Winter inspires many Michiganders to hunker down at home, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of opportunities for Washtenaw County residents to enjoy the icy, snowy great outdoors. So we put together a list of a few of those opportunities that are worth trying before the first day of spring arrives – and maybe even after, if we wind up getting a surprisingly common April snow.
Here are some local favorite winter activities you can check out while we await spring’s thaw.
Go sledding at Huron Hills Golf Course. There are lots of terrific local sledding spots, but this one – with lots of space and a broad range of hills – is an Ann Arbor classic, located at 3465 E. Huron River Dr. Want proof? Even my 52-year-old husband says, “That’s where we always went when I was a kid. Eighteenth hole.” And speaking of birdies …
Visit your feathered friends at Bird Hills Nature Area. Do enough birds hang around Michigan through the winter to make it worth visiting Bird Hills Nature Area, 1850 Newport Rd. in Ann Arbor, in search of one of the park's namesakes? I had my doubts, but Ann Arbor birdwatcher Gail Stout set me straight, saying, “Yes, especially if you bring a little bag of seed to put on your hand or scatter nearby.” So bring some food. Don’t be cheep. (Sorry.)
Ice skating at Buhr Park Outdoor Ice Arena.
Ice skate at Buhr Park. The rink at Buhr Park, 2751 Packard Rd. in Ann Arbor, offers the chance to enjoy outdoor skating beneath a roof. The lobby and locker rooms are currently closed because of COVID-19, and you must book a time slot before you go. But skate sharpening and rentals are still available. And when the pandemic and associated restrictions are behind us, this is still a beloved Washtenaw County winter activity – with sledding options nearby in the park as well.
Cross-country ski at Ypsilanti Township’s Rolling Hills County Park. Whether you’re a beginning skier or more experienced, Rolling Hills County Park's three miles of groomed cross-country ski trails at 7660 Stony Creek Rd. in Ypsilanti Township are a go-to favorite. Equipment rental (skis, poles, boots – and even inner tubes, for those who'd rather slide than ski) is available, as is a torch-lit trail for nighttime skiing.
Snowshoe or ski along Dexter’s Border-to-Border Trail. The Border-to-Border Trail is a beloved outdoor gem in Washtenaw County. The trail connects many outdoor recreation destinations throughout the county, but one of the loveliest and longest stretches connects Hudson Mills Metropark, Mill Creek Park, and Dexter-Huron Metropark. Choose your favorite form of non-motorized snow transportation and spend an hour or two in the wondrous winter beauty of Dexter.
North Bay Park in Ypsilanti.
Go for a hike at North Bay Park. North Bay Park, 1001 Huron St. in Ypsilanti Township, is located on Ford Lake and features a 2.5-mile trail running alongside – and over – the water. The boardwalks and observation towers overlooking the park provide spectacular natural eye candy in any weather, but the lake is particularly lovely when it's frozen over in winter.
Visit the petting farm at Domino’s Farms. In the early months of the pandemic, Domino's Farms' petting farm at 3001 Earhart Rd. in Ann Arbor Township was my go-to outdoor excursion with my daughters. And while it’s a heck of a lot colder these days, the petting farm is still a good option for those who delight in seeing animals up close. You can’t feed them right now – in pre-pandemic times, you could purchase carrot strips at the entrance – but the kids are still likely to love it anyway.
The Petting Farm at Domino's Farms.
Try fat-tire biking at Waterloo State Recreation Area. For cyclists game to try winter trail riding, get some wide tires and explore Waterloo State Recreation Area, 16345 McClure Rd. in Chelsea, the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula. There are tons of trails of various lengths – and if biking isn’t your thing, you can hike or ski on them, too. For those on the eastern side of the county, Hewens Creek Park at 6515 Bemis Rd. in Ypsilanti Township is also a great option for mountain biking.
Ice-fish at Cavanaugh or Independence Lake. I’ll admit I’m not someone who’s angling (sorry again!) to spend hours sitting on a frozen lake while holding a fishing pole. But for many, it’s a quintessential part of Michigan winter. If you're seeking bluegill, yellow perch, or rock bass, try Independence Lake County Park at 3200 Jennings Rd. in Webster Township. For smallmouth and largemouth bass, panfish, and giant pike, check out Cavanaugh Lake Park on Cavanaugh Lake Road in Sylvan Township. Just make sure you have a fishing license and layers – lots of layers.
Jenn McKee is a freelance writer with a long history of covering arts and culture in the Ann Arbor area. She also has a pair of blogs: The Adequate Mom and A2 Arts Addict.
All photos by Doug Coombe.