Alpena In Winter
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How to Spend 48 Magical Hours in the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes

As a born and raised Michigander, I am well aware that our winters are long. Oftentimes winter weather begins at the end of October or the beginning of November and lasts into April.

Embracing winter weather and finding things to do and places to explore during the winter months is vital in truly finding joy in living in the mitten state. That’s why I highly recommend grabbing a friend and planning a winter weekend getaway to Alpena, Michigan, known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.

We chose February for our friend weekend away because it’s the perfect time to steal away after the busyness of the holidays and gives you a recharge to get you through to spring.

Thank you to Visit Alpena for partnering with Awesome Mitten to highlight the best of Alpena in the Winter #MIAwesomeList! 

Want to know how we spent our weekend exploring Alpena? Keep reading below.

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New Presque Isle Lighthouse | photo by Amanda Shaffer

New and Old Presque Isle Lighthouses

When we first arrived in the area, we made our way to check out seeing both the New and Old Presque Isle Lighthouses. It was a blustery day, but I have spent many winter hikes along the shorelines of the Great Lakes.

The tree lines of the towering pines as we walked down to the bay were a haven from the wind. There were some slick spots, so I highly recommend wearing your spikes or grabbing a pair of Yaktrax. I love my Yaktrax, and they make winter hiking way more enjoyable and safer.

If you are a history lover, these lighthouses are a can’t-miss. With being just a few minute drive from each other, you’ll be able to enjoy exploring the grounds of both lighthouses easily with one visit.

The walking tour and museum are closed for the season, but you can walk both lighthouses for a nominal fee when they open in the spring.

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Holiday Inn Express and Suites | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Rest and Recharge at the Holiday Inn

After our hike around the lighthouses, it was time to check in to our hotel. For our stay, we were happy to settle into the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. Our suite overlooked the river and was perfectly located, so we could walk to almost all of our dining and the downtown area.

While we didn’t get to use all of the amenities for our stay, such as the pool and fitness room, what caught my eye was how clean each space was. It was the perfect place to unpack and recharge before we began the rest of our adventures in Alpena.

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Short Rib Pappardelle at the Red Brick Tap and Barrel | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Dinner at the Red Brick Tap and Barrel

Next, we met with Nicole of Visit Alpena to talk about our weekend plans and enjoy a dinner at the Red Brick Tap and Barrel. From the appetizers (make sure to get an order of the Show Me Your Tots) to the entree, everything was perfect.

It was a great spot to get to know more about the travel bureau as well as the area. The building itself has been a bar/saloon for over 100 years, and I loved how the Red Brick kept details of the most recent occupant, The Dry Dock.

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The Reserve Cider Flight at Presque Isle Farm Cider | photo by Amanda Shaffer

After Dinner Drinks at Presque Isle Farm Cider

Because of the convenient location of our hotel, we were able to walk to dinner, and when walking back, the Presque Isle Farm Cider caught our eye. Being that it was still early in the night and as a mom of two, it’s often difficult to get a weekend away with my close friend; we decided to stop in the cidery and give a flight a try.

You’ll absolutely have to add this to your list for your next date night or girls’ night out. The space was a total vibe, with books and card games lining the table we cozied up to.

Keep in mind these ciders are not as sweet as what you would typically find on a store shelf. Dion and Molly Stephanski make their ciders in the traditional English and New English style.

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Sunrise at Rockport State Recreation Area | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Morning Hike and Sunrise at Rockport

Maybe it’s the fact I am well settled into my mid-thirties, and my bedtime has gradually moved earlier and earlier over the years. Or maybe it’s my newfound appreciation for Lake Huron. But if you find me near a lake during sunrise hours, I can almost guarantee that I will be there watching the sunrise.

During a recent fall trip to Alpena, I had fallen in love with Rockport State Recreation Area. When I brought my good friend back to the area for this trip, I knew we had to make sure we caught a sunrise at the state park.

We filled up with a hot coffee at the Holiday Inn coffee bar, grabbed our hiking boots, and headed just twenty minutes out of downtown. Being a frequent visitor to the Michigan State Parks, I already had my recreation passport but keep in mind if you don’t have one you will need one.

We were ready to watch the world wake up. When I say you don’t want to miss this opportunity if you find yourself in the area, I am telling you, you don’t want to miss it.

Set your alarm and catch the pinks and oranges decorating the sky. You won’t regret it.

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The Chipotle Breakfast Sandwich | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Breakfast at Cabin Creek Coffee

What is the perfect cap for an outdoor morning adventure? A made-to-order breakfast sandwich at Cabin Creek Coffee.

After our hike, we headed back into town to grab a latte and sandwich at this family-owned coffeehouse. When I saw smoothies on the menu, I couldn’t resist trying one, and I am so glad I did. It was the perfect meal after spending the morning hiking.

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Besser Museum | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Visting the Besser Museum

After breakfast, we headed to explore the Besser Museum. Being huge fans of history, art, and science, this space had it all for us.

With super affordable rates of admission, with adult tickets being $5.00, children (6-18) at $3.00 per ticket, and children under five free, this is a must-add for any history lover in the family.

My personal favorite was the museum’s 1890s Avenue of Shops, where you will find realistic replicas of shop stores such as the General Store and Barber Shop. Although it was winter, we did take a walk to view the Historic Village with five original structures, each being over 100 years old.

The museum also is the home of the Digital Dome Planetarium Theater, where you can watch shows for just $3 per ticket, and children five and under are free. 

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Live Ice Carving at Alpena Ice Fest | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Enjoying the Alpena Ice Festival at Mich-e-ke-wis Park

After spending time exploring the museum, we headed to Mich-e-ke-wis Park to enjoy the second annual Alpena Ice Festival. There was so much for us to enjoy and the event was very family friendly.

Between the ice slide, sledding hill, smores, horse carriage rides, ice sculptures, food trucks, music, and more, you could spend your whole afternoon enjoying all of the festivities.

The live ice carvings and the dueling carvers were a highlight for me, and I found myself memorized by the art of carving.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch these creations be formed, make sure to mark your calendar for mid-February next year to catch the festival.

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Enjoying a cider at the Fresh Palate | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Lunch at Fresh Palate

After enjoying the festival at the park, we decided to take a walk downtown to check out more of the sculptures that many of the local businesses had outside of their buildings. We stopped into the Fresh Palate to have a sandwich and salad and enjoyed a late afternoon cider.

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Besser Natural Area | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Hike at Besser Natural Area and Ghost Village of Bell

After lunch, the weather was too perfect not to get back outside. We took another hike to enjoy the pines and lake. This hike to the Ghost Village of Bell is such an easy one, and you’ll enjoy views of Lake Huron, the lagoon, and searching for remnants of the lives before us.

We found the safe from the town store, which seems to be an easy find for hikers as well as the chimney. While you won’t find remaining buildings like at Fayette Historic State Park, it makes for a fun afternoon exploring, and we will definitely be back in the summer to explore the shipwreck of the Portland.

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If you enjoy snowshoeing, the White Pine Trail is a gorgeous trail to take your shoes out after a fresh snowfall. The towering pines make for a picturesque snowshoe adventure. 

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The Old Polish Corner | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Dinner at the Old Polish Corner

After our hike, we headed to The Old Polish Corner for dinner. The homemade entrees and dessert (do not skip the creme brulee!) were the perfect way to end a busy day. It truly felt like I was transported back in time to my family dining room table.

The cozy atmosphere, friendly staff, and handcrafted meals made us feel we were sitting back at our family’s table growing up to come together and enjoy a meal.

After dinner, we drove back downtown to enjoy live music and to experience the fire and ice part of the ice festival before heading to the hotel.

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Sunrise over Lake Huron | Photo by Amanda Shaffer

One More Sunrise

On our last day, we wanted to take full advantage of being so close to Lake Huron. This time we woke up early to drive just out of town to Besser Natural Area to make sure we didn’t miss the show.

This sunrise was so different from the day before, with much more of a fiery orange that lit up the sky versus the pink hues from the morning before. You can walk straight from the lot to the beach in just a couple of minutes and watch the glow of the sunrise peak through the pines.

It truly feels like you are walking through a storybook, and worth the bit of sleep you might miss.

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Breakfast at JJ’s | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Breakfast at JJ’s Pizza and Steakhouse

After our morning adventure, we got a late breakfast at JJ’s. I was happy to warm up with a warm cup of coffee and enjoyed a traditional breakfast with eggs, homemade toast, and sausage. If you are looking for a hearty traditional breakfast in Alpena, this is it!

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Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Explore the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center

After a late breakfast, we were able to head to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. Admission is free for this one-of-a-kind museum. If you visit again in the spring or summer, the visitor center is where you will purchase tickets to the glass bottom shipwreck tours!

We spent our time walking a life-sized schooner during a Lake Huron storm, viewing salvaged shipwreck artifacts, and exploring wrecks of the Great Lakes.

If you have gifts on your list for loved ones, make sure not to miss the gift shop filled with Michigan and maritime-themed treasures!

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Mangos Tequila Bar | photo by Amanda Shaffer

Lunch at Mangos

After the museum, we decided to get one last meal in town to hold us over on the drive home. Mangos Tequila Bar was within walking distance of the hotel. The fajitas and the chicken chimichanga were the perfect end to a busy full day.

Make sure not to miss the impressive mural out the side door before you go! 

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A Perfect Winter Getaway

If you are looking for some sanctuary from a long, cold Michigan winter. Whether it be spending time outdoors hiking, snowshoeing, ice-fishing, or enjoying friendship over meals and museums Alpena, Michigan has so much to offer and is the perfect winter getaway.

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