January in Michigan brings frigid temperatures and piles of snow, but don’t let that stop you from getting out and enjoying some of the state’s best winter festivals.
From food and drink events to winter sports competitions, here are my picks for the top 10 can’t-miss January festivals that are worth bundling up for.
1. Zehnder’s Snowfest
At Zehnder’s Snowfest in Frankenmuth, artisans from around the country flock to this tiny Bavarian-style town to create elaborate snow and ice sculptures. This lively winter carnival features over 100 snow sculptures and interactive snow activities like sledding, ziplining, and snowshoeing.
Don’t miss the national snow sculpting competition, fireworks, and live entertainment. The snow and ice sculptures are incredible to see at night when they are illuminated by colorful lights.
I’ve gone to Zehnder’s Snowfest a few times now, and it’s easily one of my favorite Michigan winter festivals. The atmosphere is so festive and it’s just amazing to see the incredible detail the artists put into their snow sculptures.
2. Tip-Up Town USA
Nestled in the heart of Northern Michigan, Houghton Lake celebrates its frozen waters each January with the family-friendly Tip-Up Town USA.
Named for the winter fishing technique involving tip-ups, this festival includes pond hockey and broomball tournaments, polar plunges, dog sledding, ice skating, and more frozen fun. Of course, there’s also plenty of ice fishing complete with a “Fish for Prizes” tent and a heated observation shanty.
I’ve made the long trip up to Tip-Up Town a few times now and have never been disappointed.The vibe is so friendly and quintessential “Up North” and I just love seeing people embrace winter on Houghton Lake.
3. Plymouth Ice Festival
Step back in time at the charming Plymouth Ice Festival held in the historic village of Plymouth.
Watch ice carvers create magical sculptures throughout the weekend, then stroll through the park to enjoy free horse-drawn carriage rides, marshmallow roasting, ice skating, and live entertainment on multiple stages. Be sure to bring your skates and helmets to enjoy the synthetic ice rink.
I love attending this festival because Plymouth is such a quaint picturesque town that feels even more magical during the glow of the ice festival. It’s a great way to spend a winter weekend with friends or family.
4. Midland Winter Beer Festival
The Midland Winter Beer Festival is a celebration of Michigan craft breweries held at Dow Diamond baseball stadium. Sample over 100 beers from 40+ Michigan breweries as you mingle around warming fires.
General admission gets you unlimited beer sampling from 5-7pm, with live music all evening and local food trucks on site so you can soak up the booze. VIP tickets let you access specialty beer pours and warm hospitality areas when you need to thaw out.
I went and loved discovering new breweries from around the state. You can really taste the Michigan pride in their amazing craft beers. Pro tip: drink lots of water too and wear your warmest boots!
5. Fire and Ice Festival
Rochester lights up mid-January with its three-day Fire and Ice Festival. The family-friendly event includes larger-than-life ice carvings scattered throughout the charming Downtown area, with a heated beer tent and live music at the heart of the festival.
Kids will love the sledding hill, ice skating, marshmallow roasting stations, and free hands-on activities. On Saturday evening, brave souls can participate in the annual Frozen 5k race.
After working up an appetite, warm up with some chili tasting or get your fill of carnival treats like elephant ears and corn dogs. Wrap up the festival by watching a dazzling fireworks show illuminate the icy sculptures on Sunday night. The Fire and Ice Festival really showcases Rochester’s quaint small-town vibe with a cozy winter twist.
6. St. Charles Ice Carving Event
Beautiful ice carvings take over downtown St. Charles during this annual winter event. Watch talented ice artists create intricate sculptures using chain saws and chisels throughout the weekend.
Bring your skates and helmet to enjoy free ice skating under the stars with music on the harbor outside the Little Bear Ice Arena. Warm up inside by the fire during a horse-drawn wagon ride or zip lining over the ice.
Kids will love making snow angels, sledding, and participating in hands-on activities like ice bowling. Fuel up on chili, pasties, and other comfort foods from vendors scattered around downtown.
7. Ice Fest
Each winter, downtown Grand Haven comes alive with elaborate ice sculptures. At the Ice Fest, watch world-class carvers transform giant blocks of ice into stunning frozen art along the harbor, Washington Street, and in Chinook Pier.
Enjoy free winter activities like sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and more. On Friday evening, warm up with some chili tasting before watching an impressive fireworks show over the icy harbor.
Saturday offers more family fun with a Mardi Gras style parade, live music, food vendors, and the popular Frozen Pajama Crawl for adults. The Ice Fest captures Grand Haven’s lively spirit and natural beauty in the heart of winter. Don’t miss it!
8. Meridian Winter Blast
Winter Blast brings a taste of Motown to Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit. This free admission urban winter festival includes ice skating, snowshoeing, and other interactive winter activities for all ages.
Sip a local brew and snack on delicious fare from Detroit eateries in the outdoor beer garden and food truck rally. Catch live music performances, watch ice sculpting demonstrations, and enjoy some family-friendly entertainment.
I love attending Winter Blast year after year to support Detroit small businesses, see talented local musicians, and experience the energy of the city in winter. Don’t miss the nightly fireworks displays over the ice rink!
9. Mt. Holly Freestyle Weekend
Calling all adrenaline junkies! Mt. Holly’s Freestyle Weekend is Michigan’s largest freestyle ski and snowboard competition. Watch as athletes catch big air and perform gravity-defying tricks on the terrain and half pipes.
When you need a break from the action, hit the slopes yourself or participate in the annual Cardboard Classic event, where participants race down the hill on cardboard sleds they design and build themselves. Freestyle Weekend also includes a rail jam competition, live DJs and entertainment, bonfires, and fireworks.
The lively ski village has food and drink tents as well as gear demos so you can test the latest equipment. I’ve spectated this awesome event a few times now and the snowboarders totally blow me away with their skills!
10. Tip-Up Island
Experience winter island-style at Tip-Up Island on Houghton Lake. For four days in January, this tiny island is transformed into a lively village filled with fun activities for the whole family.
Watch ice fishing demonstrations or try it yourself in one of the heated ice shanties. Pontoon boat rides, dog sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling are other popular activities.
Don’t miss the belly flop contest, outhouse races, and other quirky events. The daily polar plunges and snow sculptures are must sees. Enjoy live music while sampling some “island cuisine” from the food vendors.
For those needing a tropical escape from winter, the heated beach tent has corn hole, ladder ball, and other games. I had a blast exploring Tip-Up Island last year and can’t wait to go back. It’s such a creative and fun winter festival!
That wraps up my top picks for can’t-miss January festivals around Michigan. Even though the weather may be bitterly cold this time of year, these lively festivals help warm our spirits and provide a fun glimpse of what this beautiful state has to offer in winter.
So get out there and make the most of the season – you may even find that you enjoy and embrace winter more than you thought possible. Stay warm and enjoy celebrating the best of winter at these festive Michigan events!