Michigan: Why winters in Charlevoix are picture perfect
Situated along the sandy shores of northern Michigan is Charlevoix, a quintessential getaway for Michiganders and out-of-state travelers alike. While the town is perhaps best known as a summer destination, its wintertime—when the lake starts to freeze and the sun glistens off the snow-blanketed town—is just as worthy of a visit.
Fly into Traverse City, about 50 miles south of Charlevoix, or take the scenic driving route with a trip through the Lower Peninsula. Once you arrive, there are many activities to choose from with Lake Michigan, the Jordan River, and Mt. McSauba just a short drive away from downtown.
Hit the snowy trails for a candlelight hike, sample local cuisine, and feel the warmth of Charlevoix’s charming downtown. Whether you spend the weekend on the slopes or cozying up at the local breweries, be sure to catch sight of at least one of Lake Michigan’s world-class sunsets (be warned, your standard for sunsets will be raised impossibly high).
Read on to learn about some of the best that Charlevoix offers in winter.
Seize the snow freeze
You can enjoy some of the timeless winter classics, like skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating at Charlevoix’s Mt. McSauba, just a few miles north of downtown. This affordable and family-friendly recreation area features ski runs, rope tows, cross country trails, a sledding hill and an ice rink. Beginning the end of December, self-guided candlelight hikes are hosted here every Friday evening through February 24. Snowshoe, cross-country ski or hike along the candle-lit trails, which lead to a bonfire where you can warm up with some hot cocoa.
Those brave enough to embrace the chill can sign up for a gentle winter raft down the Jordan River with Jordan Valley Outfitters. With a guide controlling the white-water style raft, you’re able to take in the snowy scenery and wildlife sights, like the occasional American bald eagle spotting, as you float on down.
Whether your activity preference is extreme or serene, make the most of your trip to northern Michigan with an evening of stargazing. Low levels of light pollution make it an ideal place to take in the night sky. You may even get lucky and catch sight of the northern lights (long winter nights create optimal viewing conditions for this natural phenomenon). Mt. McSauba, Fisherman's Island State Park and the Charlevoix South Pier are a few of the best viewing spots.
Sip, sample and unwind
Spend some time relaxing in Charlevoix’s quaint downtown neighborhood. Stop by That French Place, a local café for crepes and a coffee. With your warm beverage in hand, walk the streets lined with boutiques and art galleries. Pick up a memento or two at stores like The Lake House or Momentum Outfitters, which feature Michigan-themed items like wood carved maps, and souvenirs made out of Petoskey stones (more on that later). Savor northern Michigan’s cherished fruit, the cherry, with a stop into Cherry Republic—where you can find cherry jams, cherry candies, and even cherry salsas and condiments (truly a cherry lover’s dream).
Dig into the downtown dining options, like the aptly named Smoke on the Water, a breakfast and lunch spot that specializes in barbeque and prides themselves on their homemade challah. Here you'll find menu items like a pulled pork omelet drizzled in BBQ sauce and drunken French toast. Located on Bridge Street, one of the main stretches of downtown, is The Villager Pub. This local favorite has been around for nearly four decades. They boast an expansive menu, but one of the signature dishes they serve up is fried Great Lakes whitefish.
Michigan has grown into a destination for local craft beverages, and Charlevoix is no exception. Stop into Bier’s Inwood Brewery where you can taste a flight of their craft beer, wine, cider and kombucha. Wine enthusiasts can check out 1918 Cellars, a tasting room connected to the historic Castle Farms. Built in 1918 as a model dairy farm by the former acting President of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., Castle Farms now serves as an event space and local attraction. It features gardens, a model railroad and a World War I museum on site.
See the sights
No trip to the area would be complete without a stop at Lake Michigan’s waterfront. Follow the path to the South Pier Lighthouse, an ideal spot to watch one of those world-class sunsets we mentioned.
Explore the beach and go searching for a Charlevoix stone, or its cousin, the Petoskey stone. These stones, cherished by their namesakes, are fossilized pre-historic coral with distinguishable patterns. This activity is best done in the beginning or the end of winter, when the ice isn't built up along the beach. Read more about insider tips and stone hunting rules here.
Look out for the unmistakable Earl Young “mushroom houses” as you drive through town. Each home was uniquely designed by Young to blend into its surroundings and were mostly built with local materials. The distinctive, almost mushroom-shaped roofs on some of the homes are where the nickname comes from. There’s a self-guided tour map available to see these cherished architectural structures (but do note these homes are privately owned).
Downtown Charlevoix’s Cultural Corridor celebrates the thriving art culture in the region. Comprised of three buildings—the Circle of Arts, the Historical Society, and the Public Library—the corridor features over a century’s worth of photography, art and historical collections. See exhibits featuring paintings, hand-blown glass and jewelry, and events including concerts and theatrical performances. Check out the beloved mural in the foyer of the library that depicts what life looked like in Charlevoix in 1927. After soaking up Michigan's natural beauty, it will be easy to see how it inspires and attracts artists of all kinds.
Ready to go? Start planning your trip with these tips.