Winter in Michigan means one thing: Cold. That, coupled with the snow and ice, causes a lot of families to hunker down and look for indoor fun, but that’s not really the best way to experience the season.
In fact, many parts of the mitten turn into a winter scene right out of a Charles Dickens story this time of year – and you really don’t want to miss out on the natural beauty, including the frozen waterfalls in Michigan.
We’ve rounded up three of our favorite family choices in Ann Arbor and the U.P. for you to explore. Check out the details here. Then, bundle up and make a day trip – or longer – out of them.
Close to home: Ann Arbor’s icy side
Embrace the chilly temps by bundling up your kids and heading out for an adventure at Ann Arbor’s Barton Nature Center. Plenty of hiking trails crisscross the 100-acre park, helping you make the most of its prairies, woodlands and wetlands. And there’s also Barton’s namesake dam, constructed in 1912.
When the weather conditions are just right, the water flowing from the dam freezes to offer visitors an icy treat – a wall of frozen falling water.
“There are two footbridges over the Huron River, one with views of Barton dam, and the other further downstream,” explains Dave Borneman, Ann Arbor’s parks and rec deputy manager of natural area preservation. “The churning water below the dam keeps the river open year-round, so it’s a good place to look for waterfowl when other nearby lakes and ponds are frozen.”
For the best views, Borneman says to park at the entrance on Huron River Drive, just across from Bird Road. Then walk down the gravel path to the dam.
“Walk under the railroad bridge in order to get a closer view of the dam, the falling water and the open water just below it. Climb the stairs near the dam to get a view of Barton Pond above the dam. Then retrace your steps to the footbridge that goes over the river into Barton Nature Area, just below the dam.”
You’ll also want to save time to explore the city’s nearby parks, including the Bird Hills, Kuebler Langford and Hilltop nature areas.
A day trip: The UP’s famed falls
Tahquamenon Falls State Park’s renowned upper falls plummet almost 50 feet, reaching 200 across, and draining the river at a rate of 50,000 gallons per second when runoff is at its peak.
The falls are a main draw to Michigan’s second-largest state park. While it’s rare for the entire falls to freeze, seeing the falls at any time in the winter can feel magical.
Mist from the rushing falls freezes, turning the top layer of the river into glass while the water underneath keeps flowing. These falls are also notable for their brown tint, courtesy of drainage from cedar swamps.
You might ask your kids if they can figure out the falls’ nickname based on its caramel color. (Answer: Root Beer Falls!) Open year round, the park also offers cross-country skiing along with snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
Even farther away: falling for Munising
As long as you’re exploring the UP, drive farther west through the Newberry State Forest Area, the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and Hiawatha National Forest to get to Munising Falls, which skirts Lake Superior.
Besides having a picturesque drive, once you get to the falls you’ll be in the westernmost stretch of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
There’s a manageable quarter-mile paved trail to get to the falls. While you’re there, check out the Munising Falls Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the area (limited winter hours).