· · ·

17 Outdoor Winter Activities in Northern Michigan – No Snow Required

winter rafting down a river in northern michigan.

The lack of snow this winter in northern Michigan doesn’t mean there’s a lack of outdoor winter activities. There is still fun to be had outside.

If you love skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and all the other “snow” sports a lack of snow can be a huge disappointment. Luckily, we have a pretty comprehensive list of outdoor winter activities that you can enjoy even though the snow gear is still packed away.

Here’s our recommendations for the best outdoor winter activities in Northern Michigan when there’s no snow.

No Snow Required Outdoor Winter Activities in Northern Michigan

Rafting down the river in winter.

Go Winter Rafting!

Yes, this is one of our favorite winter activities and it doesn’t require any snow. There are a number of outfitters available from the Pine River Paddlesports near Cadillac to Jordan Valley Outfitters in East Jordan.

You can read about our winter rafting experiences here.

Mini Mack Bridge in Manistee County.

Go For A Hike

All the endless miles of trails in the region are still accessible. Trails near me that I recommend include Cadillac Pathways, Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail Loop, the Little Mac Footbridge Trail (which is part of the Manistee River trail but worth mentioning separately) and, of course, our favorite hike with a view the High Rollaways Trail.

Fat Tire Bike

The trails may not have snow but you can still head out for fun or to practice for the upcoming 10 and 21 Mile Fat Bike Race Feb. 24 at Cadillac Pathway. In only its second year, this Cadillac’s first and Northern Michigan’s newest fat bike race.

Go Fish

I know, we usually have fishing shanties on the lakes by this time of year. Even though the lakes aren’t frozen there is still fishing from the shore or along a riverbank. Make good use of the “not lung freezing” temps and spend some time casting a line. Don’t forget to pack your fishing license.

Light Immersion at the Skybridge.
(c)Boyne Mountain Resort

Take A Lighted Walk Across The Skybridge

I haven’t done this yet, but it looks amazing. My biggest hesitation is that it looks like you have to take a ski lift to reach the bridge access.

Fun fact about me, I absolutely hate any cable car style transportation. Anything hanging from a cable is usually a HARD PASS. That being said I think I’m ready to give this a try.

Anyways, more about the Skybridge. Located at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne it’s the World’s longest timber-towered suspension bridge. The views look spectacular from the bridge and during the winter months they light it up with over 150,000 lights.

Open daily from 3-9pm, tickets are $25/each if purchased online. The Lighted Experience is available through March.

Look for the Northern Lights

One of my goals this year is to see the Northern Lights from home, or nearby. Yes, I could fly over to Churchill, Manitoba and almost be guaranteed a sighting (did you know they see the lights 300 days of the year there?), but I’d really like to see them from Michigan.

I did find and download an app to help with this challenge. I have no relation with this company, but I use My Aurora Forecast. I’m linking to the apple app store here so you can see what the app icon looks like. This app has been pretty helpful in telling me what the percentage chance I have of seeing the lights from my current location. To date, the highest it’s been is 1%, whomp whomp.

There are also a couple Facebook groups that have been pretty helpful on knowing when to get outside to look for them: Northern Lights/Skies of Leelanau County & NW Michigan, Michigan Aurora Chasers, and Northern Lights Alert. The last one is worldwide, but has gorgeous photos.


Forage in the Forest

Summer and fall aren’t the only times to go out in the woods and see what you can forage. Winter provides an opportunity to find things you don’t find during the other seasons.

If you’re new to foraging or want to learn more there are a number of workshops/classes available. I generally google “forage class near me.” I found this one in Kingsley that is a walk in the woods and very hands on.


There are millions of geocaches around the world and you can find hundreds in the surrounding area. This fun hobby takes you to so many different and interesting areas and has a bit of a treasure hunt vibe to it. Learn more.

tent with extra tarp

Winter Camp

Camping isn’t just for warm months give winter camping a try. I mean, we’re not going out in subzero temps, but we’ve gone when it’s been in the high 20’s to low 30’s at night and been fine.

You can read about our winter camping experience at a campground near Wytheville, VA including what gear you’re going to need.

NoMI Woman Annual Winter/Wine Event

Head to Traverse City for the annual NoMi Woman Annual Winter/Wine Event.

First we will hit the trails – Start off on the groomed winter trail on Aurora Cellar’s Estate with your XC skis or snowshoes! (Choose from a 1/2 or 1 mile trail).

Afterwards (and now we’ve earned it!) we will cozy in for a delicious glass pour from Aurora Cellars + Warm soup & decadent bread from MI Market Suttons Bay. Also, enjoy complimentary chair massages by Enliven Massage and Wellness, mini-makeup sessions with Natividad Kolb and a floral bar by Olds Floral and Design!

Tickets include one glass pour, one cup of soup and bread, plus access to the groomed trail.If not enough snow, we will hike!

lantern lit to guide the way along a hiking trail.

Lantern Lit Hikes

A number of opportunities exist for lantern lit hikes in northern Michigan.

At Carl T. Johnson they offer Friday night lantern lit hikes from the end of December until the snow melts.

Hickory Meadows in Traverse City offers a Wolf Moon lantern lit hike. They ask that you register for the free event.

The Enchanted Trail at The Highlands offers a leisurely 1.5-mile walk along a path adorned with twinkling lights and interactive displays during the winter months. Midway, take a break at our charming yurt for a warm drink. Then, come together by a toasty bonfire for s’mores and take in the splendors of a winter wonderland that surrounds you.

Attend A Festival

There are many festivals that happen throughout the winter, but here are a few you might want to try to attend this year. A quick google search with your location + winter festival should let you know what’s coming to your area.

  • Mackinaw City Winter Festival Outhouse races, big freeze obstacle course, family fun events, and more.
  • Heikinpäivä – Hancock – Finnish crafts, music, food, films, and games provide something for everyone. Although a Hancock City event, the Heikinpäivä spirit has spilled into neighboring communities. There’s something for everyone. 
  • Winterfest – Beulah – Chili contest, poker run, outhouse race, and parade are highlights of Winterfest.
  • BRRRewfest – Ludington – A sure-fire way to beat cabin fever is with Ludington’s premier winter event, the Pure Ludington Brrrewfest! At past events, more than 15 breweries came to Ludington to offer patrons a taste of the best and most unique flavors of beers, wines, ciders and meads from all around Michigan. The event runs from 1-6pm and is held at Legacy Plaza on north James Street in Ludington.
  • Tip Up Town USA – Houghton Lake – I’m not sure how the festival will go this year with the mild weather, but keep an eye on their website to see what has been cancelled and what is still happening.

Explore a Nature Area

We have a number of Nature Areas in the region and if you’ve never been it’s a resource that you need to investigate.

The Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire offers up a number of events and activities throughout the winter. You can also walk their trails.

In Traverse City there is the Boardman River Nature Center. They have a number of fun educational events throughout the winter from tree identification to bird plumage and more.

Carl T Johnson Hunt and Fish Center in Cadillac has great displays, trails and events. During January they offer ice fishing clinics. Open weekends only during the winter. Don’t miss their lantern lit hikes.

Michigan's Tahquamenon Falls in the winter.

Outdoor Winter Activities In The Upper Peninsula – No Snow Required

Most all of the above mentioned activities are also available in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). However, there are a couple things you’ll need to make the drive across the Mighty Mac to experience.

Chase Waterfalls

Did you know that Michigan’s U.P. has more than 300 waterfalls that range from 5 feet to 48+ feet vertical drops. A winter fave is Tahquamenon Falls, but, honestly the U.P. falls have never disappointed us and we’ve been to many.

And, if the temps have been cold enough and the waterfalls have frozen you can go ice climbing or even explore the local ice caves.

Husky dogs pulling a musher across the snow.

Experience Dog Sledding

Yes, even without snow you can take a ride behind a dog sled team or watch a race. Nature’s Kennel in McMillan offers 10 mile and 20 mile trips. The entire experience lasts around 3 hours.

In the lower peninsula head over to Treetops Resort where they have a few winter weekends that offer dog sledding rides.

Rockhound On Lake Superior

Bundle up because it’s going to be cold and the wind off the lake can be brutal and no joke, but my guess is this is a great time to go rock hounding along Lake Superior.

Flyer image for the backyard syrup making event in rodney, mi.

Learn to Make Maple Syrup or Attend a Maple Syrup Festival

Head to Rodney for their Backyard Maple Syrup event happening in February. You’ll learn how to select the right trees and tap it, the collection process, tips on boiling and testing, plus how to bottle the syrup.

If you can’t make the event in Rodney, there are many maple syrup festivals across the area.

Pin To Pinterest

Similar Posts