Sledding On Sand Dunes
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How I Learned to Love Michigan Winters

I wake in the early morning, looking out to find that snow has covered the ground in fresh flakes once again. For some, this discovery may be met with dismay.

But for me, I jump up and down with joy. You see, with the quiet of winter, the call of the wild can actually be heard. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a song running through the wind in the trees, begging us to join the adventure that awaits us in the winter.

Snowy Woods
Photo via Kristi Murphy

Learning to Appreciate the Outdoors in Winter

Winter hasn’t always inspired me as it does now – it’s something I had to learn, something I had to be willing to embrace. I grew up in a house where the outdoors were appreciated, my parents shoving us out the door to play outside until we were called in for dinner.

In the summer, it was easy to hop on a bike, jump in the lake, or shoot hoops in the driveway for hours. But in the winter, we didn’t always have enough snow to ski or sled, and my fingers got cold so quickly with the icy gloom that hung overhead.

I moved out west to Colorado after college, living there for almost ten years. With over 300 days of sunshine, it was easy to love the winter here!

Cruising down the slopes with fresh powder, abundant sunshine, and temperatures in the 40s, it could be downright balmy. I could snowshoe in a t-shirt, and the snow really didn’t cause disruption to the city streets.

I grew enchanted with this version of winter, never thinking I would willingly leave. But as life does, a chain of events led my husband and me back to the Midwest, where we put our roots down and grew a family in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan.

I think that’s the secret of it all – the way the community bonds together to weather the winter.

Winter Ice On Lake Michigan
Photo via Kristi Murphy

Finding Community in the Outdoors

During my first winter here, I noticed something truly remarkable. Everywhere I looked, locals were
embracing the cold, celebrating the snow with gratitude and excitement. I thought that the tourist-driven town would shut down in the winter, but instead, it became a local’s dream.

My weekends quickly became full of snowshoeing trails between wineries, attending festivals that celebrated pancakes, and learning new ways to enjoy the snow. I revisited trails that were crowded in the summer, but remained empty in the winter, allowing me to have the gorgeous views of Lake Michigan all to myself.

Lake Michigan In Winter
Photo via Kristi Murphy

Truly, Northern Michigan turns into a glorious snow globe in the winter. Because of the longevity of winter, locals have embraced the season with gusto, creating opportunities for adventure at every turn.

There are abundant choices in the winter – hiking trails become a gateway for snowshoeing and cross country skiing, hills are turned into snow-covered tracks for snow tubing, and there are many ski resorts within a short drive.

There is fat tire biking, saunas that can be rented for a night, and breweries that turn their outdoor space into a village of igloos or canvas tents heated by a fire.

Our kids have the option of several ski clubs, some focused on ski racing, and others on learning the basics while creating camaraderie with their friends.

I think that’s the secret of it all – the way the community bonds together to weather the winter. I’ve never been a part of anything like it.

Sledding On Sand Dunes
Photo via Kristi Murphy

People who live up north aren’t bothered by the cold, they have learned to bundle up and ENJOY it. Our neighbors would huddle over a backyard bonfire, kids sledding down the hills while parents enjoyed a happy hour beer. Friendship was given a space to grow with slower schedules and intentional gatherings.

The solitude found here changes me; the calm serenity allowing me to find my own voice and grow my inner wild.

Cross Country Skiing In The Woods
Photo via Kristi Murphy

Embracing Your Inner Wild

In addition to all that happens in Traverse City, the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes are a refuge in these
winter months. Wildlife is plentiful, and the little towns dotting the shoreline are vibrant with cozy
nooks and special deals only for those braving the frigid season.

My kids find their delight in cruising down the dunes, flying through the snow on their sleds, warming up by the bonfire we create on the beach below.

Mom &Amp; Daughter In Winter
Photo via Kristi Murphy

I find my peace searching for rocks along Lake Michigan’s coast, digging through the ice to find
the Petoskey stones frozen in the sand below. The solitude found here changes me; the calm serenity allowing me to find my own voice and grow my inner wild.

The snow is peaceful, a quiet reminder to slow down and play. This season has a secret, if you are willing to accept it. There are not many times in our lives when we are given the moments to exhale, to let out all the tension we carry.

And yet, this is what winter offers. Step outside into the softness of the glistening, falling, snow. It’s so still, that you can hear your own heartbeat. Lay under a vibrant evergreen tree, and you will be given shelter from the roaring wind around.

Look up at the blazing stars that are like beacons in the sky, and you will hear your own intuition echo back at you. Winter coats the earth, transforming the normal into magic, just begging you to be brave enough to see it.

It is a gift to see the world quiet and unmoving, if only for a few months.

Lake Michigan In Winter
Photo via Kristi Murphy

Learning from the Solitude

The natural world is quite astonishing; the way it knows what to do in each season of the year. On my hike earlier this week, I sat under a pine tree and observed the forest as it told me its story.

If you pay attention, you will learn abundantly. Each element of this earth offers you insights in every season, and winter is no different.

  • Watch the pine trees, how they stay green all year, constant and unchanging despite the barren climate.
  • Notice the river, as it flows on endlessly with its peaceful gurgle. It is always moving, renewed by its own current.
  • Take note of the birds who still sing their song, flourishing in the bright mornings they have all to themselves.

Stop and behold the silent snow, let the icy powder hit your face, reminding you that you are alive. It is a gift to see the world quiet and unmoving, if only for a few months.

Girl On Winter Beach
Photo via Kristi Murphy

My hope for you, and for me, is that during these magical months we can accept what the season is so willing to give – the excitement in the slow, the joy found in the stillness, and the sound of our own hearts echoing with life.