Maybe you long for the tranquility and stillness that accompanies winter hiking. Bright, white drifts muffle your footfalls as you navigate the trail in snowshoes. Huge crystalline flakes flash briefly on your coat before melting. Chickadees rasp their calls to one another, flitting past you in search of winter forage.
Or, perhaps, you just need to escape the indoors during the winter slump and get some fresh, crisp air as you travel across northern Michigan.
Whether you’re a restless admirer of wild places, a bird nerd, or an avid dog walker who doesn’t miss a day on the trails, the Petoskey area can get you outdoors. A winter hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski will show you a side of northern Michigan you don’t get to see if you’re just a summer visitor. Take a look at these trails in and around Petoskey that are perfect for winter exploration—they’ll be enough to pique your interest and inspire you to get outdoors when you’re in the area.
1. Avalanche Mountain Preserve, Boyne City
Avalanche Mountain Preserve in Boyne City has it all for winter sports: skiing, hiking, sledding, and snowmobiling. For a winter hike to really get your blood moving during the sluggish cold months, it can’t be beat.
You can take a loop to the top of Avalanche Mountain, generally following the same path that disc golfers use, for about 2.5 miles of hiking. Or, head straight up the mountain, taking the stairs just to the right of the monumental sledding hill. Either way, you’ll have a heart-pounding hike, rewarded by a breathtaking view of Lake Charlevoix and Boyne City below. You’ll pass stands of gorgeous hardwoods all the way up.
The trail is very steep in places, and ice cleats are advised. You can even sled your way back down if you come prepared.
In winter, the warming hut at the base of the mountain may be open. Make sure to check for availability. And don’t forget your ice skates!
2. Waldron Fen Nature Preserve, Alanson
If you’re seeking a striking winter landscape, look no further than Alanson’s Waldron Fen Nature Preserve. Fens are wetlands fed by mineral-rich waters. In summer, this fen is home to over 100 bird species, including sandhill cranes, wood ducks, and myriad songbirds. Orchids, lobelia, mosses, wild rosemary, and other water-loving plants share the stage with snapping turtles and newts. In winter, the tawny waving heads of wild grasses and sedges make this a stunning place to visit.
Waldron Fen has about two miles of trails encircling the wetland and a viewing platform to get a broader view of the preserve. It’s not a very strenuous hike, but you can end up on some muddy terrain, so waterproof boots are suggested. Keep an eye out for the cheery red berries of winterberry holly, a shrub that decorates the trail margins. The holly, like other wetland plants, loves to keep its feet wet and provides winter food for many bird species.
The fen is part of Little Traverse Conservancy, which has many trails for you to explore no matter the season.
3. Susan Creek Nature Preserve, Charlevoix
While the trailhead for Susan Creek Nature Preserve is right off US-31 between Bay Shore and Charlevoix, don’t let the location fool you. This easy, picturesque hike will take you deep into the woods and amidst a variety of habitats and species, including hardwoods, cedars, a black ash swamp, and, of course, alongside the rushing gurgle of Susan Creek. With over two miles of trails among wetlands the ground can get rather muddy, but the beauty of the snowy landscape is totally worth it.
There’s another reason to check out Susan Creek when it’s cold outside: in winter, the Little Traverse Conservancy opens up a mile-long cross-country ski loop. Come to watch the sun catch the ice and water along the creek, and stay to get your ski on.
4. Petoskey State Park – Portage & Old Baldy Trails
Petoskey State Park is a well-known recreation area. Though it’s popular for swimming and camping, it’s definitely not just for the summer months. In winter, the landscape transforms, and views that were hidden by foliage are revealed to the avid hiker.
Petoskey has a few trails, depending on your mood. For cross-country skiing, there’s a short groomed Nordic trail between the campgrounds right off the beach. You’ll be mostly protected from the winds coming off the Big Lake by towering sand dunes. If you’d like a moderately strenuous hike/snowshoe even further into the park, the one-mile Portage Trail is just right for you. It winds across and between small, wooded dunes at the south end of the park. And, if you’d like to get your heart pumping, try the half-mile Old Baldy trail, closer to the north end of the park across from the Dunes Campground. You’ll be rewarded with fabulous views of Little Traverse Bay. If you’re feeling adventurous or it’s a rare day where the wind is calm, you can also take a jaunt along the lakeshore.
The Portage Trail can be steep in some areas, and Old Baldy climbs to a height of over 700 ft. Ice cleats will help you keep a grip in slippery spots.
5. Goodhart Farms Nature Preserve, Good Hart/ Harbor Springs
Are you an avid skier? If so, Goodhart Farms Nature Preserve is the place for you. The Little Traverse Conservancy grooms trails there on Thursday or Friday when weather permits. That’s 3.5 miles of dreamy cross-country ski trails just to the east of Good Hart and its cute little general store alongside the Tunnel of Trees.
Goodhart Farms has a variety of viewscapes for you to enjoy during your visit. On a sunny winter day, you’ll enjoy the rolling meadows with views of Lake Michigan. Maple/beech forests and pine plantations will offer picturesque landscapes out of a fairy tale. Aside from skiing, the 695-acre preserve has over six miles of trails that are great for hiking and snowshoeing.
6. Oden Island Nature Preserve, Petoskey
Oden Island Nature Preserve in Petoskey offers a short hike for people with a time budget. However, the island is a magical area that you won’t regret visiting. There’s a mile of easy trail along the shore of Crooked Lake to enjoy. Hikers can take a short jaunt out to a tiny peninsula jutting out into the lake, which in the winter will reward you with views of ice shanties and intrepid outdoorspeople.
One of the things that makes Oden Island so special is the towering trees. Snow clings to the cedars and hemlocks, and sometimes it feels like you’re the only person in a maze of icy greenery. It’s quiet in spite of the proximity to the highway, and feels like a magical respite from work and stress.
One thing to note about the area: a subdivision was proposed for Oden Island before the preserve was purchased by Little Traverse Conservancy. Now, the preserve can continue to thrive and protect Crooked Lake water quality for future visitors and residents far into the future. We’re sure that once you visit this area, you’ll see why it’s so vital.
7. McCune Nature Preserve, Petoskey
Just east of Petoskey, McCune Nature Preserve is a place of pure beauty in the winter months. There are 3.5 miles of easy-to-moderate trails crisscrossed by Minnehaha Creek, a designated trout stream. McCune encompasses a variety of habitats, so there’s always something different to look at, no matter what season you choose to frequent the preserve. Though you’ll see abundant hardwood species on your walk, like maples, beeches, and red oaks, you’ll also pass through the cool shade of a cedar swamp, and catch some sun in a beautiful, snow-covered meadow.
The footbridges over Minnehaha Creek are picturesque additions to the park. If you’re in a contemplative mood, take a moment to watch the sweep of the ice-covered creek under the bridge. On a crisp, sunny day, it’s a calming, grounding experience.
This is just a small sampling of the many lovely trails the Petoskey area has to offer during the winter months. If you’re interested in more opportunities, explore some of the Walloon Lake Association and Conservancy trails. Or check out more of what the Little Traverse Conservancy has to offer on their website. The Highlands at Harbor Springs and Boyne Mountain have snowshoe trails with beautiful views. No matter where you are in the Petoskey area, we can get you outside. Enjoy winter!
About the Author: Jen DeMoss is a newcomer to the Petoskey area and loves northern Michigan. You can catch her paddling a canoe, hiking a trail, or swimming in Lake Michigan as often as the weather cooperates. She’d love to help you make the most of your time in this paradise she now calls home.