Everyone likely can agree on this: little sounds more romantic than lacing up ice skates and — as soft flakes fall — gliding around a skating pond illuminated against the night. Even if the reality can be a bit, well, clunkier, the scenes still rival a Hallmark Christmas special in the best possible way.
I can’t really skate at all, and yet in small-town rinks like the Petoskey Winter Sports Park, helpers are on hand to loan one of those chairs to skate behind like a toddler just learning to balance (if needed, and it was). There are huts with hot cocoa and warming fires. And skaters at each enjoy the exhilaration that comes from getting out and moving when the world is otherwise still, especially when I’m on the rink — more than a few laughs!
Winter Sports Park, Petoskey
On one trip here, unprepared for winter outdoor fun, a friend and I hit a local thrift shop for hats and gloves, and then headed to this city-owned park that features a sledding and ski hill, rental skates, a warming hut and — at roughly football field size — one of the state’s largest ice rinks. The size is perfect both for those who can spin or jump and those who don’t want their tumbles to make others stumble. (petoskeyarea.com)
Catherine Bonifas Civic Center, Escanaba
The city of Escanaba has consolidated its two former skating rinks into a new one, conveniently located behind its civic center and historic skating rink location. There are lights for evening skating here, a true small-town feel. You can’t rent skates there, for example, but that’s because their “rental” skates are free for the borrowing. You’ll feel like a local, too, when you warm up with sustenance after by the fireplace at the Stone Cup Coffee House and Stones Deli. (escanaba.org)
Rosa Parks Circle, Grand Rapids
This skating circle within the plaza found downtown has a Charlie Brown Christmas special-style magic. Surrounding trees are lit at night and the space was designed by internationally known artist Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Rosa Parks Circle was honored as one of 5 Great Public Spaces in America by the American Planning Association in 2017. A handy warming hut sits adjacent to the rink, the modest admission fee covers skate rentals, and many après-skate options are a short stroll away. (experiencegr.com)
Campus Martius Park, Detroit
The energy of Detroit’s renaissance is palpable here in this center of it all, surrounded by the city’s liveliest, friendliest downtown restaurants and festivals. On Winter Blast weekends (through December), entrance is free, but the people-watching fun is worth the $10 (adults, $5 for skate rental) cost of admission. During the holiday season, the city hangs thousands of tiny lights on the park’s trees, lending a romance factor. (downtowndetroitparks.com)
Greenfield Village, Dearborn
Victorian scene or holiday TV special? You’ll be hard-pressed to decide when you hit Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village. On December weekends, you can put on skates and glide to the sound of carolers and sleigh bells. Mingle around bonfires later or take a tour that really takes you back. (thehenryford.org) ≈
Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who shares her travel savvy in every issue of BLUE.
Slip on Cross-Country Skis and Glide into the Night – “Making Tracks”, by Leslie Mertz.