With so many incredible destinations all across northern Michigan, Benzie County flies a bit under the radar. Many Michiganders don’t know about all the wintry joy that awaits in the collection of laid-back lakeshore communities southwest of Traverse City. 

What you’ll discover when you visit is an assortment of attractions that make Benzie County an amazing place this time of year. It’s home to one of Michigan’s best ski resorts with Crystal Mountain and offers some of the best winter hiking in America’s most beautiful place, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s where you can find several charming lake towns and Michigan’s first farm distillery, too. 

You can explore all these places and more this winter on a visit to Benzie County. Pick and choose from this 3-day itinerary and plan a getaway that will put Benzie on your map as northern Michigan’s winter wonderland.

Crystal Mountain Resort From Top of Ski Hill

Day 1: Crystal Mountain Resort

More than 100 acres of skiable terrain plus 25 kilometers of cross-country trails make Crystal Mountain one of the state’s premier ski resorts, and a perfect headquarters for a winter getaway in Benzie County. With five dozen downhill runs and three terrain parks, you can ski or snowboard all day (and into the night) if you’d like. You can also ride a fat tire bike on 12 miles of groomed trails, snowshoe pretty much everywhere around the resort and even go on a horse-drawn surrey ride with complimentary hot cocoa.

Another popular center of activity at Crystal Mountain is the outdoor ice skating rink right in the heart of the village. It’s free for resort guests and costs just $5 for daytime visitors, with skate rentals available if you don’t have your own.

Indoor amenities at the resort about 45 minutes southwest of Traverse City include Crystal Spa, the Peak Fitness Center, lovely places to shop, and an indoor swimming pool. There’s an outdoor hot tub open all winter, too!

What’s For Dinner: With options for quick eats, casual fare, and fine dining, you can enjoy all your meals without ever leaving Crystal Mountain. Or, venture outside the resort to Dinghy’s Restaurant & Bar, a laid-back retro diner in downtown Frankfort known for delicious smoked meats including chicken wings and award-winning ribs.

Winter at Empire Bluff at Sleeping Bear DunesDay 2: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

While many Sleeping Bear visitors venture farther north, the southern stretches of the national lakeshore in Benzie County offer incomparable beauty all their own. Lace-up your hiking boots for a thrilling trek through the woods or over low dunes to Lake Michigan on the Platte Plains and Old Indian trails. Or, head straight for the beach to immerse yourself in blissful solitude at the water’s edge. 

For an inland hike, explore the Michigan Legacy Art Park in Thompsonville, on the grounds of Crystal Mountain Resort. Along two miles of trails through a 30-acre forest preserve are more than 50 works of art in what USA Today has ranked as one of the top three sculpture parks in the country. 

When it’s time to warm up, spark your imagination at the Cognition Science & Discovery Center in Beulah, on the shore of Crystal Lake. The museum-style attraction is full of interactive, hands-on exhibits that are a blast for kids (and adults) of all ages. And for one week each month, Cognition sets up an inflatable dome inside for a planetarium show like you’ve never seen.

Food & Drink: Treat yourself to authentic Old World dining with recipes from the Carrella family cookbook at Vita Bella Italian Kitchen in Frankfort. For a nightcap, head to Thompsonville and sample the spirits at Iron Fish Distillery, Michigan’s first working farm solely dedicated to distilling small-batch craft beverages.

Point Betsie Lighthouse - winter

Day 3: Lake Michigan Lighthouse Adventure

One of Michigan’s most picturesque lighthouses has stood through all seasons on the shore of Lake Michigan off scenic M-22 in Benzie County for the past 165 years. As gorgeous as the scene at Point Betsie is in the summer, there’s an abundance of mesmerizing photo ops this time of year, too. And if you find your way just a few miles south along the lakeshore, you can encounter the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse on a pier jutting out into the harbor. Frankfort is such a big destination for lighthouse lovers that the arch welcoming people into town is supported by lighthouses!

Frankfort is also home to the Oliver Art Center, a delightful place to mill around indoors while browsing the exhibits and shopping the winter market. The center also holds many classes through the winter, so be sure to check the schedule and try your hand at ceramics, woodworking, cooking, jewelry making, and more.

Coffee/Lunch Options: Start your day at Petals & Perks, a neighborhood coffee bar in downtown Frankfort where you can sip gourmet beverages and experience the vibe of an old building with original hardwood floors and brick walls. Later, grab lunch or dinner paired with inventive, Belgian-inspired craft beer at Stormcloud Brewing.