TikTok's 'Wandering Michigander' recommends visiting these 5 winter spots – Lansing State Journal

Two-and-a-half years into building her brand as a travel influencer, Taylor Dustin still finds it difficult to believe how little people living outside of Michigan know about all the state has to offer.
“Michigan is not a drive-through state,” said Dustin, 25. “You have to actually be going to Michigan to explore, unlike a lot of other states that you drive through to get to another one. It’s surrounded by water and nobody from other states understands how big the Great Lakes are. When they think ‘lake’ they think, ‘Oh, you can see across it.'”
On social media, Dustin, a Grand Rapids resident and self-described “explorer,” makes videos that seek to dispel those misconceptions. She created her TikTok account, “The Wandering Michigander,” in the spring of 2020 and started traveling the state. Her video posts showcasing Michigan’s hot spots and hidden gems have drawn more than 181,000 followers so far, and the endeavor recently became her full-time job.
Dustin’s been all over the mitten state, from Silver Lake’s sand dunes along Lake Michigan to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising, and places in between. The season doesn’t matter, she said, and although Michigan is glorious in the summer, there’s just as much worth seeing in the winter.
Here’s a closer look at five places Dustin recommends visiting this winter season.
This one is an obvious choice, Dustin admits, but no one should miss out on experiencing everything Frankenmuth has to offer during the holiday season, she said.
“That’s one place that’s really special just to winter,” Dustin said.
“Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” is home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, a massive year-round Christmas store, and dozens of other unique shops and restaurants located in its downtown.
Zehnder’s, known for its family-style chicken dinners, hosts its Snowfest, which showcases ice sculptures, in January and the city runs a “Christmas Shuttle” to various attractions throughout December. Learn more at www.frankenmuth.org.
“It’s great to go there all year round, but going during the holiday season is something else,” Dustin said. “It’s a fun place to go for the weekend and relax.”
Dustin doesn’t shy away from outdoor destinations when it’s cold. Instead, she bundles up and embraces the weather, and while plenty of people visit Tahquamenon Falls in the summer she urges people to consider a trip there in the winter.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is nearly 50,000 acres. The waterfalls, both lower and upper, along the Tahquamenon River west of Paradise, are a sight to behold in the cold, Dustin said.
“I went for the first time in the winter last year because I wanted to see it in all the seasons and I was honestly blown away,” she said.
The Upper Falls are so large they hadn’t completely frozen over, Dustin said: “It was so pretty. You can also snowshoe the trails there or just hike the trails. It’s a totally different experience.”
The east side of the state doesn’t get enough love, Dustin said, and that includes downtown Detroit.
“Detroit is a really cool place to go in the winter because they have a lot of fun stuff downtown,” she said.
That includes ice skating at an outdoor rink in Campus Martius Park, a winter carnival at the Monroe Street Midway featuring games and activities that runs through Jan. 29, and holiday lights at the Detroit Zoo.
“I’m actually really excited to go explore Detroit this winter,” Dustin said.
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If you can wait to visit Marquette until later in the season, Feb. 16-20, you’ll be able to catch a series of three popular sled dog races hosted in the city every year.
They include the UP 200, a 220-mile race between teams of 12 dogs each, the Midnight Run, an 82-mile run between teams of eight dogs each, and the Jack Pine 30, a 26-mile race between teams of six dogs each. Racers start from downtown Marquette.
Marquette’s downtown is filled with shops and restaurants, Dustin said, and there are lots of unique outdoor spots you can visit in the vicinity, including the campus of Northern Michigan University.
“I love the vibe of Marquette,” she said. “They have a cute downtown and they have lots of coffee shops and restaurants and cozy places like that, which is kind of hard to find in the U.P.”
Learn more at www.travelmarquette.com.
Where can you find great terrain for skiing, tons of trails for your snowmobile and so much snow?
Go north, cross the Mackinac Bridge into the state’s Upper Peninsula and then west toward Ironwood and the Porcupine Mountains, Dustin said.
The Porcupine Mountains Ski area, located in Porcupine Mountains State Park, gets an average of 200 inches of snowfall each year and is well worth the trip to the western U.P., Dustin said.
“I went skiing there for the first time last year and it’s the only place I’ve skied in Michigan that has had legit powder snow like you see out in Colorado,” she said. “The runs are pretty long because it’s just more mountainous up there.”
Learn more about the area at www.michigan.org/regions/up-western.
Contact Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ .


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