Winter in the Upper Peninsula: How to plan your trip

Winter weather in the U.P. | Top things to do | Must-visit places | Festivals & Events | Where to stay and eat

The U.P. is the best place for a winter vacation.

In November, the gale winds blast in winter. That’s cause for celebration in the Upper Peninsula! We love winter and you will, too. 

The U.P. is Big Snow Country in the Midwest. There are millions of wilderness acres to enjoy your favorite winter activities or try new ones. Scattered throughout the U.P. are the quaintest historic towns in Michigan, including one aptly named Christmas! There are comfy lodgings to stay in town, in the mountains or along three Great Lakes’ shorelines. Shopping for the holidays is unhurried and stress-free. The food and craft beverages are delicious and deeply satisfying. There are rollicking festivals to lift your spirits and snow-quiet hideaways to hunker down and rejuvenate. This is why we don’t leave the U.P. in the winter. We hope to see your bootprints in the snow soon. 

What is winter weather like in the U.P.?

Snowy! Lots of snow. It’s like living in a snow globe with a mix of clear, blue sunny skies and swirling flurries. Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior are natural snow machines creating what we call lake effect snow. Once the first flakes drop, you can expect an annual snowfall of 200+ inches between November and mid-April. 

Typical winter temperatures in the U.P. 

Our winter temperatures are comfortably cold and rarely bone-chilling. During November, the average daytime temperature hovers near 33 degrees Fahrenheit; in January and February, it drops to an average of 15.5 degrees. 

Crews work day and night to keep the main roads clear.

We measure our annual snowfall in feet rather than inches, but you will rarely have difficulty reaching your favorite winter activities. Just follow our cleared highways and main town roads to your destination. Here are six scenic drives to include in your itinerary. 

On clear nights, look up at our very dark skies.

Winter is one of the best times of year to see the stars, planets, meteor showers and, when the atmospheric conditions are just right, the northern lights dance across Lake Superior’s horizon. It thrills us that the Keweenaw Peninsula is home to one of only three International Dark Sky Parks in Michigan. Bundle up, bring a chair or blanket and be awed; it’s free viewing!

Tips for what to bring when traveling in the U.P. this winter.

The U.P. is mainly wilderness, there is a lot of snow and long stretches between fuel stations and convenience stores. Cell phone reception can be spotty in some areas, too. When you pack your vehicle, U.P. locals and AAA recommend carrying: 

  • Cell phone and charger
  • Warm winter coat, hat, scarf and mittens or gloves
  • Blankets
  • First aid kit and matches
  • Reflective emergency triangles or flares
  • Ice scraper, snow brush and shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight or portable lantern with extra batteries
  • Water and nonperishable snacks
  • Bag of abrasive material such as sand, cat litter or traction mats
  • Tire gauge
  • Basic tool kit
  • Printed maps to your destinations
  • Paper towels or rags

Locals also encourage you to watch your fuel gauge, EV battery and windshield wiper fluid levels and make sure they don’t drop too low. Before you travel, share your itinerary with a family member or friend and when your plans change, send updates. If you get lost or stuck in the snow, call for help. All 15 counties in the Upper Peninsula have Emergency 911 service. 

Top things to do in the U.P. this winter

There’s no couch-slouching in the Upper Peninsula over the next few months! It’s time to get outside and play! Here are some favorite winter activities to help you start your plans.

Snowmobile thousands of miles of scenic groomed trails.

You will be hard-pressed to find a better place to snowmobile in the U.S. Poll after poll ranks Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as one of, if not the best, destination. Ride 3,000 miles of groomed trails through glistening scenery — pausing at frozen waterfalls, historic lighthouses and breathtaking Great Lake shorelines along the way. As you plan your sledding trip, check our weekly snowmobile trail reports and maps listed below by county. LEARN MORE

Downhill ski or snowboard at some of the Midwest’s best ski resorts.

The U.P. has some of the longest runs, highest verticals and deepest powder in the Midwest. Whatever your downhill or boarding level, you’ll find the hill, the instructions and the winter exhilaration you want. Look through the descriptions of our nine ski resorts to see which ones cater to families, which helicopter you up the slopes and which get top reviews from snowboarders. LEARN MORE

Cross-country ski or snowshoe through the breathtaking wilderness or winter-wonderland parks.

You can immerse in our snowy world with hundreds of miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that are suited for all levels and abilities. Our forests transform into silent, glittering cathedrals and our Great Lakes shorelines into ice-sculpted landscapes. Many state parks offer the magical experience of lantern-lit trails with a blazing bonfire and hot chocolate waiting when you return. These trails are also some of the best places to catch glimpses of wintering birds and wildlife — bring your binoculars.

Go dog sledding at the best mushing destinations in Michigan.

Ask anyone what it’s like to go dog sledding in the Upper Peninsula and you will hear, “It’s the best time ever!” The thrill of gliding down a snowy trail pulled by a team of happy, eyes-sparkling, tongue-lolling, born-to-run dogs is tough to beat on a wintry day. This is a winter activity for all ages and physical abilities! LEARN MORE

Adventure in the fat tire hub of the Midwest.

In Big Snow Country, fat tire biking is one of our coolest, fastest-growing winter activities. It’s been described as a cross between riding a bike and riding a horse — and in the U.P., we don’t wait until spring to get back in the saddle! You will experience hundreds of miles of designated trails and backcountry roads ranging from flow, technical, jump, freeride, DH, dual slalom and kids/beginners. LEARN MORE

Wet a line ice fishing for trophy-sized catches.

Some may say you are crazy, but in the Upper Peninsula, we share your passion for ice fishing. You will love catching, releasing or keeping some of the feistiest, biggest, tastiest freshwater fish you will find anywhere. As soon as the water gets hard on our bays and inland lakes, ice shanty towns pop up until March. You will find a camaraderie that will bring you back every winter. LEARN MORE

Try extreme winter thrills.

Test your grit ice climbing.

Winter is serene in the Upper Peninsula, but it’s also a white-knuckle, exhilarating experience. People come from around the world to climb our Lake Superior ice curtains in Marquette and Munising. Plan your U.P. trip around the Michigan Ice Fest in early February to watch or compete with some of the best. Or use these maps to see where you can pit your skills against these icy walls.
Munising Ice Climbing Map
Marquette & Central U.P. Ice Climbing Map

Experience exciting ice sailing, snowkiting or ATV/motorcycle ice racing. 

Other double-dare-you thrills include ice sailing or snowkiting on skis or snowboards across the frozen expanses of the Big and Little Bays de Noc and Lake Michigan near Escanaba. Or come from early January to mid-March to take part in or spectate at the quad and motorcycle races roaring around the frozen oval track at Gwinn.

Rocket down North America’s only Naturbahn Luge in Negaunee.

Whipping up to speeds of 80 m.p.h., you will never forget this ride down a half-mile, ice-covered track! Internationally renowned, this is where Olympic luge hopefuls train.

Play ice hockey, ice skate, go sledding, tubing and skijoring, too. 

The U.P. is also your destination for pickup ice hockey on frozen ponds and inland lakes or ice skating at public indoor and outdoor rinks. Feel the spray of snow as you sled or tube down community park hills or dune slopes. Harness your dog, slip your boots into your cross-country skis and go skijoring down U.P. trails. Enjoy the refreshing joy of making snow angels or stacking snowballs into snow people with your children. Or create snow castles along our beaches. 

Must-visit places in the U.P. this winter

Eastern Upper Peninsula

Frozen Upper Tahquamenon Falls, Paradise | Michigan’s largest waterfall | LEARN MORE

Mackinac Island | Victorian-era, carless adventure | Limited ferry and air service; snowmobile and snowshoe access after Lake Huron freezes | LEARN MORE

Soo Locks, Sault Ste. Marie | At this engineering marvel, watch giant international freighters move within inches of you until the locks close for the winter in mid-January | LEARN MORE

Central Upper Peninsula

Kitch-iti-kipi “The Big Spring”, Palms Book State Park, near Manistique | Largest natural, freshwater spring in Michigan; it rarely freezes in winter | Ride a free raft to see the ethereal depths | LEARN MORE

Fayette Historic State Park and Townsite, Garden Peninsula | Winter is a gorgeous time to cross-country ski or snowshoe through this boomtown turned ghost town | Picturesque overlooks of limestone bluffs and Snail Shell Harbor | LEARN MORE

Eben Ice Caves, Eben Junction |  Park your car and hike to the Eben Ice Caves

Grand Island Ice Caves, Munising | Take a snowmobile, snowshoes or cross-country skis from Sand Point Beach across the frozen bay to explore the larger, more dramatic Grand Island Ice Caves

Western Upper Peninsula

Houghton/Hancock, gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula | Incredible snowmobile, cross-country ski and fat tire bike trails | Exhilarating downhill ski and snowboard runs at Mt. Ripley | Michigan Tech University ice hockey | Renowned snow sculptures at the annual Winter Carnival and wacky fun at the Heikinpäivä Festival | LEARN MORE

Keweenaw Peninsula, crown-jewel of Big Snow Country | Hundreds of miles of cross-country ski, snowshoe, fat tire and snowmobile trails | Breathtaking Lake Superior shoreline | U.P.’s only International Dark Sky Park in Copper Harbor | LEARN MORE 

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon and Gogebic Counties | Michigan’s largest state park with panoramic views of Lake Superior and snow-covered forests | 20 miles of Nordic skiing, backcountry snowshoeing and fat tire biking trails | 20 runs for thrill-seeking downhill skiers and snowboarders featuring natural jumps and a variety of angles from crazy-steep to low | LEARN MORE

Join us at snow-loving festivals and enriching events.

We don’t hibernate in the U.P. Our communities love any excuse to laugh, dance, sing, jump into icy pools, marvel at giant snow sculptures, march in hilarious parades, watch soul-stirring stage performances or cheer for racing snowmobiles, skiers and sled dogs. So, before you choose your trip dates, scroll through our upcoming events. It will be more fun for all of us if you are here.

Where to stay and eat in the U.P.

Whether you want to curl up to read by a blazing fire, soak in a hot tub or sleep deeply after a day in the fresh air, we offer hotels and resorts with the rates and amenities you want. Taste the talents of local chefs who serve steaming plates of comfort foods, hot pasties and Old World recipes handed down for generations, plus delicious new flavors. You are always welcome here. LEARN MORE

Discover the U.P.