For many people, once the snow begins falling, the outdoor adventure season has officially ended. I am not one of those people. Winter offers a whole new menu of outdoor options to stay active with.
Your best bet for this is Swiss Valley Ski park in southern Michigan. While not quite living up to the slopes out West, this place offers a reasonable amount of skiing at a much better price than other places. Saturday nights from 5:00 – 10:00 everything is half off.
Cross country skiing
A more sedate version of skiing, this is essentially the best way to traverse hiking trails in the winter. There has to be at least 5 inches of snow on the ground. Learning is pretty straight forward and not dangerous at all. Many parks groom their trails as well as rent skis. Keep an eye out for cheap used skis to avoid racking up a hefty rental cost over time.
Places to check out:
St. Patrick’s County Park
Madeline Bertrand County Park
Love Creek County Park
T.K. Lawless County Park
Potato Creek State Park
Basically hiking with tennis rackets on your feet to distribute your weight and make getting through deep snowfall much easier. This can be enjoyed by anyone. Snowshoes are often available for rent at parks.
Pretty thrilling and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of experience. Sleds can be bought at a local thrift store. Tubes tend to be less durable and probably seldom make it to thrift stores. Buying these new is probably your best bet. While sledding is generally more fun, many local parks do not allow it because it can be dangerous while they are perfectly fine with tubing.
Places with hills:
St. Patrick’s Park
Ferrettie Baugo Park
Depending on the year, some winters offer dazzling displays of ice to marvel over. In 2013-2014, temperatures were so low for such an extended time that Lake Superior froze over enough to allow visitors to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to walk along the mainland cliffs and explore the sea caves which were covered in amazing ice formations. Make sure you call before driving because the park can close any time due to weather and it’s a long drive. If it is open, expect big crowds.
Equally (or maybe even more) spectacular was Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island, only reachable by driving across an ice road. The crowds here are much more manageable.
Closer to South Bend, seeing frozen Lake Michigan from the dunes is pretty neat. Just be careful not to go very far on the ice as it doesn’t freeze quite as solidly down here.
Unplowed roads – Be careful where you drive if you don’t have four wheel drive. Many parks and natural areas close for the winter and make no attempt to plow their access roads. Sometimes it can seem just fine until you get so far in that it’s too late. Digging your car out of the snow can easily ruin a trip.
Camping in the winter is quite an experience. I will not necessarily recommend it, but I also won’t talk you out of it if its something you want to do. Another option is cabins. There are actually some reasonable deals for cabins at state parks. If no cabins are available, consider using couchsurfing.com. Couchsurfing is completely free and extremely fun.