Why I Love Winter in Traverse City — and You Will, Too

November 29, 2023

The region’s colder months offer unobstructed views, a slower pace of life and a true sense of community.


By Nicole Haase for Livability.com  |

Traverse City’s population – along with those of several other Northwest Michigan communities – swells during the summer, as it’s hard to pass up the region’s miles of shoreline and gorgeous turquoise waters. But more and more people have come to learn that this region is just as charming, welcoming, fun and beautiful during the winter.

A haven for skiers, Traverse City is home to Hickory Hills Recreation Area, a public downhill and cross-country ski area just minutes from downtown. Fat-tire biking and snowshoeing have become increasingly popular here, and there’s a wide array of environments for residents to explore, from sandy dunes to dense forests. Beyond outdoor adventures, there’s curling at the Traverse City Curling Club, and ELEV8 Climbing Gym offers bouldering and roped climbing.

As for more laid-back activities, there are cooking classes at Northwestern Michigan College, a Cookbook Dinner Series at Amical, a European restaurant downtown, and volunteering opportunities. Plus, this season is a great time to network with others by attending Traverse City Young Professionals meetups.

Now a local, Elise Schultz visited Michigan every summer during childhood, traveling with her family from Ohio for nearly 20 years before setting out on a life of her own in big cities like Austin and Chicago. But as she struggled to make connections, she found herself longing for the close-knit community and slower pace she remembered from her childhood summers, so she relocated to Michigan in 2020 and to Traverse City in 2023.

For a time, she even worked as the event and marketing director for the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore follows Lake Michigan’s shoreline in Leelanau and Benzie counties.

While Schultz knew she’d enjoy the region’s busy warmer months, it is the slowed down, peaceful winter months that have solidified that moving here was the right decision. Ahead, Schultz explains the reasoning behind her move and why she loves winter in Traverse City.

Why did you decide to move to Traverse City?

I missed having all four seasons. I grew up in Ohio. I’m no stranger to long winters, and part of the reason I ended up here is I missed the seasonality and having that change every few months. I grew up coming here every year for almost 20 years. My grandparents had a place, and my family just loved it so much. I decided it was time to move back and live a little bit slower, a little bit calmer way of life after being in so many big cities for so long.

What’s your favorite part of living in Michigan?

So much of what really won me over up here was the access we have to so much natural beauty and these amazing scenic destinations that a lot of people who have never been here haven’t heard of or seen. It’s so hard to explain to someone that’s never been here why it’s so worth it to come up here. We’re really mindful of protecting the area, as well. As much as we want people to visit, we also want to preserve the area for years to come.

The biggest draw now that I’ve been here for three years is the sense of community. I feel like you meet someone here, and you’re bound to run into them again. It’s just so nice to feel so supported and so rooted in our community.

Why do you love Traverse City winters?

In the winter, everything slows down a little bit. It’s a little bit calmer. Summer is such a blur. In winter, I just really enjoy having that season to really appreciate the area we live in. I feel like I have more time to do everything in the winter. I find myself branching out a little bit more and exploring a little bit more. We get to enjoy our restaurants and local businesses in a different way in the winter.

What’s the best part about exploring the lakeshore during the winter? 

I love to enjoy some of my favorite hikes in the winter when it’s less crowded. It’s still beautiful, and you see the area in a different light in the wintertime. I honestly think I favor hiking in the winter over the summer sometimes because the views are so good when there are no leaves on the trees. Everything is so much more visible. It’s totally different. The water views are spectacular in the winter compared to the summer. It’s quieter. Walking on fresh snow is just the best feeling. There’s a peaceful, stark beauty to it in the winter. Unobstructed views at Empire Bluff tops my list, for sure.

What are some laid-back activities that you like to do in the winter? 

I love going to the coffee shops and cozying up with a good book or to get work done. My favorite place for that is Mundos Roasting & Co. It’s the perfect place to sit back and observe the steady hum of locals going about their daily lives. The coffee is fantastic, and the space makes it easy to lounge for hours on end. My go-to drink is an iced vanilla oat milk latte. Yes, even iced in the winter. Midwesterners get it!

What would you say to someone who’s skeptical about Traverse City during the winter?

Don’t knock it until you try it. Every season is worth visiting. Summer is the big draw and has all the attractions and beaches, but if you can embrace it, it’s worth visiting at other times of year. There’s always something to do, even though it’s a small town. There are so many wineries and breweries and local businesses. Winter is an incredibly beautiful season up here.