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A lighthouse and barn next to a lake with an icy shore.
Pint Betsie Lighthouse near Elberta.
John McCormick/Shutterstock

15 Up North small towns you need to visit this winter

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Pint Betsie Lighthouse near Elberta.
| John McCormick/Shutterstock

Most people reserve trips Up North for the spring and summer months. But if you limit your trips to just those seasons, you’re missing out on much of what this great state has to offer.

Will you be swimming in Lake Superior in January? Probably not (though bravo if you do). But there’s a distinct beauty in the quiet of winter to be found in the majestic ice caves, frozen waterfalls, snowy hikes, and skiing. And the towns themselves won’t be overcrowded like they are during the warmer months

Some may debate where “Up North” starts, but we’re beginning from the Zilwaukee Bridge just north of Saginaw on I-75. The map is organized south to north, with the farthest location around nine hours away.

And be sure to check out our list of the best cabins to rent Up North this winter.

Did we leave your favorite off the list? Let us know in the comments.

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1. Port Austin

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M-25
Port Austin, MI 48467

Located right at the tip of the thumb, Port Austin has the perfect location for watching both the sunrise and the sunset over Lake Huron. Great for those who love the outdoors, Port Austin has many hiking trails nearby, including the distinct and gorgeous Turnip Rock. The small downtown has shops, cafes, and a beach.

2. Ludington

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M-116
Ludington, MI 49431

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Ludington has two lighthouses to visit, plus a ton of antique shops and galleries. And if you want to go to Wisconsin, the car ferry takes off from here.

3. East Tawas

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Tawas Beach Rd
East Tawas, MI 48730

We love a good lighthouse, and there's a good one here in Tawas Bay. Built in 1876, the Tawas Point Light stands tall next to its distinct red structure. This area offers lots for fans of the outdoors, as the Au Sable River meets Lake Huron. There's also plenty of shops and antique stores to browse through the area.

4. Elberta

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M-22
Elberta, MI 49628

Located along Lake Michigan on M-22, the village of Elberta has one of the waterfront access in the state. Stop by the Point Betsie Lighthouse when you're in the area.

5. Glen Arbor

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M-22
Glen Arbor, MI 49636

The Sleeping Bear Dunes offer some of the most spectacular winter vistas in all of Michigan. The little town of Glen Arbor along M-22—which has plenty of restaurants, shops, and galleries—is a great place to stay during your visit.

6. Leland

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M-22
Leland, MI 49654

This sweet little town on the Lake Michigan shoreline is right by Lake Leelanau. Hop on a ferry here to visit either North or South Manitou Island. Stroll around Fishtown, shop the quaint downtown, and make sure to sip on some Leelanau County wine.

7. Old Mission Peninsula

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Old Mission Rd
Traverse City, MI 49686

Old Mission Peninsula isn't really a town per se, but we recommend visiting the 19-mile long, 3-mile wide peninsula for its beautiful views of the bay and the wineries.

8. Alpena

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M-32
Alpena, MI 49707

Located on the shores of Lake Huron, Alpena is perfect for the nautical-minded visitor. This town of just over 10,000 has a lighthouse and shipwrecks to explore. There are some great historic buildings to see as well.

9. Harbor Springs

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M-119
Harbor Springs, MI 49740

Right across Little Traverse Bay from Petoskey is the smaller town of Harbor Springs. Like many of these places, there’s an adorable downtown area and all kinds of outdoor activities. It’s also a great jumping off point to drive through the Tunnel of Trees or ski at Nub’s Nob.

10. Mackinac Island

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Mission St
Mackinac Island, MI 49757

We have to add the charming Mackinac Island to our list. Ditch the car for a day or two, ride the ferry over, get a bike and some fudge and stop to smell the lilacs. Toursity? Of course! But in the winter, it’s much less so.

11. Paradise

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M-123
Paradise, MI 49768

Can a town called Paradise live up to its name? If you love big lakes, big waterfalls, shipwrecks, and fishing, then yes. Paradise is a good place to stay if you're going to see Tahquamenon Falls. Visit the Shipwreck Museum to learn more about the Edmund Fitzgerald while you're there.

12. Grand Marais

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Grand Marais Rd
Newberry, MI 49868

This little town on Lake Superior is right before you get to Pictured Rocks. The area is perfect for anyone who loves the outdoors, with biking, camping, and snowmobiling depending on the season (or day). Sable Falls, pictured here, is right down the road.

13. Munising

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M-28
Munising, MI 49862

Munising is where you'll go if you plan on exploring Pictured Rocks. From here, you can hop on a tour boat, see some shipwrecks and waterfalls, and plan your hikes. But there’s also more to do in town than in years past.

A large rock face with trees jutting out into a body of water. Photo by Kurt Mensching

14. Marquette

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The biggest city in the U.P. is also pretty dang charming. Home of Northern Michigan University, it’s got a bit of a college and hipster vibe, which means solid bars and restaurants. But of course there’s plenty to do outdoors as well, including hiking around the 323-acres Presque Isle Park designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted or skiing at Marquette Mountain.

15. Houghton

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All the way in the Keweenaw Peninsula, there’s a surprising amount to do in Houghton if you’re willing to make the drive. There’s great beer in town and old mines to explore nearby. It’s also a common jumping off point to do some serious backpacking or snowmobiling. The town also hosts its annual Winter Carnival which showcases spectacular ice sculptures.

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1. Port Austin

M-25, Port Austin, MI 48467

Located right at the tip of the thumb, Port Austin has the perfect location for watching both the sunrise and the sunset over Lake Huron. Great for those who love the outdoors, Port Austin has many hiking trails nearby, including the distinct and gorgeous Turnip Rock. The small downtown has shops, cafes, and a beach.

M-25
Port Austin, MI 48467

2. Ludington

M-116, Ludington, MI 49431

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Ludington has two lighthouses to visit, plus a ton of antique shops and galleries. And if you want to go to Wisconsin, the car ferry takes off from here.

M-116
Ludington, MI 49431

3. East Tawas

Tawas Beach Rd, East Tawas, MI 48730

We love a good lighthouse, and there's a good one here in Tawas Bay. Built in 1876, the Tawas Point Light stands tall next to its distinct red structure. This area offers lots for fans of the outdoors, as the Au Sable River meets Lake Huron. There's also plenty of shops and antique stores to browse through the area.

Tawas Beach Rd
East Tawas, MI 48730

4. Elberta

M-22, Elberta, MI 49628

Located along Lake Michigan on M-22, the village of Elberta has one of the waterfront access in the state. Stop by the Point Betsie Lighthouse when you're in the area.

M-22
Elberta, MI 49628

5. Glen Arbor

M-22, Glen Arbor, MI 49636

The Sleeping Bear Dunes offer some of the most spectacular winter vistas in all of Michigan. The little town of Glen Arbor along M-22—which has plenty of restaurants, shops, and galleries—is a great place to stay during your visit.

M-22
Glen Arbor, MI 49636

6. Leland

M-22, Leland, MI 49654

This sweet little town on the Lake Michigan shoreline is right by Lake Leelanau. Hop on a ferry here to visit either North or South Manitou Island. Stroll around Fishtown, shop the quaint downtown, and make sure to sip on some Leelanau County wine.

M-22
Leland, MI 49654

7. Old Mission Peninsula

Old Mission Rd, Traverse City, MI 49686

Old Mission Peninsula isn't really a town per se, but we recommend visiting the 19-mile long, 3-mile wide peninsula for its beautiful views of the bay and the wineries.

Old Mission Rd
Traverse City, MI 49686

8. Alpena

M-32, Alpena, MI 49707

Located on the shores of Lake Huron, Alpena is perfect for the nautical-minded visitor. This town of just over 10,000 has a lighthouse and shipwrecks to explore. There are some great historic buildings to see as well.

M-32
Alpena, MI 49707

9. Harbor Springs

M-119, Harbor Springs, MI 49740

Right across Little Traverse Bay from Petoskey is the smaller town of Harbor Springs. Like many of these places, there’s an adorable downtown area and all kinds of outdoor activities. It’s also a great jumping off point to drive through the Tunnel of Trees or ski at Nub’s Nob.

M-119
Harbor Springs, MI 49740

10. Mackinac Island

Mission St, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

We have to add the charming Mackinac Island to our list. Ditch the car for a day or two, ride the ferry over, get a bike and some fudge and stop to smell the lilacs. Toursity? Of course! But in the winter, it’s much less so.

Mission St
Mackinac Island, MI 49757

11. Paradise

M-123, Paradise, MI 49768

Can a town called Paradise live up to its name? If you love big lakes, big waterfalls, shipwrecks, and fishing, then yes. Paradise is a good place to stay if you're going to see Tahquamenon Falls. Visit the Shipwreck Museum to learn more about the Edmund Fitzgerald while you're there.

M-123
Paradise, MI 49768

12. Grand Marais

Grand Marais Rd, Newberry, MI 49868

This little town on Lake Superior is right before you get to Pictured Rocks. The area is perfect for anyone who loves the outdoors, with biking, camping, and snowmobiling depending on the season (or day). Sable Falls, pictured here, is right down the road.

Grand Marais Rd
Newberry, MI 49868

13. Munising

M-28, Munising, MI 49862
A large rock face with trees jutting out into a body of water. Photo by Kurt Mensching

Munising is where you'll go if you plan on exploring Pictured Rocks. From here, you can hop on a tour boat, see some shipwrecks and waterfalls, and plan your hikes. But there’s also more to do in town than in years past.

M-28
Munising, MI 49862

14. Marquette

Marquette, MI

The biggest city in the U.P. is also pretty dang charming. Home of Northern Michigan University, it’s got a bit of a college and hipster vibe, which means solid bars and restaurants. But of course there’s plenty to do outdoors as well, including hiking around the 323-acres Presque Isle Park designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted or skiing at Marquette Mountain.

15. Houghton

Houghton, MI 49931

All the way in the Keweenaw Peninsula, there’s a surprising amount to do in Houghton if you’re willing to make the drive. There’s great beer in town and old mines to explore nearby. It’s also a common jumping off point to do some serious backpacking or snowmobiling. The town also hosts its annual Winter Carnival which showcases spectacular ice sculptures.