Just because the weather is cold doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Michigan in winter. Whether you want to explore the outdoors or keep warm inside, there are plenty things to do in Michigan in winter for everyone. 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 winter events in Michigan.
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Family friendly skiing
Michigan isn’t exactly known for being a ski destination – down in the Detroit area we ski on old landfills – but if you head a bit north you’ll find several family-friendly ski resorts. It’s a perfect place for kids and beginners to learn how to ski or snowboard because these resorts are loaded up with green and blue runs that provide a fun chance to enjoy the snow without being too difficult. 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. A weekend skiing Up North is an essential Michigan winter getaway.
Detroit Red Wings hockey
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 just opened a brand new arena after playing at Joe Louis Arena for my entire life, and even though I stubbornly refuse to let go of the Joe, I have to admit that it’s fantastic. 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 the top winter activities in Detroit, and it’s a great way to stay warm inside while still feeling close to the ice and snow that define Michigan in winter. Wings fans will also want to check out this guide to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Buy tickets here.
Detroit Pistons basketball
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 the brand new Little Caesars Arena. At the moment, they’re better than the Wings at their respective sport, so if you goal is to see the home team win, they’re probably your best bet. You can buy tickets here.
Winter in Michigan is cold, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the many lakes. Once the smaller ones freeze over, you can use that ice for all kinds of outdoor sports. Pond hockey and ice skating are classic opportunities for winter fun in Michigan. You’ll also find lots of opportunities to ice fish. Along the shores of the Great Lakes, the wind sometimes whips the ice into fantastic formations that are a photographer’s dream – head to the west coast along Lake Michigan for some of the best viewing spots. Make sure to exercise caution and only step out on the ice if you’re sure it’s thick enough to support your weight.
Skating in Campus Martius
During the holiday season, the city of Detroit lights its official Christmas tree in Campus Martius. The lighting ceremony is accompanied by music and all of the hoopla you would expect, but once that passes, you can still enjoy the skating rink. It’s not as famous as the New York City one at Rockefeller Plaza, but it’s a whole lot cheaper and less crowded. Hitting the ice for a skate is one of the top things to do in Detroit in the winter, and shouldn’t be skipped if you’re visiting the Motor City around the holidays.
Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo
The Detroit Zoo’s Christmas event is a fantastic display of lights along the main pathway. It’s one of my favorite winter events 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. There are lots of light-up animals along the way and some of them are ridiculously intricate. If you get too chilly, the otter and reptile houses are open to warm up in, or you can grab hot chocolate and dessert poutine made of funnel cake fries. This year there’s also a synthetic skating rink so you can “ice” skate without actually needing ice. You can buy your tickets online in advance, or try to buy them at the gate. It does sell out though, so planning ahead is recommended.
Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village
Greenfield Village celebrates an old fashioned Christmas all through the month of December. Visitors 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. 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.
Quick Lane Bowl
The college bowl game held in Detroit has had a few different names over the years, but the games can be entertaining for football fans. The game is held in late December 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. Tickets are usually relatively easy to come by, 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 events. The annual college hockey tournament is co-hosted by Michigan Tech and the University of Michigan, while rival Michigan State is traditionally invited as the third participant with other midwestern universities rounding out the bracket of four. Tickets are usually very affordable and easy to get. This year’s switch to the brand new Little Caesars Arena means the tournament will also be one of the cheapest way to explore the gorgeous facility’s amenities. You can buy tickets here.
Tip-Up Town festival
One of the largest winter festivals in the state takes place on Houghton Lake in northern Michigan. Families come from all over to attend the festivities, which are centered around ice fishing. Even if you’re not into fishing, there are plenty of activities from scavenger hunts to parades to tailgating. The truly brave 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.
Can you think of any other winter activities in Michigan? Let me know in the comments.
Not visiting Michigan in winter? Check out things to do in other seasons:
- Six Reasons to Visit Michigan This Spring
- Nine Reasons to Visit Michigan This Summer
- 8 Reasons to visit Michigan This Fall
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Hockey, frozen lakes, and skating! It is like you are appealing the Canadian in me! I have never really had Michigan on my bucket list but this makes me want to go during the winter time! I would love to see a Red Wings game!
Wow, I love all your ideas! I’ve never been to hockey game and always wanted to go.
Still need to explore Michigan, and the question is in summer or winter. Your post has tilted the balance for winter 🙂 great read and beautiful photos.
These all sound amazing! I am not much for cold weather, but at least these would help ease the winter blues!!
Sorry about the Red Wings. I’m hoping the Tampa Bay Lighting can keep it up. Hockey aside, Michigan looks gorgeous in the winter. The zoo really caught my eye, maybe it was the dessert poutine though.
Ahh I love it! I’m from Minnesota so I’m sure our winters are very similar! The snow is my favorite. So pretty 🙂 Great tips! I’m a huuuge fan of skiing so I might have to visit Michigan soon!
And there is so much more outside of the Detroit area! There is downhill skiing and lots of cross country skiing! In Muskegon, there’s a really cool ice skating track through the woods. And plenty of winter-themed festivals throughout the state!
I’m not planning to visit Michigan this winter, but frozen lakes and Tip-up Town Festival are surely won my heart. There’s nothing like that in Texas.
Winter trips are easily my favorite to plan – never been a warm climate person. Michigan is a decently easy trip from New York, so maybe next winter 🙂
Lovely post, Ive never been to Michigan but I will definitely consider it if Im ever in America again!!
I recently visited Michigan for the first time this summer and I LOVED it! I’ve literally fallen in love with Silver Lake Sand Dunes! Hoping to get back next year at some point! Looks like it’s a great place to visit in the winter too!
Ohhh these reasons made me eager to visit Michigan. I would love to ski on those slopes.
Thanks for sharing.
As someone who is from and currently lives in Michigan, I love everything about this list. I’d also add Winter Beer Fest in the Grand Rapids area and the Detroit Auto Show as reasons to visit Michigan in winter, too!
I love hockey too, maybe since I’m orginally a neighbor to Michigan in Ohio 🙂 Do you seriously ski in landfills in Detroit?! Good to see this roundup of activities from the Midwest!
Well, we don’t have any real mountains, so we made our own!
Looks like all great reasons to go. I haven’t been to Michigan in any season so this definitely looks great.