Skiing beneath fir trees heavy with snow. Speeding through the backcountry on a snowmobile or simply relaxing before a roaring fireplace with a stack of books. Michigan’s lakeside getaways attract plenty of attention in the summer. But winter in the Great Lakes State offers its own beauty, whether visitors long for fun in the snow or some cozy time indoors.
In Suttons Bay, The Inn at Black Star Farms often draws overnight guests familiar with — and deeply enamored with — the property’s winery. Founded in 1998, Black Star Farms winery built a reputation for producing quality wines from chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir grapes.
Some 20 years later, Black Star Farms boasts an array of silver and gold medals acquired at the Michigan Wine, Finger Lakes International, American Fine Wine and International Fine Wine competitions. Most impressive was the winery’s award for Best Wine at the 2018 Canberra International Riesling Challenge.
Black Star’s accommodations include a bottle of wine, an evening wine and hors d’oeuvres hospitality hour, and an expanded VIP tasting in the winery’s Barrel Room. But the inn’s 10 guestrooms promise a getaway that even a teetotaler could love. Private spa tubs, fireplaces and thick duvets tempt visitors to sleep in, and a hot gourmet breakfast awaits downstairs in the morning.
“We offer snowshoes free of charge,” said Sherri Fenton, proprietor of Black Star Farms, “and some guests choose to use them.”
The inn’s 160 hilly, vineyard-covered acres include trails perfect for snowshoeing. “But actually, most of our guests want to do a whole lot of nothing!” she said, laughing. “They’re generally looking for peace and quiet, and they know they’ll get that here.”
Once visitors venture out, they find themselves in the heart of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, surrounded by the tasting rooms of a dozen other award-winning wineries. Suttons Bay promises a good selection of independent restaurants, including the European bistro-style Martha’s Leelanau Table, Wren, with its house-made charcuterie, and Boone’s Prime Time Pub, a casual spot known for monster bloody marys and a warm fireplace.
Fridays and Saturdays, guests of Black Star Farms Inn can opt for weekend dinners at the Inn. The prix fixe, three-course meal includes an opportunity to chat with a local chef and, naturally, wine pairings with Black Star varietals.
If relaxing with a glass of wine draws guests to Black Star Farms, it is outdoor recreation that stars at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge & Suites in Alanson.
“In winter, our parking lot is full of snowmobile trailers,” said David Marvin, vice president for Stafford’s Hospitality. “Visitors often come specifically to ride the trails that lead from here in every direction.”
In summer, the 38-mile chain of inland lakes called the Inland Waterway dominates, offering boaters, paddlers and anglers great outdoor recreation in all directions.
“Whatever the season, we really are at a crossroads,” Marvin said.
Guests hop aboard snowmobiles for day trips to Harbor Springs or Cross Village. Following a snowy network of groomed trails, they speed across the equivalent of two-lane backcountry roads, a hard-packed, foot-deep ribbon of white that carves its way through the “tip of the Mitt.” The trails curve around tiny frozen lakes and over the hilly landscape, wending their way through a forest sparkling with freshly fallen snow.
Ice fishers try their luck at nearby Crooked and Burt lakes, while snowshoers and cross-country skiers spend their days exploring the region’s trails, some of which crisscross the 30-acre grounds of the Crooked River Lodge. Nub’s Nob and Boyne Highlands Resort offer downhill skiing and snowboarding just 10 miles away. And the lodge’s backyard becomes a sledding hill in winter, exploiting a visible descent toward the frozen Crooked River.
When the cold becomes too much, an outdoor fire pit takes off the chill, and inside, a stone fireplace towers over the lodge’s four-story lobby. A massive chandelier of deer antlers adds a nice Northwoods touch. The cozy great room is easily surveyed from the hotel’s second-story loft, a common area furnished with a pool table, board games, books and comfortable easy chairs.
“When guests settle in up here,” Marvin said, “the stresses of the everyday begin to melt away. We can see it in their faces.”
Family fun rules at Double JJ Resort, a Western ranch-themed getaway with the rough-hewn timber Sundance Saloon & Grill, a Wild West village called the Back Forty and even a mechanical bull.
Spread across more than 1,200 acres in Rothbury, Double JJ began as a family farm turned summer camp, the Jack and Jill Ranch, in the 1930s. After serving as a children’s camp, the resort shifted its focus to a young adult clientele, eventually becoming the expansive Double JJ Resort in 2009.
Double JJ offers a wide variety of lodging choices, including log homes, cabins and hotel-style options. Rooms in the Thoroughbred Suites unit feature a fireplace, full kitchen, in-room Jacuzzi and private balconies with as many as four bedrooms to sleep up to 14 guests. The Thoroughbred Suites are especially popular for their proximity to the resort’s Gold Rush Indoor Waterpark. The 60,000-square-foot water park includes several waterslides and thrill rides, a lazy river, wave pool and water toys for toddlers.
“Families come to us looking for a way to unplug and make lasting memories,” said Nichole Steel, marketing manager for Double JJ. “Double JJ Resort’s rich history as a ranch gives the feeling of a rustic getaway that you won’t find at other resorts.”
Outdoors, Double JJ’s horses continue the Western theme. Guests join horse-drawn sleigh rides or guided horseback rides to explore quiet, forested grounds with little sound but the wind in the trees and the crunch of horses’ hooves in the snow.
More traditional snow fun includes fat tire bicycle, Nordic ski and snowmobile trails and rentals. But the most exhilarating fun may lie just beneath Double JJ’s Sundance Saloon & Grill. Beneath the steakhouse’s two-story windows, the steeply angled, 660-foot Sundance Slopes is open to tobogganers and snow tubers on winter weekends. A tow-line transports sledders back to the hilltop.
The Hotel Walloon has hosted relaxing northern Michigan getaways for more than a century. Originally constructed in the 1890s, the original Hotel Walloon promised fresh air and natural beauty to travelers from Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
The crystal-clear waters of adjacent Walloon Lake and the area’s pristine fishing streams were nothing short of blissful to residents of America’s grimy 19th-century urban centers. Hotel Walloon displays historic photos and century-old fishing gear and snowshoes to remind modern guests of the area’s enduring appeal to anglers and nature lovers, not least of whom was Ernest Hemingway.
A 2019 win as the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice award for Best Wine Country Hotel proves that the Hotel Walloon continues to impress today’s visitors. Comprised of a panel of wine and travel experts, as well as editors from USA Today and its sister outlet, 10Best.com, Hotel Walloon bested wine competitors in such prestigious wine regions as California’s Napa Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Wine takes its place as a modern draw for visitors to the Hotel Walloon. The inn sits near the Petoskey Wine Region, a relative newcomer to Michigan’s wine trails. Other winter pastimes include a network of meandering snowmobile trails, downhill and Nordic skiing at nearby Boyne Mountain Resort, and snowshoeing the thick pine woods that rim the edges of Walloon Lake.
But like so many of northern Michigan’s winter resorts, the Hotel Walloon offers such a cozy retreat that guests occasionally find themselves reluctant to leave. A large fieldstone fireplace crackles in the inn’s lobby, surrounded by deep leather sofas perfect for an afternoon read and a glass of wine from the bar. Nearby, a richly paneled room allows guests to play billiards and browse framed black-and-white images of lake life a century ago. And upstairs, guestrooms overlook frozen Walloon Lake, strikingly beautiful from this warm retreat.
It’s a view so lovely, visitors might actually yearn for a long winter. ≈
Amy Eckert is an award-winning travel writer and author based in Holland.
Settle in and relax with these winter suggestions: “Great Reads by the Fireplace“.