Pure Michigan vacations don’t need to break the bank. We rounded up the best inexpensive travel for winter 2021-22.
MICHIGAN—The cold may linger in Michigan well into April, but that just gives us more time to enjoy the flux of our seasons.
Though most may know Michigan as a tourist destination for the summer months, that doesn’t mean the snow has to make us hibernate. In fact, winter tourism still contributes billions of dollars to our state economy. It’s easy to miss the summer air of our freshwater beaches, but cozy cabins and ski chalets are just as inviting. A Michigan winter can offer opportunities to try new things, like snowshoeing, dog sledding, or even dining in an igloo.
For the budget-conscious traveler, the off-season of winter has the advantage of inexpensive lodging options. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, a girls’ weekend, or just a sabbatical from work, Michigan has plenty of opportunities to get away from it all in the dead of winter.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
41382 W M-123, Paradise, MI 49768
Tahquamenon Falls is Michigan’s largest waterfall, and the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi, second only to Niagara Falls. The “Root Beer Falls” are located in the Upper Peninsula, between the towns of Paradise and Newberry. This 46,000-acre state park includes two waterfalls: an upper and a lower, with the lower about 4 miles downstream from the upper.
In the winter, Tahquamenon Falls is a popular destination to try snowshoeing. The park offers free snowshoes for visitors to borrow and try out the sport.
The Nature Trail (.5 miles) and Giant Pines Loop (3.8 miles) are groomed trails, making them great for beginner snowshoers. The Emerson Trail (one mile) and Wilderness Loop (7.4 miles) are ungroomed, making them a bit harder. The River Trail (4.8 miles) is a difficult hike, but is the most scenic trail in the park.
If you’re into snowmobiling, there is a snowmobiling route along Trail 45. The Tahquamenon Area Snowmobile Association oversees and provides up-to-date information for the snowmobile trails in the area. Snowmobile rentals are available at multiple businesses in Newberry and Paradise. The Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub on the Upper Tahquamenon Falls is a great spot to grab a bite or a pint. They reopen for their winter season in December.
Where to Stay: The Pines Camper Cabin is available on-site for $68/night in the off-season until Nov. 29. The cabin has two bedrooms. Guests must bring their own bedding, dishes, and cookware. Visitors may also choose to stay a short distance away in Paradise at Great Lake Yurt Camp ($90/night) or in Newberry at an AirBnB cabin ($90/night).
One of the best and most well-known winter getaways is definitely the German town of Frankenmuth. Unlike other areas popular with tourists, Frankenmuth isn’t deterred by the winter season; instead, it thrives on it.
In Frankenmuth, it’s Christmas all year long and the holiday is heavily celebrated. The town has a wealth of events planned for the holiday season and beyond. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland features nearly any kind of Christmas decoration you could imagine. Explore Frankenmuth’s many shops, including the outdoor mall of the River Place Shops. Trying Frankenmuth’s famous chicken dinners is also a must, with Zehnder’s and Bavarian Inn both providing quality options.
The Bavarian Inn is a vacation mecha of its own, with the Castle Shops and gift shops. Several family-friendly activities are found here, such as an indoor water park, indoor mini golf, a Family Fun Center, and even pretzel rolling classes.
Those with a passion for fantasy will find a number of things to appreciate. Search for gnomes in Frankenmuth’s many locales and win a prize from the visitor’s center. Forge a real dagger, knife, wand, rune pendant, or other items at the Bavarian Blacksmith Experience. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride with Fantasy Carriage Company, Inc. and truly feel like a king or queen.
This Upper Peninsula town on the shores of Lake Superior has a unique winter feature—it’s smack dab in the middle of Michigan’s best ice caves.
Ice caves form when the water from melting snow runs over the edge of a cliff and freezes again. Ice caves aren’t actually caves made of ice; instead, they are walls of ice you can explore. Michigan’s ice caves are best viewed between January and March for optimal weather effects. Ice cleats are essential, as are other traction devices, and snowshoes may also be important.
For an ice cave tour, visitors have a few options. Lake Superior Ice Cave Tours offers chauffeur tours to ice caves on Grand Island and the Pictured Rocks. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is known for its trademark colorful cliffs, which are just as beautiful in the winter. Four prominent formation areas are found near the western end, off Sand Point Road. In the Hiawatha National Forest about 20 miles away are the Eben Ice Caves. There’s no official route, but following the signs on the private land will eventually lead visitors to the one-mile trek.
The Pictured Rocks still feature a number of activities for those who find ice caves a bit too daunting. The Munising Falls on the lakeshore freeze in the winter, creating a beautiful winter scene. Visitors can snowshoe, cross-country ski, snowmobile, and even go ice-fishing.
Where to Stay: The Falling Rock Vacation Suites ($90/night) in downtown Munising offer lodging above a bookstore and Birch Tree-Plex ($93/night) offers multiple apartments. For an inexpensive hotel stay, check Alger Falls Motel ($89/night).
This small town on the coast of Lake Huron may not seem like much at first, but it’s got natural beauty and history built on the limestone foundation of Michigan’s former lumber industry. And an up-and-coming downtown.
Downtown Alpena features a developing culinary scene with restaurants such as The Fresh Palate, a farm-to-table restaurant focusing on organic gourmet food. A variety of shops offer local goods in historic buildings. Those of age can find locally brewed beers at Austin Brothers Beer Company. The downtown is quaint, cozy, and worth a winter stroll.
Visitors can study local nature and wildlife at the Island Park and its adjacent wildlife sanctuary. Rockport State Park Recreation Area is an official Dark Sky Preserve, offering full-spectrum views of the night sky. The Besser Bell Natural Area at Rockport is great for snowshoeing. In addition to quiet beaches, visitors will find the ghost town of Bell, a former logging community. The North Eastern State Trail (NEST) is great for exploring the abandoned lumber towns of yesterday by snowmobile. For those interested in ice fishing, Hubbard Lake, Long Lake, Grand Lake, and Fletcher’s Pond are all great destinations.
Where to Stay: Try an Alpena AirBnB, like this Getaway Home ($87/night), a room in a Historic Queen Ann ($68/night) near downtown, or a Beach Bungalow ($100/night). Lower rates may also be available at Big Bear Lodge ($70/night), Sanctuary Inn ($71/night) or the Days Inn ($82/night).
Ottawa and Allegan Counties
Many people know Holland for its trademark tulips. But winter allows this western Michigan town to show off another claim to fame—the largest municipal snowmelt system in North America.
With fully heated sidewalks, you’ll never have to worry about slipping on the ice in downtown Holland. Holland features over 100 local shops and restaurants, perfect for a holiday shopping excursion. During the holiday season, the 8th Street Marketplace is host to Kerstmarkt, which means “Christmas market” in Dutch. Kerstmarkt is a European-inspired open-air market hosting local artisans, specialty shops, and special entertainment. For 2021, the Kerstmarkt dates are Nov. 20 through Dec. 11.
Outdoor enthusiasts may wish to try fat tire biking. The Holland area has over 150 miles of paved bike paths and off-road trails, including US Bicycle Route 35. The 40-acre Riley Trails is a great area for fat tire biking in the winter months. Holland also has a number of bike shops and rentals.
Where to Stay: Visitors will have a variety of lodging choices. For inexpensive hotel rooms, try Best Western ($93/night), Fairfield Inn ($84/night), Quality Inn ($75/night), or Days Inn ($59/night). One can enjoy the hospitality of local Holland residents at an AirBnB ($65/night). For those preferring more nature in their accommodations, the Whitetail or Beacon Cabins at Holland State Park are available for the off-season rate of $68/night. The cabins sleep up to seven people. Guests must bring their own bedding, dishes, and cookware.
For Michiganders, riding a sled in the winter is both a childhood milestone and nostalgic activity, and that’s an activity that can easily be done in Midland. Midland City Forest is a winter recreation park that features a groomed hill to sled and Michigan’s only hand-packed toboggan runs.
A toboggan is a traditional sled without runners and the ones at Midland City Forest seat up to three people. The elevated runs are about one-tenth of a mile long and guests must rent their toboggans for $8/two hours. These runs are the centerpiece of the park, but far from the only attraction. Guests can also enjoy the ice skating rink, ski trails, and a communal fire pit. At the heated chalet, guests can enjoy concessions and take advantage of equipment rentals. The toboggan run and chalet were both closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’re feeling optimistic about the upcoming 2021 season.
As for the rest of Midland, the city is mostly known as the headquarters for Dow Chemical, but there’s plenty more than chemical plants here. One popular attraction is Dow Gardens, a botanical garden spanning 110 acres. Even in the winter, Dow Gardens still has plenty of holiday events to enjoy. Its Canopy Walk can’t be missed, as it is the longest structure of its kind in the country. Another winter attraction is the Emerson Park Ice Hockey Rink, where anyone can bring their own equipment and play for free. For guests that need to be inside, the Midland Center for the Arts can provide a needed cultural escape.
Where to Stay: Midland offers plenty of AirBnBs at a bargain, such as this furnished apartment ($75/night) or bungalow duplex ($89/night) near downtown. Try Baymont Inn ($93/night) or Sleep Inn ($85/night) for inexpensive hotel rooms.
Sawmill Rd., Manistique, MI 49854
Trekking to the Upper Peninsula in the middle of winter may be a tricky task, but Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring is a worthy reason to stop by. Like many things in Michigan, the winter weather only makes it more beautiful.
Kitch-iti-kipi is located within Palms Book State Park. The name originates from Michigan’s indigenous people. In the Ojibwe language, it means “big cold spring” and is sometimes referred to as “Mirror of Haven.”
Like many other wonders of the Mitten State, the winter season gives Kitch-iti-kipi a beauty that can’t be experienced the rest of the year. The 40-foot deep waters never freeze, since the fissures in the underlying limestone keep it at a constant year-round temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The spring features a self-operated observation raft with a viewing window, allowing visitors to observe the aquatic life and network of old tree trunks and limbs. Visitors should take caution, though, as snowy conditions can make the journey on foot difficult without snowshoes, skis, or a snowmobile.
The nearby town of Manistique offers plenty of other activities for a winter vacation. For those that enjoy cross-country skiing, the Indian Lake Pathways Ski Trail twists and turns through the Lake Superior State Forest for a picturesque view. The Manistique Boardwalk and River Walk stretches for nearly two miles. History buffs will enjoy the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse and Historic Fayette town site, both located nearby.
Where to Stay: The charming City Solitude apartments 1 ($70/night) and 2 ($90/night) on AirBnB will have you situated right in downtown Manistique, while this cozy cabin ($96/night) offers beautiful views of Indian Lake. For inexpensive hotels, check out the Quality Inn ($91/night) or Econo Lodge ($70/night).
Shanty Creek Resort
5780 Shanty Creek Rd., Bellaire, MI 49615
Michigan has several ski resorts, but many of them come at a premium price. With Shanty Creek Resorts, vacation packages are built custom to guests’ needs and budgets with their unique OneRate system.
Shanty Creek Resort is a top Michigan resort among families. It prides itself on an authentic “Up North” experience and features several winter recreation activities that are difficult to find anywhere else. Lodging options are offered across 5,000 acres and four villages: Summit Village, Cedar River Village, Schuss Village, and Hawk’s Eye Village. Each has its own themes, rates, and dining options.
At about 17 miles, the Nordic Trails create a “village-to-village” experience between the four. Summit Mountain offers more intermediate trails and Schuss Mountain offers more advanced trails. Between the two mountains, the resort offers a total of 53 ski and snowboard runs. In addition to the downhill opportunities, there are also cross-country trails. Other outdoor recreation opportunities also abound. The resort has its own Alpine Tubing Park, a sledding activity fit for guests of all ages. Guests may even take a dog sled ride along the golf course with the rescue dogs from Second Chance Mushers.
For the aficionados of alcoholic beverages that wish to get away from the resort, Bellaire has a surprising amount of local retailers in the area. There’s something for everyone, whether your preference is craft beer, wine, hard cider, mead, spirits, or cocktails. Consider a visit to Short’s Brewing Company Pub, Bee Well Mead & Cider, Mammoth Distilling, or Torch Lake Cellars.
Grand Traverse County
Traverse City is a popular tourist destination famous for its National Cherry Festival. Though its peak season is during the summer surrounding this festival, it still has plenty to do in its off-season—and at bargain prices.
The Cherry Capital is located in Grand Traverse County, but its tourism initiatives also include adjacent Leelanau County and Benzie County as well. Check out the calendar of events, because something’s always going on. Gear up for special winter events like Restaurant Week, a culinary exploration of the area.
Although many restaurants tested heated outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, Traverse City turned it into an artform. You can enjoy the Cherry Capital’s best cuisine or your favorite adult beverage at a wide variety of outdoor dining venues, including heated patios, fire pits, igloos, yurts, and shanties.
Traverse City’s Front Street serves as the network for its downtown, which features quaint Victorian storefronts. Clinch Park is nearby, where visitors can take a stroll and admire the icy pier. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, formerly the Traverse City State Hospital, still offers its popular walking tours in the winter, if you can bear the cold. Skiers and snowboarders can get their downhill fix at two local slopes: Hickory Hills and Mt. Holiday. Tour the popular Traverse Wine Coast to experience northern Michigan’s premier wine hotspot.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are just as beautiful in the winter, with opportunities to sled or tube down the famous slopes. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive closes to vehicles in the winter and instead allows cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Where to Stay: Affordable AirBnBs are plentiful, such as a Downtown Loft ($67/night) or Victorian Loft ($100/night). Many hotels are discounted for the winter, such as Grand Beach and Sugar Beach Resorts ($80/night) and Bayshore Resort ($79/night).
BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE MICHIGAN—First, he wanted to ban transgender health care for adults and children, and now has speculated about wanting...
President Joe Biden on Friday issued a stark reminder about what’s at stake in the November election following a news report revealing that Donald...
BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE MICHIGAN—Voters with disabilities can access new voter education videos featuring American Sign Language on...
We’re taking a tour to seven vibrant and stigma-shattering cannabis scenes in Michigan, curated by visionary Black entrepreneurs. MICHIGAN—When you...
FLINT—A Michigan man was charged Tuesday under the state's new law requiring safe storage of guns after his 2-year-old daughter shot herself in the...