The Petoskey area of northern Michigan transforms from summer playground to winter wonderland as soon as the chillier air begins moving in. When the snow begins to accumulate this land “Up North” embraces a season full of skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice skating and every other winter sport you can imagine. So grab your coat and hat and gloves and lace up a sturdy pair of boots. It’s time to get outside in Michigan for the winter.
You’ll find Petoskey along the shore of Lake Michigan near Little Traverse Bay. It runs a 30-mile course that begins at Boyne Falls and Boyne City and moves northward through Charlevoix, into Petoskey and then Harbor Springs. This region is in what’s known as the “mitten” of Michigan because of its shape.
During the summer this part of the country is a vacationer’s paradise with water sports on the lake, fantastic golfing and outdoor parks and trails. As beautiful as the summer is, the winter in the Petoskey region is magical. Late fall and early winter usher in crisp air and bright blue skies. This area has serious winters with an average snowfall of 111 inches. And once the snow falls it begins to blanket the area in the things winter dreams are made of. Crisp runs on freshly groomed snow. The power of a snowmobile as it skips along a powdery trail. The quiet and the solitude that comes from slipping on a pair of snowshoes and navigating the terrain like our ancestors of old. The simple majesty of taking a horse down a quiet, snow-packed trail. The mark left by ice skates on a icy rink. There’s hardly a community anywhere that embodies winter sports more than Petoskey.
Here’s what you’ll find in Petoskey during the winter:
Sound like your idea of the best vacation ever? Here’s more on all the wonderful winter outdoor activities you can find “Up North” in the Petoskey region of Northern Michigan.
Let’s begin with skiing. Petoskey is a mecca of downhill snow skiing and cross-country skiing. Fans flock to the more than 160 ski slopes in the region. Many of the slopes are located around the three large resorts in the area.
Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs of one of the three large resorts serving up giant heapings of winter sport fun. Boyne Highlands has 55 downhill runs including the longest ski run in all of Michigan. The network of lifts makes it easy to get to the action. Boyne Highlands also has 35 kilometers of trails that lead cross-country skiers through the snow-covered forest. There are also biking options from fat tire bikes to grip the snow or Sno-Go bikes – those hybrids of biking and skiing. Sno-go rentals include a complimentary lessons. There are trails on site for wintertime horseback riding as well as trails that are strictly for snowshoers. There’s tubing down below and ziplining up high. The Boyne Highlands zipline rises 1325 feet and takes its riders across the breathtaking terrain at speeds of 20 to 25 miles per hour. Boyne Highlands also sets up special night adventures with the resort’s SnowCat staff offering ride-alongs as the snow is groomed to get ready for another day. If you get exhausted from all that adventure, you can wind down at night with a bonfire and s’mores.
Boyne Highlands also offers its SnowSports Academy for skiers and riders of all levels.The Academy teaches Terrain Based Instruction in private and group settings.
You can stay on the property at Boyne Highlands in the midst of all of the winter sports fun. The main lodge is designed in the style of a majestic English country estate. Dotted throughout the grounds are cottages, townhomes, rental homes and a separate Inn. The Spa at Boyne Highlands operates year-round and offers services like massages and facials and manicures and pedicures.
The Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls is also a one-stop shop for winter thrill-seekers. It offers 35 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails for skiers of all abilities from bunny trail beginners to the most technical experts. There are also 60 runs and seven terrain bikes for skiing. There is also plenty of family fun to be had tubing down the slopes. A lift takes rider and tube to the top of the run before they head all the way down on the four-lane path. Boyne Mountain offers both fat tire and electric fat tire bikes for gripping the snowy surfaces in addition to the Sno-Go part-ski, part-bicycle rides. There are trails for horseback riding and for snowshoeing. Nine different ziplines offer adventure at up to fifty feet in the air zooming across the slopes of Boyne Mountain. And weekend evenings you can catch a ride in a SnowCat and go along as the snow is groomed to perfection for the next day. If ice skating is your thing Boyne Mountain features an outdoor rink with a stunning backdrop for anyone who laces up their skates.
Boyne Mountain Resort also offers winter sports instruction through its SnowSports Academy.
There is lodging available in the midst of the rolling terrain of Boyne Mountain Resort. There is a main lodge, plus additional lodges, villas and mountain cabins. There are also restaurants and eateries on-site ranging from an apres ski tavern to a coffee shop to a pizzeria.
You’ll find 88,000 square feet of rides and slides within the Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark and it’s open year-round. The climate is always controlled between 84 and 87 degrees inside. The newest attraction inside the waterpark is The Big Couloir – a thrill slide that launches you from a trap door down a steep climb and whips you around before dumping you in the water. There is also a Rip Zone Simulator, the Splasherhorn Waterfall, a gentle Lazy River, a Super-G slide, Downhill Mat Racer and the Vertigo Cannonbowl that spins you around and around inside a water slide tube. Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark is part of Boyne Mountain Resort but you don’t have to be staying at the resort to gain admission. Passes range from 12-month to single day.
Nub’s Nob Ski Resort in Harbor Springs is named after Nubbie Sarns. He and his wife Dorie bought the property to open up a modest little mountain retreat for friends and family to ski on in the 1950s. It began with three trails and a double chairlift and as the years went by it continually opened new slopes and added new chairlifts. The Fisher family bought it in the 1970s and they still own the resort and are committed to constant improvements as well as improving some of the best snow-making techniques around. Today the resort sprawls across 246 acres and features 43 slopes. 50 percent of the runs are for intermediate level skiers but there are beginner runs and advanced runs as well.
There are no accomodations on the Nub’s Nob property for staying overnight, but there is a welcoming lodge with a cozy fireplace, cafeteria that serves breakfast and lunch and a brown bag dining room for skiers who bring something to eat with them. The Pintail Peak Warming Hunt features spectacular views of Little Traverse Bay and has restrooms and weekend food service. There is a technology center on-site to keep your winter gear in tip-top shape. Family members who are too young to be out on the slopes can spend time in Nub’s Cubs Day Care taking part in inside activities and even enjoying lunch together. Nub’s Nob is a home on the slopes for skiers and snowboarders and offers a ski school that has introduced more than one person to the joy of skiing. A pro tip here is to give the night skiing a try at Nub’s Nob.
Resorts aren’t the only places in the Petoskey area to take advantage of the crisp blue skies and the pristine snowfalls in the winter.
The Avalanche Mountain Preserve features more than 300 acres in Boyne City covered in trails. The stars during the wintertime are the sledding hill, the ice rink and the warming house. Cross-country skiers love to glide through here and Michigan Blue magazine named the hill here the best sledding hill in Michigan. There is also snowmobiling, and fat tire biking on the trails. The Avalanche Mountain Preserve is run by Boyne City and there are some sleds and ice skates available to use at no charge and you might be able to scoop up a complimentary cup of hot chocolate as well.
For a peaceful winter walk just steps from downtown Petoskey, consider a stroll through the Bear River Valley Recreation Area. The city recently spent $2.4 million dollars to improve this natural area. There is a 1.5 mile trail that is usually not that busy in winter, but does require snowshoes to get through.
One of the gems of this region has to be the Petoskey Winter Sports Park. This park features a spacious sledding hill and an outdoor ice skating and a hockey rink. There are a limited number of ice scooters available for rent to help teach beginning ice skating. There are slopes for skiing or snowboarding as well and even a designated spot for curling. And the best part is the access to this park is free. After an exhausting day outside you’re welcome to get toasty inside the warming hut which includes a fireplace, restrooms, concessions, an HDTV and wireless Internet. Pro tip: Have your youngest sledders start from halfway down the hill.
Kiwanis Park in Harbor Springs features a beautiful hill for sledding and gentle slopes for beginning skiers and snowboarders. This is a favorite spot for parents and grandparents because they can stay in the warming hut and still have a great view of the kids in the snow.
Charlevoix’s Mount McSauba has been a favorite family winter sports destination since the 1950s. It offers six runs, four rope tows, and a great winger sports night scene with lighted skiing and a free-lighted sledding hill. There’s room here for downhill skiers, cross-country skiers, sledders, ice skaters, showboarders and snowshoe wearers.
Summertime in the Petoskey area is meant for golfing, but at Birchwood Farms Golf and Country Club in Harbor Springs, winter is meant for exploring the trails. Birchwood Farms grooms 8.5 kilometers of cross-country ski trails. Between the trails and the terrain there is a route for everyone from the beginner skier to those looking for a leisurely outing or skiers looking for an intense workout. The best part is the winter sports are not for members only. In the winter months Birchwood Farms is open to the public.
While resorts and parks in the Petoskey area have trails for snowmobiles, there are miles and miles of other trails open for riding. This region is considered a mecca for snowmobilers because of the extensive trail system and the quality of the snow. And many of the snowmobiling trails are located steps away from food and drink. While the majority of unaffiliated snowmobile trails run across land that is owned by the state of Michigan, there are spots that overlap with municipalities and those towns set their own rules for riding snowmobiles on paved roads.
If you are looking to cast that rod and reel through a hole in the ice atop Lake Michigan you can do that in the winter in the Petoskey area. For those who aren’t already versed in selected a thick and safe spot, opening up the correct-sized hole in the ice and setting up a shanty for warmth, there are companies with guides who are experts and will not only take you ice fishing, they will bring all the equipment you need as well. Companies like Sport Fish Michigan feature guides who usually grew up fishing the water of Lake Traverse Bay and will guide you in an enjoyable day that includes everything from shanties with heaters to the bait and the lures.
There are a few events each winter that bring sports enthusiasts to the Petoskey area.
The Nordic Ski Loppet happens every February. It’s a loose and casual 16 mile out and back cross-country ski outing on a single-track trail. It begins in Harbor Springs and ends in Cross Village with a huge buffet at the Crow’s Nest restaurant. While it is a 16-mile course it is not a race. Skiers move at their own pace and there is no official timing. All the participants use classic skis for this one and come dressed in their best Nordic ski wear.
The Harbor Springs Snowmobile Club sponsors the Moose Jaw Safari every year on the third Saturday in January. Participants head out for a 30 miles ride along picturesque groomed trails, make a few stops and then end up with famous bean soup for lunch at the finish. The 2020 edition of the Moose Jaw Safari was the 55thannual edition.
This annual event can trace its origins back to the 1920s when the region had already become known as a playground for winter sports. The first Winter Carnivals featured broomball tournaments, speed skating, hockey and even fox hunts. Today the tradition is still going strong each winter in an active downtown business community. Favorite events include the cardboard sled building and live ice carving.
You might only participate in winter sports activities occasionally. Or maybe your next visit to Petoskey will find you experimenting with sports you have never tried before. Or maybe you are coming in on an airplane and don’t want to have to travel with skis and boots. You can wait until you get to Petoskey to get outfitted with your snow sport gear.
You can rent skis, boots and snowshoes at The Outfitter of Harbor Springs. You can rent by the day, by the week or by the season. Bearcub Outfitters in Petoskey will rent you downhill skis or cross-country skis, snowboards and snowshoes.
If you’re ever want to catch a glimpse of the snow coverage and what the winter scene looks like, you can click into the web cam page at Petoskeyarea.com and take a look at Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain and Nub’s Nob.
All that activity on the slopes, hills and rinks can make a winter sports enthusiast hungry. And the Petoskey region doesn’t disappoint with its wide array of dining options that are open all year-round. Some of the highly-reviewed favorites include Chandler’s A Restaurant in Petoskey with a menu that emphasizes ingredients from Michigan. Diners also like Vintage Chop House and Wine Bar in Petoskey for its classic steakhouse menu and ambiance. And Villa Ristorante Italiano serves up classic Italian favorites in a cozy dining room in Petoskey.
Other popular dining destinations in Petoskey include Palette Bistro with its Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, small plates, wood-fired brick oven and views of Little Traverse Bay. The buzz about The Side Door Saloon is all about the burgers but reviewers also love the blackened whitefish sandwich. POUR Kitchen & Bar has a bit of an urban edge to its dining room and a menu full of local, seasonal and creative items.
The Petoskey area has some interesting wineries and breweries as well. Maple Moon Sugarbush and Winery is America’s first and only maple winery. The shop has wine and cider tastings and a large assortment of treats made with maple. The Mackinaw Trail Winery and Brewery is a family-owned company that makes its own wines and beers from crops that are processed on site. Walloon Lake Winery is a family-run boutique winery and tasting room that strives to make the best wines from cold-hardy grapes. Burnt Marshmallow Brewing is a nano-brewery that makes beer from ingredients grown on its 190-acres along with other local ingredients.
Check ahead because some restaurants wineries and breweries operate on different schedules in the winter than they do in the summer.
North Perk is a locally-owned coffee shop in Petoskey that roasts its own beans. It provides customers with free Internet, book-filled bookshelves and a card game or two. Populace Petoskey is a coffee shop unique to Michigan with specialty coffee drinks and fresh-baked goods.
If you are searching for a winter sports paradise you have found it in the “tip of the mitt” – the Petoskey area of Northern Michigan. Travel “Up North” for the gorgeous scenery that stretches from Lake Michigan across rolling peaks and valleys. More than 100 inches of snow blankets this region every winter building a solid foundation for all the snow sports you can think of from downhill skiing to cross-country skiing to biking to sledding and snowmobiling. The wintertime temperatures in the Petoskey area nurture outdoor ice rinks for figure skating and playing hockey at the base of a spectacular backdrop. There’s adventure up above by reaching for the crisp, blue sky on a zipline. And there is adventure below when the ice on the lake becomes thick enough to support fishing.
The Petoskey area is home to three large resorts that offer complete winter sports adventure programs outdoors – and even one water park that is indoors. But there are also parks with hills and ice rinks and warming houses that are completely free and open to the public. And the region is blessed to be criss-crossed by trails. Some are perfect for a snowmobile ride. Others are suited for taking a quiet walk the old-fashioned way – in snowshoes.
If you are energized by the falling snow and can’t wait to get outside and enjoy it, than Petoskey is the place for you.