Lake Huron in winter, Alpena
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Experience Life Inside a Snow Globe on a Winter Weekend in Alpena Michigan

I used to have this snow globe that you could shake and watch the perfect white snowflakes land on top of beautiful green pine trees in a forest. That’s the memory that popped in my head as I stood at the entrance to the Besser Natural Area in Alpena.

Forest in Alpena, MI
Entrance to Besser Natural Area Loop

If you’re looking to get up close and personal with a snow globe, I suggest a winter weekend in Alpena, Michigan. In a nutshell, we experienced the icy winter weather mixed alongside beautiful hiking, local beer, a live planetarium show, shopping local goods, eating delicious food, and of course, changing our wet, snowy socks multiple times a day.

We were excited to plan our trip using the #MIAwesomeList, and it did not disappoint. Shoutout to Alpena Tourism for supporting awesome content and encouraging us to enjoy everything winter in Michigan has to offer.

Outdoor Winter Activities in Alpena

There are great opportunities to snowshoe in this area if you bring your own snowshoes. We did some pricing for snowshoes, and they aren’t too expensive.  We will want to buy some in the future, but for this trip, we decided to hike without them.  The hike we really wanted to do didn’t require them, so we thought we’d try some different trails next time when we have snowshoes.

Besser Natural Area Loop

By far the highlight of visiting Alpena was this 1.5-mile hike called the Besser Natural Area Loop within the Besser State Natural Area. The hike loops around the forest and has opportunities to see remnants of an abandoned logging town, and views of Lake Huron. 

Hiking in Alpena
Besser Natural Area Loop trail
Lake Huron, Alpena
Lake Huron views on Besser Natural Area Loop

Since it was 5 degrees out and snowing a lot, we wore base layers, hats, wool socks, multiple pairs of gloves, and of course, snow boots. Our vehicle doesn’t have four-wheel drive, so we were a little nervous about driving all the way to the hike entrance. 

Hiking in Alpena
Hiking on the Besser Natural Area Loop trail

We punched in the GPS coordinates for the hike entrance into Google Maps (45.248123, -83.418866). As we pulled in, we decided to park right outside the main entrance.

Hiking in Alpena
Trail entrance, Besser Natural Area Loop trail

We followed the path to the trailhead, and since it’s a loop, you could go either way.  The main map for the trail we didn’t see until the end of the loop.

Trailhead, hiking in Alpena
Trailhead, Besser Natural Area Loop

The first sign we saw was an arrow pointing us in the right direction.

Trail marker, Alpena
Trail marker
Trail sign, Alpena
Trail sign
Chimney, former Bell Town, Alpena
A chimney from the ghost town of Bell
Winter hiking, Alpena
Hiking on the trail

The entire loop was beautiful.  We saw no one else the entire time we were there.  When we started, our feet and hands were freezing.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d last!  However, after we kept moving, we remarked about how your body really just adjusts.  After about 20 minutes outside, we thought we could be out there for many more hours.

Trail view, winter in Alpena
Views from the trail
Winter hiking, trail
Hiking in the snow

The forest was so quiet with the blankets of snow. The only thing we heard was the sound of our feet crunching the snow and a few birds inside their nests.  

When we got to the trails leading to the Lake, the sheets of ice were moving inside the water. We could see icy waves rolling.  I have never seen ice move like that in a wave before, so it was pretty magical.  I also felt like I was in Canada or maybe even much further north.  It had that rugged, raw landscape feel to it.

Lake Huron in winter, hiking
Views to Lake Huron from the trail
Lake Huron in winter, Alpena
View of Lake Huron from the trail
Lake Huron in winter, Alpena
View of Lake Huron from the trail

The hike took us about 45 minutes with stops.  On the trail, the snow wasn’t much deeper than 6-8 inches.  If you venture off a little further toward the water, the snow gets deeper close to 1 foot deep.  If you’re wearing sturdy mid-calf snow boots, you should remain dry.

Thankfully, we were able to get our car out of the snow without 4 wheel drive and head back to the main town.

Winter hiking, Alpena
Trail entrance

Alpena Ice Tree

Alpena ice tree
Alpena Ice Tree

The Alpena Ice Tree is one of those attractions that should be listed in Atlas Obscura. It’s man-made, but it is very interesting to see. We didn’t stay long on account of it being a high of 6 degrees that day, but we did get our souvenir picture that screams “Wish you were here!”

Alpena ice tree
Freezing greetings from Alpena!

The ice tree is very easy to get to.  It’s located at Starlite Beach, and there was plenty of parking.

Alpena Light 

Alpena light house in the winter
Alpena Light

It was difficult to see the lighthouse because many of the entrances to get to the lighthouse were closed off. We were able to park at the Bay View Park area which had a pier.  You could walk out to see the lighthouse from a distance.  As we walked on the pier, we saw a few brave fishermen who like to freeze it up while ice fishing. 

The pier had some informational panels along the way if you’re interested in learning more about Lake Huron.  I will say the pictures made me want to come back in the summer!  They have opportunities for kayaking and looking at the shipwrecks down at the bottom.  I can’t wait to see those.

Pier in the winter, Alpena
Walking down the pier toward the light

The view from the pier was also gorgeous.  We came here twice to check it out.  Once when the sun was bright in the sky, and once in the morning.  

Lake Huron in the winter, Alpena
View of Lake Huron from the shore near Alpena Light

The clear sheets of ice, the water moving and the snow falling made me feel like I was in a winter dream.  

Lake Huron, winter, view from shore
View of Lake Huron from the shore near Alpena Light

Indoor Winter Activities in Alpena

Besser Museum

The museum cost $3 per adult (normally $5, but it was discounted due to renovations), and $5 for the planetarium show. 

Part of the museum was closed for renovations, but we were able to check out the history exhibition, the art exhibition, and we caught the live 3pm planetarium show called “Michigan Skies Live.” 

We learned some interesting things about Alpena in the history exhibition.  I had no idea that this was basically one of the wealthiest cities in all of Michigan due to the lumbering industry. There is a little town inside that you can walk around and peer in the shop windows. 

History museum display
Barber Shop in the Besser Museum
Barber Shop in the Besser Museum
Barber Shop in the Besser Museum
Blacksmith Shop in the Besser Museum
Blacksmith Shop in the Besser Museum
Harness Shop in the Besser Museum
Harness Shop in the Besser Museum
Harness Shop in the Besser Museum
Harness Shop in the Besser Museum
Projectile points and arrowheads, Besser Museum
Projectile points and arrowheads, Besser Museum

The art exhibition was all modern art.  I was not expecting to see art pieces from Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Roy Lichtenstein, but there they were!  Right there in Alpena, Michigan.  The museum was well-curated, and we enjoyed walking through.

Modern Art at the Besser Museum
Modern Art at the Besser Museum
Picasso art work at the Besser Museum
Picasso art work at the Besser Museum
Dali artwork at the Besser Museum
Dali artwork at the Besser Museum
Modern art at the Besser Museum
Modern art at the Besser Museum
Modern art at the Besser Museum
Modern art at the Besser Museum

We really enjoyed the live planetarium show because it showed us exactly what we would see if the sky was clear right where we were. We learned what star constellations and planets would be visible this time of year (Neptune, anyone?)  They also had a special presentation from someone on supernovas. It was interactive, and you could ask questions. 

One amazing thing about Alpena is its proximity to viewing space from earth. Many large cities have so much light pollution, they never could dream of standing outside, looking up, and actually seeing a planet or constellation.  Alpena is a doorway to celestial exploration. 

As of 2016, there are three official Dark Sky Preserves in Michigan: Rockport State Recreation Area, Thompson’s Harbor State Park, and Negwegon State Park. Museum staff told us that Besser provides public programming at these Dark Sky Preserves. These programs are an opportunity for people to come and view their telescopes and receive guided tips through viewing the night sky.  

These events are limited right now, but museum staff assured us that they post their events on the website and social media.  We plan to check their events calendar so we can attend an event in the future.

Eating & Drinking in Alpena

Austin Brothers Beer Company

Exterior of Austin Brothers
Exterior of Austin Brothers

This is definitely a local gathering spot.  As we entered, there were people at the bar drinking with their work shirts on, and lots of families gathering.  We took a seat at the bar and sampled some beer, as well as watched them prepare our meals.

I’m not a huge beer drinker (oddly, I hate carbonation), but I wanted to try something so I got one of their “beer cocktails” called the Northern Shandy.  It was lemonade and their Shandy mixed together. It was pretty good!  

Northern Shandy beer at Austin Brothers
Northern Shandy beer at Austin Brothers

I decided to also try a stout (which I like because they typically taste like black coffee).  I tried the Milk Route Stout which was actually very good!

We shared the crispy Brussel sprouts as an appetizer.  I heard someone tell a server as they left that they were the best thing they’ve had in a long time, so naturally, I wanted to see for myself.  They were very tasty.

For dinner, I had the Reuben with a salad, and Jared got a burger and a salad. 

Reuben and salad at Austin Brothers
Reuben and salad at Austin Brothers
Burger and salad at Austin Brothers
Burger and salad at Austin Brothers

It was way more food than either of us needed, but it was good.  I love a good Reuben, and this was good!

Cabin Creek Coffee

Coffee shop interior
Cabin Creek Coffee interior

This was a very cozy coffee house that was clearly a local favorite.  We saw locals camped out at tables greeting everyone walking in the door.

Cabin Creek Coffee window mural
“Kindness builds community”

We both got the Camp Cappuccini which came with cinnamon and hazelnut. It was very good, and felt like a perfect winter drink.  

Cappuccino at Cabin Creek
Cappuccino at Cabin Creek

We ordered breakfast sandwiches, I went with the Garden Veggie on a bagel, and Jared got the Farmer’s on a croissant.   

Breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop
Garden Veggie breakfast sandwich
Ham and cheese on a croissant
Ham and cheese on a croissant

Fresh Palate

This restaurant had a very long and varied menu.  I couldn’t figure out if it was Mexican, Greek, American, or what. I thought the menu had some of everything so we ended up sharing a few things that were pretty good.  

We got their soup of the day, which was a chili, and then shared the Bellalicious pizza and the Candy Apple salad.  

We enjoyed everything we ordered, and I particularly liked the pizza with how many roasted vegetables were on it.  Once again, it was more food than we needed!

Veggie pizza at Fresh Palate
Bellalicious pizza at Fresh Palate

The restaurant was located in what appeared to be an old mall that’s been renovated. Inside, there were other restaurants and a wine place that was offering local tastings of Michigan wines.  If I wasn’t still enjoying the effects of a delicious margarita from Fresh Palate, I may have stopped in for a taste!

JJ’s Steak & Pizza House

This felt like your classic diner fare.  House wines and beers, and very classic entree meals.  I was in the mood for some “Old Fashioned Comfort Foods”, so I ordered the Smothered Chicken with a side of broccoli.

Smothered Chicken meal
Smothered Chicken meal at JJ’s Steak & Pizza House

Jared went with the whitefish at the recommendation of the server. He said it tasted fresh, and he appreciated the extra “fixin’s” they brought with it.  

White Fish dinner at JJ's Steak & Pizza House
White Fish dinner at JJ’s Steak & Pizza House

I had a house wine, and we had great service.  Even though they were very busy, they were attentive to us and we had everything we needed before having to ask.

House red wine
House red wine

Staying in Alpena

Days Inn by Wyndham

There are a few places to stay, and one of the recommendations we had was full.  We stayed at the Days Inn.  They were doing a renovation while we were there, but that didn’t affect our stay.  

The room was actually very clean, modern and had a small kitchen area with a sink.

King room at Days Inn, Alpena
King room at Days Inn

The best part about this hotel was they had an actually hot, functioning hot tub.  I can not tell you how many hotels we’ve gone to that have a hot tub and it feels like lukewarm bathwater. This hot tub was actually nice. 

When we were visiting Alpena, the temperatures were 3 and 5 degrees until afternoon when it was a high of 12 degrees.  So after spending the day freezing, we were so excited to put our suits on and sweat it out in the hot tub.  

Prices for the hotel average $105-$130 a night.

Shopping in Alpena

Cedar & Threads

Handmade jewelry
Handmade jewelry at Cedar & Threads

This store had so many great locally made items. We were impressed with the handmade lotions, chapsticks, candles, and more.  

Cedar and Threads shop, Alpena
Interior of Cedar & Threads

They had t-shirts, pants, hats, blankets, and kids’ clothing. I loved seeing the different handmade tags from local artists showcasing their goods.  

Cedar & Threads shop
Cedar & Threads shop

We love candles, so we purchased one that is currently smelling our dining room up like hard cider.  (That might sound weird, but it’s actually very nice.)

Candle from Cedar & Threads, Alpena
Candle from Cedar & Threads

The staff were very nice and personable.  Just as you’d want and expect when you’re in this part of the country!

Cedar & Threads shopping
Cedar & Threads shopping

St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store 

Because we love secondhand shopping and I’m a sucker for a local thrift store, I looked for one we could check out. Additionally, we love to support places that give back to the local community. 

St. Vincent De Paul uses revenue from the sales to support local initiatives including the local food pantry, paying for rent, utilities, medical bills, prescriptions, car repairs, and gasoline for people in need, and they provide job training. 

This place also had some amazing finds. First off, there was an entire bucket of skis and poles when you walk in, as well as an entire shelf of ice skates. (That tells you what this community seems to do a lot of!)  Secondly, they had a large section of vintage clothing from the 70s through the 90s and I couldn’t help myself.  

I wanted to buy almost everything, but Jared talked me down to just a few amazing finds including an 80s green sweatsuit, a 90s black dress, and a striped 70s sweater that makes me look and feel like Ernie from Sesame Street. 

They had a housewares section with vintage kitchen goods that I had to turn and walk away before I purchased everything.

If you’re in the area and you love old things and thrift stores as much as I do, I would check this place out!

Suggested Itinerary for Perfect Alpena Weekend

Friday Night

  • Shopping at Cedar & Threads for local goods
  • Visit the Ice Tree & Alpena Light before dark (bonus if you see the sun setting over the water at the Alpena Light shore)
  • Dinner at Austin Brothers Beer Company

Saturday Morning/Afternoon

  • Coffee & breakfast sandwiches at Cabin Creek Coffee
  • Mid-morning hike at Besser Area Natural Loop
  • Lunch at Fresh Palate 
  • Secondhand shopping at the St Vincent De Paul Thrift Store 
  • Tour the Besser Museum and catch the 3pm Michigan Skies Live show in the planetarium  

Saturday Evening

  • Dinner at JJ’s Steak & Pizza House
  • Take a dip in your hotel hot tub!

Sunday Morning

  • Breakfast at one of the many Alpena diners like Nick’s Southside Country Diner or John Boy’s Restaurant

Michigan has so much to enjoy, make sure to check out the Ultimate Michigan Winter Bucket List #MIAwesomeList.  Thank you to all the sponsors for making winter fun in 2022: Awesome Mitten and our partners; Flint & Genessee Tourism, Alpena Tourism, Travel Marquette, and Visit Petoskey.

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