Words by Collette DiJohn Kemper
Photography by Jodi Bodtke
Let’s be honest. As the last amber and russet-hued leaves of autumn fall from the trees, as temperatures fall and days become short, Midwesterners settle into an unspoken acceptance of what’s to come. Five months of winter. Five months of waiting.
And yes, cozy fires, cocktails, and comfort foods—Michigan hygge!—are a lovely way to wait. But stay inside for five months? That’s just crazy talk. Not when the lake, dunes, forests, and prairies offer up a landscape as worthy of exploration as any greener month. Not when fresh air, open space, and wide horizons are more important than ever.
So, in the spirit of embracing the moment, looking cute in layers, and the universal appeal of rosy cheeks, we present five ways to learn to love the cold on the Lake Michigan shore.
‘There are no bad days. Just bad gear.’
With or without snow, a winter hike is a powerful remedy for cabin fever. Spend half an hour or half the day on the many beaches and trails found along Michigan’s southwest shore. We love Warren Dunes State Park for woods, towering dunes, and sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Chikaming Township Park & Preserve is wonderfully diverse—a perfect one-stop destination to explore wetlands, woodlands, prairie, Galien River frontage, and an inland lake. Or lose yourself among centuries-old, silvery smooth beech maples at Warren Woods State Park.
Local Tip: Winter sun is magic, and there’s no better place to take it in than the beach. If you’re new to the lakeshore, it may seem counterintuitive to head to the lake in a parka. But trust us, the icy views can be awe-inspiring, and the sunsets truly majestic.
Remember ten-year-old you? You’ll find her sledding at Warren Dunes State Park. Choose the main dune face for an awesome 260-foot elevation overlooking Lake Michigan. Or hike into the back bowls if you want the ‘hill’ to yourself. Both locations offer challenging climbs, spectacular views, and thrilling, high-speed rides. And laughter. We promise, lots of laughter.
Local Tip: There’s no need to get fancy with sleds. Simple, smooth, and light is the way to go. The park doesn’t rent, so you’ll need to bring your own.
Cross Country Ski
The meditative quality of cross country skiing—its gentle glide and rhythmic sound—is a fantastic equalizer when you’re ready to take it down a notch. Unlike the adrenalin rush of downhill, cross country demands just enough focus to connect you to the landscape and ultimately, move to-do lists to the background. For beginners, we recommend Love Creek County Park where rentals are offered and trails are groomed. But if you’ve got gear, Warren Dunes, Chickaming Township Park & Preserve, and Warren Woods are also great choices with trails of varying lengths and a variety of terrain.
Local Tip: Although ski trails at Love Creek are open every day, rentals are limited to Wednesday-Sunday. Visit the park’s Facebook page for the latest snow and trail conditions.
Is deep, virgin snow keeping you from that gorgeous vista? Then strap on some snowshoes and become the rugged explorer you always knew you were. Blazing a trail through the woods, on the beach, or among the dunes feels wild in the best way. And if you can walk, you can snowshoe, so the learning curve from beginner to expert is very satisfying. Although all the hiking destinations recommended above are worthy spots to give it a try, the elevations of the dunes feel especially adventure-y.
Local Tip: If you need gear, Love Creek County Park offers rentals and lovely inland trails, perfect for a first spin on snowshoes.
Fat Tire Bike
And finally, we come to fat tires—those big poppa mountain bikes capable of conquering sand, mud, and yes, snow. Wider, heavier, and slower than traditional mountain bikes, fat tires offer traction and stability on terrain formerly off-limits to bikers. Find rentals and dedicated trails at Love Creek County Park, or ride your own bike on the all-skill-level trails at Chikaming Township Park & Preserve. Fat tire bikes are also a fantastic way to explore the winter lakeshore.
Local Tip: While there are miles of lakeshore to explore on bike, fat tires are not allowed on the beach at Warren Dunes. You might be tempted to try, especially in the relative quietude of winter, but we hear that rangers will find you.