What it’s like Visiting a Beach Town in Winter

Brianna Krueger's picture

‘Pointless’ might be something you would expect when I tell you what it’s like to visit a beach town in winter. When a town makes its living during the summer months of tourists visiting its sandy beaches and Lake Huron shores, it’s easy to pretend that the town doesn’t exist in the winter months. After all, it’s not like you can tan out in your bathing suit or take a dip in the lake – well, you could, but it’d probably be damn cold… Hope you at least have a hot tub to jump into afterwards.

So when I decided to visit the beach town of Port Austin, Michigan, in the winter, I went in with low expectations of community activities and the acceptance I’d spend half my time sitting by the fireplace. Half the restaurants were closed, and the ones that were open had limited hours. The closest thing to shopping was the hardware store, and there’s not even a movie theatre for 20 miles. Not to mention it was wicked cold with snowdrifts where I’d disappear like a rabbit into a magician’s hat.


What it’s like Visiting a Beach Town in Winter


However, the cold (nor the warmth of the fireplace) kept me from venturing outdoors. In fact, I spent a good portion of my trip soaking up that winter sun (yes, I did get some much needed color – and not just rosy-winded cheeks!). Turns out, there’s actually a lot to do in the winter at a beach town - you just need to use your imagination to create your own adventure and fun. A bigger bonus – some of the stuff I did you could never do in the summer.


What it’s like Visiting a Beach Town in Winter


You can walk on water

...In ice form. The freezing temps had caused Lake Huron to be 95% frozen over, and nearly 2 feet thick, meaning you could walk out on Lake Huron to your heart’s (and warmth’s) content. Instead of walking the beach, I walked in the middle of the lake, getting to see shore like I’d never seen it before – and further than I could ever hope to swim out.


You can ice skate the breakwall

Normally used to stop waves from crashing into the harbor, the breakwall became frozen over with those same waves and turned into an ice rink – a dysfunctional one, since it was anything but flat. To have some fun with it, we skated best we could (and fell as gracefully as we could) along the mile-long wall.


You can barricade yourself

(Well, the wind will do it for you, but you can enjoy it.) Snowdrifts are impossible to avoid with the vast emptiness of the lake. It will drift up so high you might not even be able to spot a way out of your house, as hopefully you’re already inside.


You can have a fire in the middle of the lake

Normally our fire is built on the sand, but this time we decided to go on fire (in a fire pit – we didn’t want to melt into the lake after all). We turned it into a real party with brats, s’mores, and booze – hey, it helped with the warmth as well! Located off shore by 100 feet, we made party happen on the lake, no boat required.


You can hike to the lighthouse

Located 2 miles from the harbor, Port Austin Reef Light House was more hike than walk, and even a little hopscotch and skating. Jagged ice chunks zig-zagged across the frozen lake, making the path anything but straight. Patches of snow drift, frozen snow, and ice provided for a difficult but total body work-out trail. No matter how close you got, you were still so far, but the 2.5 hour round-trip hike was worth it to stand beside the 60 foot tall structure. And of course, strike a pose with it too. 


Port Austin Reef Lighthouse. From What it’s like Visiting a Beach Town in Winter


The view from the lighthouse back to shore seemed so far and the world so empty, like my dad and I were the only survivors of some world apocalypse – to be dramatic – but it was an eerily calming view. A beautiful one, too, that proved you can do amazing things.

The joy of a warm fireplace may sound nice, but don’t write off visiting a summer town in the winter. You’ll never know what you’ll find and how you’ll see things differently. Some places you may find hot chocolate worth making the drive for, in others you’ll find a hike to a lighthouse – it’s all about using your imagination and having a little fun.

Still think winter is so pointless?





Brianna Krueger is the Chief Editor for Wandering Educators


All photos courtesy and copyright Brianna Krueger