There's a special hush when winter arrives in Michigan's Great Lakes Bay Region, best broken by the sounds of activity-fed laughter. On snowshoe, ski or sled, skate blades or fat tires, snowboard or toboggan, on land or frozen water — this is the place for snowy fun!
Yes, the Great Lakes Bay Region is brimming with wonderful sights, thrilling activities, blissful settings. They don't go away when winter comes and, in fact, many take on even more charming character.
Cross-country skiing has been a hit here since the 1970s, when Ed and Dorothy Elliot of Midland taught beginners at Saginaw's Imerman Park and elsewhere: "Everybody fall, and we'll learn how to get up," Dorothy would instruct with a laugh. The falls grew rarer, the skiing became more polished (and popular), and the laughter lingered.
Equipment has improved, with easy-to-use and efficient no-wax skis, and diagonal-stride skiing joined by skate-skiing; groomed trails for each wind through this region.
Yes, give us some snow, and we're skiing along the Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail, trail segments within Bay City State Park, and at the Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park (where rental ski packages are available).
In Midland, skiers also take to the Grand Curve Trail, Chippewa Trail, and the 30-mile Pere Marquette Rail Trail, all radiating from The Tridge downtown. The Bay City Area Riverwalk/Railtrail offers 21 miles of skiing possibilities, the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail 11 miles more.
Cross-country ski technology was imported, while snowshoes were created here by Native Americans who discovered they actually made some journeys easier in winter than in summer!
Trappers, loggers and others adopted the native footgear, and in time, recreationists learned that snowshoeing is not only a blast, but a great way to stay in shape. Some of us still sling to ash-framed, rawhide-laced traditional snowshoes, but modern metal frames and synthetic decks have reduced size and weight.
Snowshoes come in different sizes and shapes to match users and uses — from running on groomed trails to busting through brush. In Midland, Chippewa Nature Center loans equipment to participants in its many snowshoe hikes and programs.
Fat Tire Biking
Fat tire bikes are stars of summer, when they handle sandy beaches and boggy trails. But for many the prime time for these specialty bikes, with tires as wide as five inches across, is winter.
Sledding, Tobogganing & Ice Skating
Skis, snowshoes and bikes have their fans, but for many winter wouldn't be complete without hours enjoyed in such traditional activities as sledding, tobogganing and ice skating.
Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park offers all three, including some of Michigan's few remaining toboggan tracks. From their towers, three to four people per rented toboggan race down snow-packed and iced runs. Rental is $8 per hour, with a two-hour maximum rental, first-come, first-served.
Sledding at the Winter Sports Park takes place on a groomed-daily (but unsupervised) hill, lighted until 10 p.m. each night. There's even artificially made snow added to the hill when conditions are right! Bring your own sled or tube — no steel-runner sleds, toboggans or snowboards — or rent at just $4 for two hours.
There's just something charming about outdoor ice skating, and the Midland City Forest Winter Sports Park offers a large, lighted rink; no hockey allowed. Despite its name, the Emerson Park Ice Hockey Rink near downtown Midland is open to all skaters. Another option is Saginaw's Hoyt Park, where an outdoor ice rink (including warming house, refreshment stand and skate rentals) joins sledding and snowboarding hills. Bay City's waterfront Wenonah Park offers the new Nickless Family Community Pavilion and its large, colorfully lighted rink, plus on-site skate rentals and hot chocolate.
Another way to explore winter's wonders in the Great Lakes Bay Region — and just maybe catch the makings for a splendid meal — is on a frozen lake just full of fish.
On Saginaw Bay, known as one of North America's very best walleye fisheries, the fish are so numerous the Michigan Department of Natural Resources actually wants anglers to catch and keep more of them. That's the kind of conservation work an angler can sink his or her teeth into!
Champion tournament angler, guide and educator Mark Martin holds one of his popular Ice Fishing Vacation Schools on Saginaw Bay, arranging lodging and recruiting a faculty of likewise-seasoned guides who give one-on-one instruction — in classroom seminars and on the ice — to both new and seasoned anglers.
You'll learn more in a few days of Mark Martin's Ice Fishing Vacation School than in many winters of fishing on your own — and have a great time doing it!
The region offers lots of other great ice fishing options, too — Sanford and Wixom lakes particularly popular and productive. Among top sources of ice fishing tackle and information are Frank's Great Outdoors in Linwood, and Sanford Sport Shop.
An Elevating Winter Walk
This winter, don't forget Midland's Canopy Walk at Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens. This $20 million barrier-free project extends in three arms for a nation's-tops total of 1,400 feet, elevated up to 40 feet above the ground. The Canopy Walk closes only when it ices over, and those closures are expected to be few and short.