15 Reasons to Visit Lake Michigan in Winter
Bundle up and get out there!
Unpredictable lake-effect weather, produced by temperature differences above the open water and the coast, rules the winters around Lake Michigan. Locals don't go into hiding when winter strikes. Instead, they bundle up and relish the white stuff -- and invite visitors to do the same. Here are 15 reasons to visit Lake Michigan during the winter.
Try frozen dunes -- and hot treats
1. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's famed Mount Baldy, snow-streaked in winter, offers a gently sloping path to the crest. From there, Lake Michigan opens up, silent, still and breathtaking -- a vast lake rimmed with choppy ice.
2. Caffe Tosi in St. Joseph, Michigan, tempts visitors with a rich tiramisu layered with creamy mascarpone (pictured at left). Nearby, at the Chocolate Cafe and Museum, the barista whips white chocolate, steamed milk and espresso into Lake Effect Mochas.
Ski by day, and find a supper club by night
3. Cross-country skiers at Love Creek County Park, an inland nature preserve near Berrien Springs, Michigan, catch glimpses of cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches and other birds -- cheerful daubs of color on a muted winter canvas.
4. Heston Supper Club in La Porte, Indiana, is packed even on a snowy weekday night. Diners feast on specialties such as prime rib and brandy-soaked bread pudding, served at elegant, linen-covered tables surrounding a huge stone hearth.
Give a vodka toast
5. "Best way to warm up!" Chris Moersch jokes as he pours us a glass of Round Barn Winery's popular DiVine vodka. This family-owned business includes a winery, brewery and distillery. A 1911 Amish-built round barn was moved from Indiana to Baroda, Michigan, to house part of the operation.
Eat a fireside breakfast in bed
6. Guests at the Harbor Grand hotel in New Buffalo, Michigan, can flip on the gas fireplace, curl up in a heavy duvet and enjoy the complimentary breakfast: juice, a crumb-topped blueberry muffin and sliced melon. Strong, hot coffee goes down easily. Outside, the sky fades from pink to blue above the ice-shrouded marina.
Do all-weather gallery hopping
7. Watercolor portraits and freshly fired pots seem especially vibrant as the snow piles up in the windowsills at St. Joseph's Box Factory for the Arts. Before it housed 28 art studios, three galleries, a gift shop, a cafe and a small theater, the factory made manufacturing history as the birthplace of heart-shape chocolate boxes.
8. Visitors can go shopping in St. Joseph, where Christmas lights still decorate downtown in February. The three-block business district includes stores such as FuzzyButz Pet Bakery and Forever Books.
9. Get your winter chills massaged away at the New Buffalo Inn and Spa, where the vibe is more homey than Zen, and the staff is almost disconcertingly friendly. We love the lack of pretension and near-obsession with guests' comfort -- a refreshing change from more chic places.
Snowshoe in the big woods
10. Naked trees cast geometric shadows on the sparkling snow in Warren Woods State Park, a quiet patch of pristine forest bisected by a short trail outside Three Oaks, Michigan. A helpful, early-morning snowshoer has stomped a clean path through the trees. Bright sunlight intensifies a four-color collage of blue sky, gunmetal shadows, pale brown bark and impossibly white snow.
Start with homemade bread and butter
11. Homemade bread and butter is just the start of good meals at restaurants such as Tabor Hill Winery in Buchanan, Michigan. At Tabor Hill, the house specialty is pecan-crusted chicken breast with roasted acorn squash, mashed potatoes and raspberry sauce.
12. Schu's Grill and Bar in St. Joseph overlooks the lake, and early-bird diners know to time their dinner with the fiery sunset. By 5:30, every window table is occupied, and the steely winter sky melts into a glowing pool of magenta, orange and lavender above Lake Michigan.
Catch a movie
13. The Vickers Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan, was built in the 1890s as a livery and is now an art-house theater. An antique projector and funky, wrought-iron balcony railings give the place historic flair, and the snowy foam on your cappuccino will remind you of the wintry world you've left outside for a couple of hours.
Get up with the chickens
14. At Tryon Farm Guesthouse outside Michigan City, Indiana, curious guests can follow owner Claudia Geise on her morning walk from the 1896 farmhouse to a long, low chicken coop. A dozen chocolate-color hens busily scratch the floor. Stepping into the bustling coop from the silent cold feels oddly nostalgic, like entering the storybook world of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Glimpse the year ahead
15. At Michigan Thyme, a gift shop and cafe in New Buffalo, manager Jenny Trainor shows the patio, buried in soft drifts. "Our little birdhouses look so hopeful out there, don't they?" she asks. Crayon-box bright and stubbornly optimistic, they cheerfully poke their roofs above the snow, little wooden harbingers of spring.
Originally published in Midwest Living® January/February 2008.