A Winter Adventure Weekend in Michigan
Updated: May 21, 2021
3 days exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Pictured Rocks in the winter. Try out ice climbing, drive a dog sled team, and hike to ice caves for an outdoor winter weekend getaway.
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Ice Climbing or Ice Fishing
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Munising area is one of the premier ice climbing destinations in the country. The sandstone cliffs throughout the area retain moisture from fall rains and then create breathtaking ice formations throughout the winter. Many of these ice formations are formed over the cliffs on the edge of Lake Superior so advanced climbers can climb with the lake below them. Most of the ice formations aren’t waterfalls at all and are only created in the winter.
I recommend a day experiencing beginner ice climbing with Downwind Sports. They charge $150 per person for a private guide to take you out for a full day of ice climbing. (The price varies slightly depending on the number of people in your group). Downwind Sports runs the renowned ice climbing fest every year in Munising and their guides are considered the the most experienced in the area. We found them to be informative, patient and willing to customize the day to make it work for your group.
Your day starts early (8:30/9 am) at their store in Munising where they outfit you with all of the necessary gear:
A. Mountaineering boots
B. A harness
D. Ice picks.
E. Climbing rope
All of the gear is included in the $150 charge.
Check out the What to Wear and Pack section for tips on what you should bring outside of what they provide. You will warm up quickly when you are climbing but it becomes cold while you are waiting your turn to climb.
Once all of the gear is distributed and fitted, your guide gives you instruction on the techniques for climbing. They also review the instructions again once you are at the ice climbing location.
Next you will drive over to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and then hike to your first climbing spot of the day. Where you climb depends on your experience level and the ice conditions. As beginners, we climbed in the front country (not directly over Lake Superior), on the Prelude Curtain and Opening Curtain. We also hiked a short trail to see the Dryer Hose, even though it wasn’t quite frozen enough for climbing. Our guide handled setting up all of the ropes. It is top rope climbing where you are anchored to a rope at the top the whole time you are climbing. If you fall, your harness and the rope catches you. The guide also does all of the belaying for you, so all you have to worry about is climbing!
The climbing is a workout, and is harder than it looks, but with the guide's help and instruction anyone should be able to complete a few of the climbs. We climbed four different ice formations and then hiked to see one more and hiked/walked back to our car. We then drove back to the store to drop off our gear. Our day lasted from 8:30 am-5:30 pm. If you are tired and want to quit ice climbing earlier, that’s fine too though!
Downwind Sports also offers 20% off anything in the store for anyone that went out ice climbing with their guides.
If ice climbing isn’t for you, or you prefer a more relaxing day, ice fishing is another unique option for a winter activity in the area. Marquette Adventure Guide Service offers half-day ice fishing outings that can start at 8 am or 11 am. Their service includes four to five hours out on the water, one or two guides, a heated shelter, snacks and refreshments. Sometimes they cook the fish you catch for lunch as well. You may have to walk a quarter mile or so on the ice to reach your fishing spot. Depending on conditions they may offer a snowmobile ride out to the fishing spot as well. The guide meets you at the lake where you’ll be fishing for the day. When we inquired about this outing, they were going to set us up at Gwinn Lake.
Cross Country Skiing
A third option for Day One is to cross country ski. Valley Spur is a well-maintained cross country ski trail in the area. You can rent skis from Downwind Sports in Munising.
Hiking or Snowmobiling
Depending on the level of physical activity you prefer, or depending on your budget, there are options for either snowmobiling or hiking/snowshoeing in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Hike to Explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Winter
Your hiking game plan for the day depends on how much you want to hike as well as road and snow conditions. For all of these hikes I highly recommend bringing or wearing ice cleats (also called crampons, or Yaktrax). They make the hikes significantly easier and less dangerous in icy trail sections, and also help on snowy and icy stairs. You also have the option to snowshoe for a couple of the trails. Bring your own snowshoes if you own them or rent them from Downwind Sports in Munising. Entrance to Pictured Rocks and these hikes is free!
Winter Hiking Options in Pictured Rocks:
1. Miner’s Falls- This was our favorite spot that we visited while hiking in the area. The Falls are stunning in the winter with magical looking ice formations forming around the falls and the freezing stream in front of the falls. The road to the Falls, Miner’s Castle Road, is usually plowed on weekdays up until it intersects with Carmody road. This means you should be able to drive most of the way to the Falls trailhead. When you turn right towards the Falls off of Miner’s Castle Road, that road may or may not be passable, but you could easily hike or walk that section. Once you reach the parking lot there are signs for the trailhead, and it’s only a 1.2-mile total hike out and back to the falls. The trail is popular so it’s unlikely you’ll need snowshoes but ice cleats are helpful. An all-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for the drive.
2. Miner’s Castle Viewpoint- This is a rock formation and viewpoint on Lake Superior.
There are three options for seeing Miner’s Castle in the winter:
A. Drive the Miner’s Castle Road as far as possible before it is no longer plowed. From there, walk three miles along the road to the viewpoint. It is three miles each way. Look out for snowmobiles as they use this section of the road as well. It would be useful to have snowshoes for this walk.
B. Hike on the North Country Trail starting from Sand Point Road. This is a 9-mile total hike out and back. It is a longer hike than the option above, but it is on an actual trail, and the route rewards you with views of Lake Superior during the hike. I recommend snowshoes for this route.
C. If the roads are passable you could drive all the way to the Miner’s Castle Parking lot and the viewpoint is right there.
3. Munising Falls- These Falls are easily accessible off Sand Point Road, which is plowed year-round. There is a parking lot right by the trail head and it’s only an 800-meter walk to the lower viewpoint of the falls.
4. Twin Falls (also known as Memorial Falls and Tannery Falls)- These two waterfalls are technically outside of Pictured Rocks National Park but are close by and easily accessible. There is a sign for the waterfall parking at the entrance of Sand Point Road. After you park, walk across the street and there is signage for the trailhead for both falls. It’s right off of the side of the road.
The trail to one waterfall follows green markers and the other follows blue markers. Each trail is only about a half of a mile.
Snowmobiling Options in Pictured Rocks
Below are options of routes and sites to see via snowmobile. A link to the park’s snowmobile route map is here.
Snowmobile on Miner Falls Road to see Miners Falls (this requires a short, 1.2 mile out and back hike to the Falls)
Snowmobile on Miner Falls Road to see the Miners Castle viewpoint
Snowmobile Chapel Road to Chapel Falls and Mosquito Falls (each waterfall requires a short hike to the Falls)
Snowmobile to Little Beaver Lake
Snowmobile to Sable Falls
Snowmobiles can be rented from Munising Snowmobile Rentals. There are other snowmobile trails in the Munising area that are outside of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore as well. If you have never been to Pictured Rocks, I’d recommend exploring it.
At the end of the day, stop at Bear Trap Inn for a pasty or a drink. It’s close to the Pictured Rocks area.
Ice Caves and Dog Sledding
Start your day early to go to the Eben Ice Caves between Munising and Marquette. It’s not an actual cave, but a well known ice formation that forms over the side of a cliff. Go as early as you can, ideally right after sunrise, to avoid crowds. Wear ice cleats for this hike so that you are able to easily hike around and explore inside the “cave” of ice formations once you get there. Google maps can direct you to the trailhead, which is actually on private farmland. The owner allows hikers to start the trail on the property, and offers plowed parking, porta potties and concessions with hot chocolate and snacks.
To start the trail, you walk through the farmland towards the trees. The trail here should be easy to see.
Once in the woods you will reach a fork in the trail. Do not walk towards the horizontal branches that are blocking the trail to the right. Take the path to the left where you will see the information sign. Walk through the large boulders by the sign to continue on the trail.
After the information sign there are no more trail markers but the trail is relatively easy to follow from other footprints. When you reach a stream that is coming downhill on your right, turn right and hike up along that stream. The ice caves are at the top of the stream. When we went, there were footprints that continued on straight beyond the stream on the right that made it confusing to find the caves. The hike should be less than a mile each way. If you go over a mile you have gone too far.
Winter Hike Options in the Munising and Marquette Area
If you are aiming for a more budget friendly trip and don’t want to dog sled in the afternoon there are additional waterfalls and hikes near Eben Ice Caves that are options to explore:
Hike to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette. It is a 20-minute hike each way with elevation gain up to the view.
Hike to Laughing WhiteFish Falls in the State Park
Hike to Rock River Falls
In the afternoon we drove to Husky Haven Kennel to dog sled. Follow the written directions they provide, don’t follow Google or your GPS. The drive out to their kennel is a beautiful tree lined road in the wilderness.
The kennel owner starts off the experience with an indoor discussion about the Iditarod and how the dogs are trained and cared for. Learning all of this from someone who has completed the Iditarod was interesting and made us appreciate the dog sledding experience even more. Then they gave us a tour around the grounds and we had the opportunity to meet a few of the dogs. We were able to meet a couple puppies too! After the tour they start prepping the sled and the dogs for the run. You have the opportunity to help put boots on the dogs for the run.
When we started the actual dog sled run we were able to drive the sled, but with a trainer in front of you who had an additional break in case there were any issues. You learn how to turn, brake, and can even try running or pushing on foot. You then swap drivers in your group and have the opportunity to relax and have the experience of riding in the sled. At the end they give you an opportunity to ride on the back of the snowmobile in front of the dog sled to take pictures of the other people in your group leading the dog sled team. They also take action pictures for you and email them to you later.
The whole experience lasted about 4 hours and cost $150 per person. We were probably only leading the dog sled or riding on the dog sled for a little over an hour. It does become cold while out there though, and they explain that’s why they don’t make the ride too long.
Husky Haven is a small operation where the dogs are clearly part of their family. They restrict their dog sledding experience to small private groups so you have a personal, attentive experience. It was an added bonus to ride with dogs who had completed the Iditarod as well.
Optional Day 4
Grand Island Ice Caves
If you happen to be traveling between mid-February and early March, and if the path across Lake Superior has frozen over, then hike to explore the Grand Island Ice Caves. The path only freezes for a short period every year, and occasionally it doesn’t freeze enough at all.
Build an Itinerary for a Winter Pictured Rocks Trip
This itinerary works well as a stand alone long weekend trip. You could also add downhill skiing, cross country skiing or snowboarding in the area too.
Lodging for a Pictured Rocks Trip
Hotels- There is a Holiday Inn Express centrally located in Munising
Home rentals/Airbnb- Home rentals in Munising, Au Tran or Christmas, all are quick drives to most of the stops in this itinerary.
Advanced Bookings for a Winter Pictured Rocks Trip
Out of all of the activities mentioned in this article, dog sledding is the one most likely to book up early. Winter in general is low season for the area though so we were able to book most of our trip a couple weeks out.
What to Wear and Pack for a Winter Pictured Rocks Trip
See My Packing List for additional recommendations for all trips.
What to Wear
Hiking boots (Winter hiking boots are even better, they are more insulated and have even better traction)
Snow pants or water resistant hiking pants
Multiple pairs of lightweight gloves. These are specifically for the ice climbing day. Big waterproof gloves are difficult to climb in, lighter fabric gloves worked better. We swapped wet gloves out for a dry pair when they became too wet. Two to three pairs of lighter gloves should be enough for the day. I also put on bigger gloves while waiting in between climbs.
Thermal or wool leggings and top
A winter hat
What to Pack
A daypack for hiking. The Arc'teryx Index 15 is my favorite.
Ice cleats (aka crampons or Yaktrax)
A thermos for bringing a hot beverage on the ice climbing day
A plastic tarp This is for the ice climbing day. You can put your backpacks on the tarp so they don’t get wet from the snow on the ground.
Hand and toe warmers Toe warmers were especially helpful for dog sledding when you aren’t moving much.
What to Eat in the Upper Peninsula
Lake Superior Fish- Trout, Walleye and Perch are all local to the area
Pasty- They are a traditional upper peninsula snack/meal with meat, egg or vegetable filling inside a golden pastry crust. It looks a bit like an empanada but is usually larger. Traditionally a miner food brought to the area in 1850, it was an easy hand held dish for miners to eat down in the mines.
Where to Eat near Munising in the Winter
Note that many restaurants in the area are only open seasonally in the summer. When you google restaurant options, check hours and seasonal schedules carefully.
Foggy’s-This restaurant is located in Christmas between Au Tran and Munising. They have a large menu of traditional American dishes including ribeye dinners, burgers, salads, and more. I had their blackened Walleye twice during our trip, so I would recommend it! It is one of the few restaurant options that is open for dinner every night of the week during the winter. They also have a heated outdoor tent set up for COVID-friendly dining.
Eh Burger-This is a fast casual option located in Munising that offers burgers, chicken and fries that are higher quality than your average fast food restaurant. Their burger patties are fresh, not frozen. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all winter.
Miners Pasty Kitchen- Pasties are an easy hot snack after hiking or to bring on a hike and this spot in Munising sells a wide variety of them. It is open daily in the winter.
The Brownstone Inn- This is an Au Tran option with similar offerings to Foggy’s— steaks, salads, sandwiches and local fish. At the time of writing this they are open for carry out on weekends. Check their website for the latest updates on their winter schedule.
The Bear Trap Inn- This is an easy option when you are near Pictured Rocks. Grab a quick pasty after hiking or have a full dinner there. Open Thursday through Sunday at 4:30 pm, they offer steaks,seafood, sandwiches and pasta.
By George Brewing Co. - A local Munising brewery with indoor and outdoor seating. We loved their root beer and bought growlers of it to bring home.
Road trip Options
These options aren’t in the immediate Munising/Pictured Rocks area but depending on the direction you are driving, they may be on your way up to the area or on the way back home.
Trenary Bakery- Founded in 1928, this bakery is a road trip stop located in Trenary, a half hour from Munising. They are known for their Finnish Dunking Toast (sold in local gas stations and grocery stores as well) and their homemade Rye breads. We had breakfast sandwiches on their homemade bagels that were great as well. Stop for a sandwich or for their twice-baked coffee bread, cinnamon rolls or bread to take for the weekend. Note that it is closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Dobbers Pasties-This is a road trip option for trying a pasty. It’s located in Escanaba and has been open since 1975. They ship their pasties throughout the US.
Col K’s Pasty Shop- This is another road trip pasty option is in Menominee and has an easy drive-through window.
Getting around Pictured Rocks in the Winter
To follow this itinerary you need a car. An SUV with all wheel drive would be best for the snowy roads. Even the plowed roads often aren’t completely clear.
When to Go to Pictured Rocks in the Winter
Ice formations and snowfall accumulation usually start by mid-December. Since this varies every year, waiting until January is more likely to guarantee proper conditions for these activities. If you want to hike out to see the ice caves on Grand Island, mid-February to early March has the highest likelihood of the lake being frozen over for accessible hiking.
Ice climbing conditions in the area are regularly updated here.
Additional Reading: A Summer Weekend Getaway to Pictured Rocks
Trip Dates: January 2021.
Article Updated: January 2021
*Some links in this article are affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you.