In the Upper Peninsula, winter is a glorious season! We love it and you will, too! There is snow, lots and lots of snow, jaw-droppingly beautiful curtains of sparkling ice, plates piled high with comfort foods, steaming cups of coffee and frosted mugs of craft beer, thousands of miles of trails to take you deep in our wintery wonderland and temperatures that make it easy to play outside for hours.
Discover why the U.P. is one of the best winter vacation values
You don’t ever have to blow your winter vacation budget when you visit the U.P. That’s why it is one of the best values between the holidays and spring thaw. Include these 10 free things to do in your getaway itinerary and your costs will plummet even lower!
- Cross-country ski or snowshoe on hundreds of miles of pristine trails
- Ride in the fat tire bike hub of the Midwest
- Explore magical ice caves
- Feeling gutsy? Go ice climbing
- Visit these eight must-see frozen waterfalls
- Drive, hike or snowmobile to our lighthouses
- Plan your winter vacation around these two freebies
- Stargaze or watch the Northern Lights
- Warm up in story-filled museums and cultural centers
- Join in our free winter fun, week after week
Cross-country ski or snowshoe on hundreds of miles of pristine trailsBack to Top of List
Bond with family and friends on miles of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, suited for all levels and abilities. Many state parks offer the magical experience of lantern-lit cross-country ski and snowshoe trails from December through March. Several offer free snowshoe rentals, too. Enjoy the warm lantern glow in the woods and end your evening relaxing with refreshments next to a roaring bonfire. Bring the entire family!
Another free way to enjoy winter is skijoring. Step into your cross-country ski bindings and let your snow-loving dog pull you along our powdery trails. LEARN MORE
Ride in the fat tire bike hub of the MidwestBack to Top of List
When the fat tire bike trend started to snowball, bike riders in the Upper Peninsula began packing it into every spare minute. Fat tire enthusiasts describe this sport as a cross between riding a bike and riding a horse. In Big Snow Country we describe it as exhilarating.
You can pedal everywhere in the U.P., but Marquette is the fat tire bike hub of the Midwest with its 60 miles of groomed trails and plenty of rental shops. Its Noquemanon Trail Network offers several types of rides ranging from kids/beginners to dual slalom. It is one of only two trail systems in Michigan and only 16 nationwide to receive EPIC Trails Status from the International Biking Association. LEARN MORE
Explore magical ice cavesBack to Top of List
Disney’s FROZEN has nothing on the Rock River Canyon Ice Caves better known as the Eben Ice Caves. The massive ice curtains form when melting snow runs over the edge of the cliff and freezes. It’s very similar to the large ice formations along Munising’s Grand Island National Recreation Area and parts of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore but the Eben Caves are easier to access. However, reaching the caves requires hiking 0.75 miles on a trail with steep ups and downs. Outfit your boots with ice cleats and use cross-country ski poles for balance on the trail and in the icy caves. LEARN MORE
Feeling gutsy? Go ice climbingBack to Top of List
Marquette may be the hub of fat tire biking, but Munising is the mecca of ice climbing. Not only does this Lake Superior town host the Michigan Ice Fest in early February, but it is home to towering ice walls that double-dare the gutsiest climbers to scale them. Another popular icy ascent is Hogback Mountain in Marquette. Eager to prove your grit? Here are two helpful maps:
Munising Ice Climbing Map
Marquette & Central U.P. Ice Climbing Map
Drive, hike or snowmobile to our lighthousesBack to Top of List
Over 40 lighthouses can be seen along the three Great Lakes’ coasts. Many of them are still accessible in the winter by car, snowshoes or snowmobile. Seeing these historic beacons against the winter blue or steel-gray skies defying the icy waters is stunning. Choose at least two to visit before you return home. LEARN MORE
Plan your winter vacation around these two freebiesBack to Top of List
Free Entrance to the National Parks Day
Enjoy an entrance fee-free day in mid-January when our nation celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a perfect day to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice climbing and ice formation and wildlife viewing.
Free Fishing Weekend
Always held on the Saturday and Sunday of Presidents Day Weekend, Michigan waives all fishing license fees on these two days for residents and non-residents. It’s a great weekend to try ice fishing for the first time or share your shanty with family and friends. LEARN MORE
Stargaze or watch the Northern LightsBack to Top of List
The night sky over the Upper Peninsula is one of the darkest in the world. Look up anywhere and you will see more of our awe-inspiring universe. Unimpeded vistas of Lake Superior’s horizon also make this an ideal place to watch the Northern Lights during the winter months.
One place that offers stellar views is the Upper Peninsula’s only certified International Dark Sky Park, the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park near Copper Harbor. Headquartered at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, the stargazing grounds are free and open to the public nightly. LEARN MORE
Warm up in story-filled museums and cultural centersBack to Top of List
Our land and waters are steeped in stories shaped by generations of Native American families, European explorers, adventurous sailors, pioneering entrepreneurs, courageous soldiers and men and women undaunted by the dense wilderness. You can immerse in their lives at several free museums. Two of the newest are the Webster Marble: Inventing the Outdoors Museum and U.P. Military Museum in Escanaba. EXPLORE MORE
Join in our free winter fun, week after weekBack to Top of List
In the winter, we are not couch potatoes in the U.P. We always find reasons to be together — hopefully, this winter with you as well. In our online events calendar, find free ways to get into the holiday spirit. Watch parades, visit our antique Christmas village in Escanaba or be wowed by the nightly Ore Dock Holiday Laser Light Show in Marquette from Dec.1 to 31. Or come from January through March for our Mackinac Bridge antique snowmobile crossing, Michigan Tech. University’s Winter Carnival, Marquette’s midnight dog sled run and Crystal Falls’ hilarious ice shanty parade. MORE EVENTS
Spending some money upfront multiplies your free opportunities in the U.P.
These three annual investments add more value to your winter vacation:
- Michigan Recreation Passport. This gives you free, year-round access to all Michigan (Upper and Lower Peninsula):
State parks, recreation areas and trails
Boating access sites
State forest campgrounds
- Non-resident recreation passports are good from Jan.1 to Dec. 31:
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Annual Pass: This pass is good for one year from the month of purchase and admits the purchaser and passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle as often as you can visit.
- Snowmobile Registration and Trail Permit: Poll after poll, sledders rank the Upper Peninsula as one of, if not the best snowmobiling destination in the United States. To ride, you must register your sled here or have proof of your home state’s registration. You must also purchase an annual trail permit good from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. With this permit you can ride thousands of miles of state-designated trails, public roads and public lands (where authorized) in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. State-designated trails are open from Dec. 1 to March 31.
Simplify your planning with this map and trip builder
Use this interactive map to help you see where several of the free things listed above are located. Then build your trip with this easy-to-use online planner, adding where you want to visit, what you want to do and where you plan to stay and eat. You can then review or change your schedule and share it with others too.
Wherever you stay in the U.P., you’re close to free winter fun
While we can’t offer free lodgings, we do offer rates that fit your vacation budget and the amenities you want. Our accommodations are within a day trip of the free things you want to do this winter — and several have trails and free activities outside your door!
Share your memories with U.P. travelers
Please post your favorite free winter moments in the U.P. using our hashtag #uptravel. We may feature them on our social media, website or in our marketing materials. You can also upload your photos to our Winter Photo Crowdriff Collector below. Other travelers like knowing how you chased away the winter doldrums this year. Thanks for sharing!