Winter Fun from January to March in Southeast Michigan

Whether your family loves stage shows, exhibits and laser tag or skiing, hiking and looking at ice sculptures outdoors, kick off 2016 right with these 13 cool activities.

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The number 13 gives some people the chills. But, the way Metro Parent sees it, 13 is the perfect way to beat the chill in southeast Michigan – or, for adventurous types, outright bask in it. Bundle up the kids to glide across the ice, zip down a ski hill, scope out snow monkeys, get crafty in nature or watch chainsaws transform hunks of ice into glistening masterpieces. Then, warm up to some Motor City automotive marvels, and the smells (and tastes) of an honest-to-gosh chocolate factory.

In fact, whether metro Detroit gets hit with snow squalls or unseasonable thaws, there’s so much to do, the next three months are scarcely enough time to contain it all. There’s no excuse not to brave the elements!

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1. Skiing and snowboarding

Consider this your chance to conquer a bunny hill. January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, and Discover Michigan Skiing makes it an affordable gamble at $20 for cross-country skiing and $35 for downhill skiing or snowboarding. Locally, this program, which spans Jan. 3-31, 2016 and is open to ages 7-plus (10-plus for snowboarding), is at Mount Holly, Pine Knob Ski & Snowboard Resort in Clarkston and nearby Mount Brighton. While not hosting the promo, Alpine Valley in White Lake is another spot to learn the ropes. Snow guaranteed.

2. Play centers and fun spots

Cabin fever setting in? Time to let the rug rats blow off some steam – at local indoor fun centers. For tykes, check out pint-sized play nooks, like trailblazer Jungle Java, now with locales in Ann Arbor, Canton, Clinton Township and Farmington Hills. Other nifty picks for small fries include Rochester Play!, Tiny Town Play Lounge in Northville and Detroit Kid City in Southfield and Clinton Township, offering a scaled-down Motown. Got older kids? A day at C.J. Barrymore’s in Clinton Township gives ‘em a golf range, bowling, arcade and laser tag. For even more, check out the Metro Parent roundup of best family fun play centers in southeast Michigan.

3. Detroit auto show and AutoRama

Salty roads and black ice are the seasonal enemies of our vehicular arsenal. However, gearheads know there are two safe winter havens when it comes to wheeled wonders. The first, of course, is the almighty North American International Auto Show, returning to Detroit’s Cobo Center Jan. 11-24, 2016. Prefer kicking it old school? AutoRama, the quintessential hot-rod show, roars into Cobo Feb. 26-28, 2016. See customs, trucks, ‘cycles and more.

4. Check out a museum exhibit

Young car enthusiasts will have the unique opportunity to look under the hoods of some of the most memorable vehicles at the Henry Ford Museum during its Engines Exposed exhibit, which is open Jan. 9-Feb. 28, 2016. Other hot museum picks: Toytopia at the Michigan Science Center (open through March 31, 2016), the Kid Rock Music Lab at the Detroit Historical Museum – or explore the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum for $5 after 5 p.m. Thursdays.

5. Factory tours all over town

Have you ever seen a brand-new truck, stuffed animal or sea of sweets roll off the assembly tracks? Take a tour! The Ford Rouge Factory Tour gives an inside view of the iconic Detroit auto plant that’s still churning out F-150s. The Jiffy Mix Plant in Chelsea offers tours by reservation (9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday). And don’t miss the Morley Candy Makers and Sanders Candy Factory in Clinton Township, home of Pecan Torties and cream puffs (times vary).

6. Outdoor ice skating

Whatever your ability, lacing up skates and taking to the ice is essential wintertime fun. Brandish your blades of glory – or rent a pair for just $3 – at Detroit’s dazzling jewel, The Rink at Campus Martius Park, which is open through March 6, 2016 ($8/ages 13-49, $7/kids and seniors). If the lakes freeze over, you’ll also find skating at four area Huron-Clinton Metroparks: Kensington (Milford), Lake St. Clair (Harrison Township), Lower Huron (Belleville) and Stony Creek (Shelby Township).

7. Theater and stage shows

In case you missed the playbill, we’re in the heart of theater season here – and the line-ups are dandy. In early 2016 at Ann Arbor’s Wild Swan Theater, it’s Drum Me a Story Feb. 12-13 and Skipwrecked March 11-12 (earlier performances of both these shows are already sold out). PuppetART in Detroit hosts Snow Queen till Jan. 31, then West African folktale Oh, Ananse! in February and Mouk’s Adventures in March. Peter Cottontail is at the Northville Marquis Theatre in March. And if you’re hankering for the blockbusters, hit Detroit’s Fox Theatre for Sesame Street Live, running Jan. 20-Feb. 7, 2016.

8. Zoo, deer and dogs

The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak will host Bunnyville featuring treats, games and more March 25-26. You can feed fallow deer at the Belle Isle Nature Zoo in Detroit (11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday). Love pooches? Mark your calendar for The Michigan Winter Dog Classic at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi Jan. 21-24, 2016.

9. Sports action

There’s plenty to see this year. Pistons basketball is going strong at the Palace of Auburn Hills till April and the Detroit Red Wings have a full schedule through April 9, 2016. That should help tide you over till the Tigers’ April 8 home opener.

10. Unique movie experiences

Soak up cinema the way your parents did: at an old-fashioned neighborhood movie joint. A few are still hoppin’, complete with tasty eats. The meticulously restored Redford Theatre in Detroit, a 1928 gem with twinkling “stars” in its domed plaster ceiling, is a great one: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (PG) is playing Jan. 8-9, 2016. In Ann Arbor, Michigan Theater hosts family oldies and newer favorites, like Disney’s Frozen Sing-Along Feb. 27-28, 2016 and Magical Music of Disney March 13, 2016. Plymouth’s Penn Theatre often also offers a monthly kids flick. Or keep the car heater on and catch a budget double-feature at the Ford Drive-In in Dearborn.

11. Nature centers and outdoor activities

Pick a park. Any park. Odds are, especially if it has a nature center, you’ll find crafts, activities and events galore. That includes the 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks. Hit Hudson Mills in Dexter Jan. 23, 2016 for Chillin’ at the Mills and try fire-making and shelter-building. By March, maple sugaring programs kick off. Clarkston’s Wint Nature Center also keeps families busy with educational winter events in January, February and March. And bring your sled to Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor for free fun – visit raptors and, on select dates, the frogs, turtles, snakes and rabbits at the Critter House.

12. Wintertime festivals

Elephant ears and dunk tanks give way to winter sports and chilly art at local fairs. The January frosty fun crown goes to the Plymouth Ice Festival, returning Jan. 8-10, 2016 with majestic carved creations, entertainment and more. Other goodies include the ninth annual Fire & Ice Festival in Rochester (Jan. 22-24, 2016), Meridian Winter Blast in Detroit and Utica Ice Festival (both Feb. 12-14) and parades to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day.

13. Indoor pool and water park fun

Arctic plunges not your thing? The water’s fine (and much warmer) inside! Goldfish Swim School opens “family swim hours” for 4 months-12 years select times at its many area locations. Aqua-Tots has lessons just for special needs kids. At the hotel/water park combo Sterling Inn, pair a staycation with 2,300 square feet of fun, including a three-story waterslide. And don’t forget about your community offerings: Find slides and other fixings at the public pools in Canton, Macomb Township, Warren and more – all under one weather-proof roof.

This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2015 by Jessica Schrader.

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