Winter season offers unique opportunities to get outdoors


NORTHEAST MICHIGAN –– With the winter season in full swing, it can be easy to fall into the trap of staying indoors and watching TV all night. There are options for those feeling cabin fever, including state parks open for winter camping and other activities.

Camping and outdoor activities are most often associated with the summer season, but mosquitoes that so frequently pester those enjoying the Great Lakes State may change minds about getting outdoors in the cold.

Winter camping is an option at 15 state parks across Michigan, including the Rifle River Recreation Area in Ogemaw County, which offers a heated shower building for those looking for more comfortable amenities.

The Rifle River Recreation Area is ideal for those who enjoy hunting or trapping, and ruffed grouse, ducks, geese, turkey, woodcock, rabbits, squirrel, raccoon, fox and deer may be hunted during their respective seasons. Beaver, otter, mink and muskrat can be found throughout the area and may be trapped as well, according to For information about licensing for these activities, refer to the Michigan Hunting and Trapping Digest, available by online search.

This area is also a great for wildlife viewing, and the 14 miles of paths throughout the park offer opportunities for hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Numbered posts keyed to the map will help keep outdoor enthusiasts oriented while on the pathways. There is an observation tower that gives sightseers a fantastic scenic view of the recreation area. There is also snowmobiling, cross country skiing on ungroomed trails and fishing opportunities.

Mini cabins, lodges, yurts and backcountry camping are offered at more than 53 state parks during the winter as well. More information about lodging options is available at Camping and lodging reservations can be made by calling 1-800-44-PARKS or online at

In Oscoda County, while the rare Kirtland's warbler may be off enjoying warmer climates, the Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Tour is still an option for those wishing to enjoy nature in winter. The Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Tour is a self-guided, 58-mile auto tour through jack pine ecosystems that are home to a variety of wildlife, and makes for prime snowshoeing opportunities.

Located near Mio, the tour consists of a series of 11 wildlife viewing sites along state and county highways. Interpretive signs at each site describe the natural features of the area, including the wildlife likely to be seen there. It is recommended that travelers begin the tour in Mio and head south on M-33, although it may be started at any point along the route. Tour maps and self-guiding brochures are available at the Chamber of Commerce for Oscoda County and Forest Service offices in Mio.

With proper permits, fishing and seasonal hunting is available at the McCollum Lake State Forest Campground, which has been under the management of Clinton Township since May 2011. This site is 8 1/2 miles northwest of Curran via M-65 and McCollum Lake Road. Fishing is also available at the Mio Pond State Forest Campground and Group Camp.

Another option for the area is Buttles Road Pathway, a 7-mile groomed skiing, hiking and biking trail located 3 miles north of Lewiston on Buttles Road. The Parmalee Bridge State Forest Campground and Canoe Camp located 5 miles north of Luzerne via County Road 489 is also another great option for fishing and hiking, and there are many kinds of fish that can be found in these waters, such as bass, panfish, crappie, bluegill and pike.

In Arenac County, more than 900 acres of wetlands occur on the 3,023-acre Wigwam Bay State Wildlife Area. An extensive network of gravel-topped dikes in the wetlands is open to foot traffic all year and is a great site for viewing shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl and gulls, according to Unique or rare wetland bird species such as black terns, Forster’s terns, Caspian terns, yellow-headed blackbirds, American and least bitterns, sandhill cranes, common moorhens and northern harriers are also found here. Bald eagles nest here as well, and are often seen by visitors.

Winter hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can also be done at the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy’s four nature preserves in Arenac County, as well as one on Bay-Arenac County Line Road’s south side.

The Wah Sash Kah Moqua Preserve can be accessed by traveling east onto Bay-Arenac County Line Road, approximately 2 miles west of M-13. It includes about 2 miles of trails. A short distance north at the end of Worth Road is the SBLC’s Saganing Preserve. Patrons can snowshoe, hike or ski along the Saganing River all the way out to its mouth.

In Standish Township, again just a short distance north, is the Standish Nature Preserve on the south side of Bordeau Road after you cross LaFave Road. Trails there lead around a pond and out to the Bay.

At the end of Manor Road in Au Gres, where it meets Greenwood Road, the SBLC owns the Au Gres Delta Preserve. According to the conservancy website, the preserve has 64 acres but is mostly unimproved. It includes acreage between the Au Gres River and Saginaw Bay. Continuing north and east on US-23, the SBLC has the Eickholt-Pressprich Preserve. To visit the preserve, people should turn south off US-23 onto South Tonkey Road. It can be accessed by parking along East Michigan Avenue near the intersection with South Tonkey Road.

Northeast Michigan also offers many opportunities for ice fishing, ice hockey and ice skating, such as the Saginaw Bay and other small lakes in the area. Irons Park in West Branch now includes an outdoor ice skating rink and the ice rink in Boney Park located in Fairview.

Between February and March, the animals that may be hunted within these areas are cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares and gray, red and fox squirrels. Winter is also a good opportunity to manage pests such as crows, opossum, skunks, ground squirrels, starlings, house sparrows and more. Feral swine may also be taken with any valid license. For more information on bag limits and season dates, refer to the Hunting and Trapping Digest.

Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the DNR added a $5 convenience fee for Recreation Passport purchases (Michigan-registered vehicles only) made at state parks, DNR customer service centers and other designated areas. It can still be purchased for $11, or $6 for motorcycles, when purchased at the time of the annual license plate renewal at the Secretary of State.


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