Bay County embraces the cold with winter outdoor recreation

When the meteorologists start talking about February snowstorms, Michiganders rejoice. Snow and chilly temperatures brings snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice fishing, and more. Most of our natural areas offer year-round opportunities for recreation. But there’s something special about enjoying the outdoors on a crisp, winter day.

Many of the area's fisherman try luck on the ice of the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

It isn’t possible to list every outdoor recreation opportunity in Bay City, but a few of the highlights are detailed below.

As soon as the first snow of the season falls, area kids (and their parents) flock to the sledding hill in Veterans Memorial Park near the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Across the river, a new attraction this winter is the Nickless Family Community Pavilion in Wenonah Park. Access to the rink is free and skates can be rented for $5.

If you’re looking for adventure a little farther from the bustling business district, you should consider putting the Bay City State Park Winter Festival on your calendar. This annual, day-long event takes place this year on Sat., Feb. 16 inside the park at 3582 State Park Drive in Bangor Township.

The Bay City State Park Winter Festival takes place on Saturday, February 16.

The festival falls on Michigan Free Fishing Weekend. During the Festival, the park provides bait, poles, and pre-drilled holes in the ice for a Family Ice Fishing Derby. Other Festival activities include snowshoe hikes, bird feeding workshops, wildlife watching programs and more. Recreation passports are not required this weekend. Learn more here. 

Throughout the year, the park offers 7 miles of trails, including 1 mile winding along the Saginaw Bay shoreline. The trails are part of the 17.5-mile Bay County Riverwalk/Railtrail system and connect to the Tobico Marsh. To learn more, visit this link

During the Festival, the park provides bait, poles, and pre-drilled holes in the ice for a Family Ice Fishing Derby.

Step inside the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall at the State Park and discover a schedule of guided hikes and educational programs. Make sure you come back in the summer. Bay City is the only state park in Michigan with a spray park. To learn about year-round events, visit the park’s Facebook page.

Guided nature walks and group activities aren’t your only winter options. If you prefer more solitary or un-scheduled activities, try some of these hot spots for winter fun:

The Tobico Marsh
  • The Michigan Sugar Trails on the Middlegrounds is a 26-acre site that offers trails for birders, fishermen, walkers, runners, and cyclists. Altogether, the trails add up to 1.3 miles. Individual loops are as short as .2 miles. Zachary Branigan, Executive Director of the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, said the trails get a fair amount of use in the winter. For a map and more detail, visit this link
  • Wah Sash Kah Moqua (wah-sash-kah-mokwa) Nature Preserve, located near the  near the border between Bay and Arenac counties, has more trails and is very level for cross-country skiers, Branigan says. Visit the site and discover 123 acres of grassland and emergent wooded habitat. Learn more about these trails at this link. 
  • The Tobico Marsh, one of the largest coastal wetlands on the Great Lakes, is a National Natural Landmark and on the Nature Conservancy Natural Areas Registry. Nearly 5 miles of trails wind through its 1,652 acres. Here, you can enjoy hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Keep your eyes open and you might catch a glimpse of deer, beaver, muskrat, mink, and birds. The marsh is located near the Bay City State Park, near Beaver Road and State Park Road in Bangor Township. For a map and details about the different trail options, visit this link.
  • If old-fashioned ice fishing is more your speed, then consider the Bay County Pinconning Park. It’s open year round. Cristen Gignac, Director of Bay County Recreation and Facilities, says the park offers a perfect access point for anglers to get out on the water. Nearby, there’s a plowed parking lot with clean outhouses. If you like the park this time of year, Gignac suggests returning in the summer or fall. “Pinconning Park is wonderful, but my favorite time of year to visit is the summer. Pinconning Park is wonderful for walking on the boardwalks,” Gignac says. Learn more at this link. 
  • The Bay County Dog Park, located on the Bay County Fairgrounds at 800 Livingston St. in Bay City, is open throughout the winter, Gignac says. Here, you can soak up winter sunshine while your furry friend enjoys jumps, tunnels, weave poles and a teeter-totter. Learn more here
  • The Bay County Civic Arena takes you inside, but it does offer the opportunity to enjoy the traditional outdoor winter activity of ice skating. The two ice surfaces inside the facility at 4231 Shrestha Dr. in Bay City, are open year round. Learn more here
  • The City of Bay City Parks Division manages 25 acres of parkland including 10 miles of Railtrail and Riverwalk paths. See maps of the paths on the Bay Area Community Foundation website by following this link. 
    The Civic Area offers free skating, hockey, and figure skating opportunities year-round.