Top 15 Winter Festivals to Check Out in Michigan

Christmas displays in Michigan / Source: mlive

Michigan is a wonderful place to visit during the winter months. While the cold and snow may keep some people indoors, there are many exciting winter festivals happening across the state.

These festive events bring communities together and provide plenty of fun activities for all ages. Get ready to bundle up and have some fun at these great Michigan winter festivals!

1. Ice Fest in Downtown Rochester

Ice Fest / Source: The Oakland Press

One of the most popular winter festivals in Michigan is Ice Fest in Downtown Rochester. This free event takes over the downtown area and includes larger-than-life ice sculptures.

Some of the past designs have included dragons, unicorns, superheroes, movie characters, and more. The typically mild Rochester winter is no match for these massive frozen creations.

The Downtown Rochester area gets completely transformed during Ice Fest. Along the streets you’ll find dozens of massive ice sculptures lit up at night with colorful lights. It’s like walking through a magical icy kingdom!

Beyond just gawking at the frozen masterpieces, there are other fun activities too. You can roast marshmallows over fire pits, go ice skating at the ice rink, watch fireworks, listen to live music, enjoy hot beverages and food, and more.

I’ve attended Ice Fest in Rochester a couple times now and it’s always a blast. I love walking around after dark to see the ice sculptures illuminated with vibrant lighting.

One of my favorite memories is sipping on a warm cocktail while watching an ice sculpting demonstration. You can tell the artists are incredibly talented to be able to craft such detailed designs. Don’t forget your winter gear if you check out this chill festival!

2. U.P. 200 Dog Sled Race

U.P. 200 Dog Sled Race / Source: Great Lakes Sports Commission

Get ready for an action-packed tradition at the U.P. 200 Dog Sled Race held near Marquette in Michigan’s scenic Upper Peninsula. This multi-day race challenges mushers and their teams of enthusiastic sled dogs to cover over 250 miles of rugged backcountry trails.

The race course winds through the remote wilderness of Marquette County. Racers have to brave extreme winter conditions like freezing temps, heavy snow, icy winds, and more. Fans can watch the dramatic start in downtown Marquette as mushers take off at full speed.

Sled Dog Racers / Source: Michigan Country Lines Magazine

Other ways to catch the action include watching mushers pass through designated checkpoints or seeing them cross the finish line back in Marquette.

This legendary race has been running since the early 1980s. It’s exciting to see the competitive spirit of the mushers as they push themselves and their dogs through intense endurance challenges.

I hope to make it up north someday to take in this iconic winter event in person. Being able to witness these experienced mushers guiding their loyal sled dog teams would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

3. Tip-Up Town USA

Tip-Up Town USA / Source: Traveling Michigan

Head to the town of Houghton Lake in late January for a week jam-packed with festivities at Tip-Up Town USA. This is Michigan’s longest running winter festival, celebrating over 50 years now. There are events and activities scheduled all week long.

No matter what you enjoy, you’ll find plenty of frosty fun at Tip-Up Town. Some highlights of Tip-Up Town USA include polar bear plunges into the lake, ice fishing contests, dog sledding, snowmobile tours, outhouse races, curling tournaments, ice skating, turkey bowling, a chili cook-off, and so much more.

Polar bear plunges into the lake / Source: mlive

There are also dozens of food trucks, craft vendors, and live music performances throughout the week. I went to Tip-Up Town a couple years ago and had an awesome time. My favorite memory was going ice fishing out on the lake and actually catching several bluegills and perch.

Later, I warmed up inside a heated tent with some hot chocolate. Tip-Up Town has activities the whole family can enjoy. It really celebrates everything that makes a Michigan winter special.

4. Clearwater Winter Festival

Clearwater Winter Festival / Source: tbnweekly

Get ready for some cold-weather fun in Clearwater Township at their annual Winter Festival. This exciting weekend event features unique activities like polar bear dog sled rides, ice skating, fat tire bike demos, downhill skiing, a beer tent, and more wintry fun.

The Winter Festival takes place at the Clearwater Township Campgrounds, offering a scenic backdrop. I went fat biking for the first time during the festival and it was a blast cruising through the snowy trails.

Later, I warmed up by the bonfire with a locally-brewed beer in hand. There are fun events and games for all ages at this fest. Don’t miss out on the toboggan run down the big hill!

5. Frankenmuth SnowFest

Frankenmuth Snowfest / Source: Greater Midland

Experience the magic of winter in Frankenmuth during their annual SnowFest event. This Bavarian-style town gets even more picturesque when covered with mounds of snow. SnowFest features incredible snow and ice sculptures placed all along Main Street.

Snow sculptures in the festival / Source: Banana 101.5

In addition to the ornate ice carvings, SnowFest has dog sledding, ice skating, horse-drawn carriage rides, live entertainment, and local food & brews. Kids love playing in the giant snow piles and taking slides down the snow hills.

I visited Frankenmuth during SnowFest a few years ago and had an unforgettable time. The dazzling ice sculptures are reason alone to attend this top Michigan winter festival.

6. Harbor Springs Ice & Snow Fest

Harbor Springs Ice & Snow Fest / Source: Petoskey News-Review

The adorable town of Harbor Springs transforms into a winter carnival during their annual Ice & Snow Fest. Families flock here each year to enjoy the fun atmosphere, games, food, and entertainment. Some activities include a chili cook-off, ice sculpting, a cardboard sled race, and more.

My favorite part of attending this harborside festival was admiring the frozen harbor. Local ice artists carved sculptures right into the thick ice! I also enjoyed warming up with hot chocolate and popcorn in the heated event tent. With a charming setting and kid-friendly vibe, Ice & Snow Fest is one of the top family winter festivals.

7. St. Ignace Ice Breaker Festival

Ice Breaker Festival / Source: Only In Your State

Head just north of the Mackinac Bridge to the scenic town of St. Ignace for their annual Ice Breaker Festival. This fun winter bash serves as a reunion for snowmobilers in the area. Even if you don’t snowmobile, this festival offers plenty of frosty activities.

Some highlights of Ice Breaker Fest include snowmobile charity rides, ice fishing contests, a chili cook-off, downhill skiing, dog sledding, horse-drawn wagon rides, a polar plunge, and more!

I’ve gone twice now and always have a memorable time. My favorite activity was snowshoeing through the pristine forest and then relaxing in the warming tent. With stunning views of the frozen straits, this is a top spot for winter fest fun.

8. Saginaw Ice Festival

Ice carving / Source: mlive

Come experience the frozen wonders at the Saginaw Ice Festival! This annual event transforms the downtown riverfront into a magical world of ice carvings. Watch talented ice artists use chainsaws and chisels to create stunning frozen sculptures.

Beyond the artistic icy displays, there’s also ice skating, polar plunges, a chili cook-off, hot air balloon rides, food trucks, and more. My favorite memory from attending was cozying up in the heated tent to admire the illuminated ice sculptures at night. The Saginaw Ice Festival brings so many winter activities together for an unforgettable experience.

9. Meridian Winter Blast

Meridian Winter Blast / Source: The Oakland Press

For big city winter fun, check out the Meridian Winter Blast festival in downtown Detroit. This lively urban event includes interactive ice sculptures, zip lining down Woodward Ave, ice skating, dog sledding demos, sleigh rides, marshmallow roasting, live music, and more!

I’ve gone to Winter Blast a couple times now and always have a memorable experience. Zipping down the busy Detroit street on the zip line is super amazing! My other favorite activity is kicking back with some hot cocoa to watch ice carvers transforming giant blocks into beautiful sculptures. With many fun winter activities and that lively Motown vibe, Winter Blast is one of Michigan’s top winter festivals.

10. Zeeland Winterfest

Snowball fighting contest / Source: mlive

Nestled along the Lakeshore, Zeeland puts on an exciting winter celebration during their annual Winterfest. Some highlights include a chili cook-off, ice carving demos, a polar plunge, horse-drawn carriage rides, downhill skiing, curling, and fireworks.

They also have a medieval era snowball fighting contest called Snow Ball Brawl. Families will love activities like craft making, turkey bowling, and the MLK community breakfast. My favorite memory was watching a local ice sculptor transform a giant frozen block into the Winterfest logo.

His steady hands and artistic talent were so impressive. Zeeland Winterfest captures all the community camaraderie and fun that makes winter festivals in Michigan so special.

11. Crystal Mountain Winterfest

Crystal Mountain Winterfest / Source: OnlyInYourState

For a festival getaway in Northern Michigan, make your way to Crystal Mountain Resort for their annual Winterfest weekend

This lively event includes fun activities like dog sledding, sleigh rides, downhill skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, fat tire biking, a chili cook-off, and an outdoor bar. They also have helicopter rides offering stunning aerial views of the winter landscape around Crystal Mountain.

I attended with some friends a couple years ago and we had an absolute blast trying out all the different winter sports and activities. My favorite was taking a thrilling ride on the mountainside alpine slide.

Winterfest at Crystal Mountain has something for all ages and really celebrates the spirit of a Northern Michigan winter.

12. Snowfly Festival

Winter fly fishing / Source: Hiking and Fishing

An unique winter festival to check out is the Snowfly Festival in Jackson. This event revolves around fly fishing and celebrating the trout streams of Southern Michigan. Activities include instructional ice fishing and fly tying classes, fish frys, a beer tent, bonfires, and more.

Even as someone newer to fly fishing, I really enjoyed attending this festival. The passionate anglers were very welcoming and I learned so much about tying flies and even caught several trout through the ice. The Snowfly Festival is a great way to get outdoors in the winter and mingle with the Michigan fly fishing community.

13. Downtown Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off

Downtown Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off / Source: PFC Natural Grocery & Deli

This annual event held in downtown Kalamazoo will warm you up on a cold winter day. As the name suggests, the Chili Cook-Off features dozens of local restaurants and chefs competing to see who has the best chili in town. Attendees get to sample unlimited chili and vote.

Chili tasting / Source: mlive

There’s also ice carvings, beer tastings, horse-drawn carriage rides, and live music. I went a couple years back and it was awesome getting to try all different kinds of chili. My favorite was a spicy venison chili from a local pub.

From beef chilis to vegan options, my taste buds were in heaven! Along with the unlimited chili, the festive atmosphere makes this a fun winter event in Kalamazoo.

14. Frostbite Winter Festival

Frostbite Winter Festival / Source: Explore Clare County

Make your way to the western Upper Peninsula for Bessemer’s annual Frostbite Winter Festival.

This quaint mining town puts on quite the wintry celebration with activities like snowmobile rides, ice bowling, outhouse races, a chili cook-off, dog sled demos, ice fishing, and more. There’s even late night parties at local pubs around town.

I went a couple winters ago and had a great time dancing at the lively pub parties and trying my hand at outhouse racing. The locals were very welcoming and happy to share this special tradition. Frostbite Festival perfectly captures the hearty U.P. winter spirit.

15. Snowbound Winter Festival

Snowbound Winter Festival / Source: Traverse Magazine

For more winter fun along the Lake Michigan shoreline, check out the Snowbound Festival in Manistee. Highlights of this weekend bash include an ice sculpture contest, chili cook-offs, a polar plunge, dog sledding rides, a carnival, live music, a beer tent, and more.

I love how they had activities spread throughout downtown. After grabbing some chili, we wandered around looking at the creative ice sculptures made by local artists and businesses. The icy beach views and small town charm make Snowbound a great winter fest.

So there are some of the great winter festivals across the mitten state for your bucket list. From ice sculpting to dog sledding, these lively events are perfect for bundling up and embracing the cold. I’d highly recommend adding a few of these unique Michigan winter festivals to your schedule.

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