weather obstacles more frequently. You’ll need to be flexible in your plans and follow cold-weather safety when outdoors. Rest assured, it’s worth it. You’ll experience Michigan in a whole new way as well as keep up with exercising (goodbye, winter blues).

  1. Go winter rafting. Unlike inland lakes and the Great Lakes, rivers tend to maintain their flow during the winter months. In addition to seeing the beauty of the side banks being coated in sparkling white, you’ll experience the uniqueness of winter rafting. Don’t think white-water rafting; the ride is peaceful, and you won’t get wet. No experience is necessary and even the kids can come along as there’s room for six. Make sure you dress warmly for the two-hour ride. There are a few outfitters in Michigan who offer winter rafting – a guide is provided: Jordan Valley Outfitters, East Jordan, Jordan River; Big Bear Adventures, Indian River, Sturgeon River; Sturgeon River Paddlesports, Wolverine, Sturgeon River.
  2. Snowshoe the dunes. Take on the majestic dunes in a whole new way, either on your own or with a guide. The most obvious spot is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which does offer guided snowshoe hikes regularly throughout the winter. The network of trails also makes for a great day outdoors, some groomed and others not. Another spot is Arcadia Dunes, located less than an hour south of Sleeping Bear. Baldy Trail Head connects to several trails within the S. Mott Nature Preserve, but it can “end” with a gorgeous view of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Silver Lake Sand Dunes and surrounding area has dazzling spots at which to snowshoe; check out the local visitor’s bureau website for details. 
  3. See ice phenomena for yourself. The Great Lakes transform when the weather turns cold, and there are a few places where the ice gets so interesting it’s worth a trip to see it personally. On Lake Huron near the Straits of Mackinac, winter can bring blue ice. Another winter-only attraction is ice balls, which form when slush is shaped and rolled by the waves. Holland, Michigan, is where these were last sighted. Another spectacular phenomenon is the ice caves in Leelanau located off of Gills Pier. Although this is a cyclical occurrence and hasn’t happened in some years, with the right environmental factors, you could find yourself wandering jagged, icy terrain and standing beneath formations of ice – as though Elsa showed up herself. In the Upper Peninsula, visit popular waterfalls for a completely different view. Waterfalls never stop running, but they can become partially ginormous multi-layered icicles. Munising Falls, Tahquamenon Falls, Wagoner Falls, Memorial Falls, Canyon Falls, and Bond Falls are just some worth visiting this winter – make a tour of it!
  4. Visit a lighthouse. They may not be open for tower tours, but you can still walk the grounds and beaches around many of Michigan’s most famous lighthouses, which are high attractions in the summer and fall. You’ll get a taste of what it must have been like for the keepers who were able to enjoy the “off season” and prepare for when the shipping lanes reopened. You’ll see far fewer visitors, maybe even have the area to yourself. Bask in the solitude and quiet. Visit the beach to look for interesting ice formations and other treasures. Lighthouses located on piers often become encased in ice and look to be from another world – just don’t walk the pier. Some popular spots you could visit include Point Betsie, Frankfort; Ludington North Breakwater, Ludington; Saint Joseph North Pier Lights, St. Joseph; Eagle Harbor Light, Eagle Harbor; Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City; Grand Traverse Lighthouse, Leelanau.

Then there are all the “normal” things, such as drinking hot cocoa (maybe an adult version like this Red Wine Hot Chocolate) while the wind howls outside, hiking some favorite summer trails, trying to ice skate, and finding a sledding hill to ride down with the kids. Whatever it is you choose, be intentional about getting outside this winter, be prepared, and be ready to thoroughly enjoy yourself.