Packed full of incredible beaches, thick forests, exciting cliffs, and a rolling countryside—Michigan is a hidden gem of outdoor exploration opportunities. But while most tourists consider the Mitten State just a summer and fall destination, Michigan also has so much to offer during the colder months!
Frozen lakes, snow-covered forests, gloomy beaches and adventurous ski resorts are just some of the things we look forward to once winter arrives in Michigan. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most exciting and safe ways to explore the state is by car!
So if you want to get a peek into how gorgeous Michigan is in the winter, we’ve rounded up a few dreamy scenic drives for you to go on this season. From long coast treks to meandering valley country drives, we’ve got them all right here!
During the winter, local roads may be covered in snow or ice. We recommend checking road conditions before heading out. You can see a list of current Michigan road conditions and closures here.
Distance: 8.8 Miles
Amongst local bikers, this classic 8-mile route along Huron River Drive from Ann Arbor to Dexter and back is a favorite. But if you’d rather drive, this scenic route has plenty to offer from the comfort of your car as well—no matter the season! Start on the eastern part of the road, which you can hop on near the South Pond Nature Area, and head west towards Hudson Mills Metropark in Dexter. Along the way, you’ll drive past several snow-dusted parks, nature areas, frozen waterfront views and even Ann Arbor’s own quaint Main Street.
Distance: 30.3 Miles
Southeast Michigan might not be packed full of sweeping mountain vistas, sprawling valleys or great lakes, but we do happen to have a beautiful countryside perfect for road trips. One of our favorite, quiet country drives is along US-12 to Irish Hills, a historic area that offers a unique combination of picturesque countryside, hometown charm and more than 50 crystal blue lakes. Both the drive to Irish Hills and all the drives you’ll have within the area are absolutely gorgeous during the winter, featuring rolling snow-capped hills, snow-dusted historic buildings, frozen lakes, and so much more.
Distance: 154 Miles
If you aren’t into outdoor winter exploration—that’s okay! The long drive from Port Huron to Bay City along Michigan’s thumb is perfect for you. This 154-mile drive on US 25 passes through small towns full of incredible Victorian houses, roadside parks and, of course, the iconic Lake Huron coastline that is even more beautiful in the winter. For even more adventure, continue on up towards Tawas City, which is just another hour and has even more to offer in the way of winter views.
Distance: 165 Miles
Even if you don’t do anything else this winter in Michigan, make sure to make the long trek to the Eben Ice Caves. The drive from Mackinaw City is one of our favorites. This route takes you over the Mackinac Bridge (one of the largest suspension bridges in the world) through wintery countryside and snow-covered forests. The destination is the real treat though! Located just outside of Marquette, the Eben Ice Caves are one of Michigan’s prime winter attractions. These interesting ice formations are created by melting snow that runs over the edge of a small cliff and freezes, forming “ice caves”. You will have to hike a bit to get to these natural wonders, so plan ahead by bringing ice cleats, poles and other gear to help you stay steady on the slippery ice.
Distance: 116.7 Miles
Nestled along the Lake Michigan coastline, Pure Michigan Byway M-22 has been offering Michiganders the view of a lifetime for more than 100 years. Named one of the Top Five Greatest Driving Tours in America by Rand McNally, M-22 has something for everyone: picturesque scenery, adorable towns, outdoor exploration opportunities and more. Along this route, you’ll be able to explore Michigan’s iconic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which becomes a stunning winter backdrop in the colder months. Pro tip: Sleeping Bear Dunes hills are perfect for sledding, so be sure to bring a sled with you when you go!
Distance: 16 Miles
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Northern Michigan’s Tunnel of Trees on M-119 is one of the state’s most iconic attractions. The scenic, one-lane road winds from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. While M-119 really begins at the north end of Petoskey, it doesn’t officially become “The Tunnel of Trees” until north of Harbor Springs. From there, the highway becomes very narrow, running 20 miles along a spectacular bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and lined with a canopy of trees. In the winter, this drive becomes even more magical, offering snow-cloaked tree limbs and a powdered lane that makes this spot look like something out of Narnia. This drive can be slightly treacherous after heavy snowfalls, so just be sure to check the Michigan DOT website to check road conditions before heading out.
Distance: 23.5 Miles
If you love heading outside when the temperature plummets, consider the drive from Newberry to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. This stunning route takes you through a dense forest to one of Michigan’s premier state parks, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which just happens to be home to the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi. You can visit the park year-round and while the iconic falls are gorgeous at any time of year, if you’re lucky enough to visit when they are completely frozen, you’re in for a breathtaking view.
Distance: 14 Miles
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Nestled in the Ottawa National Forest, the Black River Harbor National Scenic Byway begins on County Road 513 and continues north, ending at Black River Harbor, one of the only harbors in the entire National Forest System. This stunning drive is even prettier in the winter, traveling alongside the stunning Black River, past snow-covered forests, over a scenic suspension bridge and convening at a stunning frozen waterfall, complete with human-sized icicles. These roads and hiking trails can be hazardous during the colder months, so be sure to use caution when visiting.
Distance: 47 Miles
For an incredible dose of history, head to the Copper Country Trail National Byway, which highlights the triumphs and tragedies associated with copper mining in Michigan throughout the 19th century. The 47-mile stretch of US-41 from Houghton to Copper Harbor follows the copper lode that lies deep underground, passing through thick forests, quaint small towns and a plethora of historic buildings. While most people traverse this exciting byway during the fall—its red, orange and yellow scenery is unmatched during September and October—winter is also a great time to visit. Snow-tipped trees, views of the frozen lakes, and picturesque covered-bridges—the list goes on!
Which dreamy winter drive are you hitting first? Let us know in the comments below!