Winter Fun in Empire

We are over halfway through winter, and northern Michigan has quieted as usual during the “off-season”. The slower season can be a perfect time for traveling to Leelanau County, as the rates for lodging are lower, you don’t have to wait to get a table at your favorite restaurant, and the trails are quieter. We’ve rounded up a list of some of our favorite spots to visit around Empire to help you plan your winter getaway.


Looking for a place to stay? There are a number of cozy options around to host your weekend adventures!

The Empire Lakeshore Inn stays open year-round, and their new addition is the perfect spot to cozy up while visiting northern Michigan. Located right next to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Headquarters, it is the perfect starting point for your winter adventures. Rates are as low as $89/night currently!

Photo by Sarah Gautraud

Duneswood Resort is also open year-round and is the ideal location for cross-country ski lovers. Located right on the Heritage Trail, you can ski out your front door to the dune climb, Glen Haven, or come into Empire to have a mid-ski beer. Some of their rooms even feature fireplaces, perfect for warming up after all of your winter fun!

Interested in a private rental? Check out Leelanau Vacation Rentals, who can help to connect you with condos and homes available for rental year-round!



We are happy to say that all of Empire’s restaurants are open year-round!

Grab breakfast or lunch at Shipwreck Cafe; their winter hours are Monday-Saturday 9 am-2 pm, closed on Sundays. They make their own bread in-house and have an incredible selection of sandwiches.

The Empire Village Inn is a great spot to stop for pizza or a beer! They are open daily from 3-10 pm, with winter specials Sunday-Friday. Some favorite specials include Taco Tuesday and the Friday Fish Fry. They also offer a happy hour pizza special from 4-6 pm during the week, where one medium 2-topping pizza is only $10!

Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire is also open daily from 8 am-8 pm, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Check out their weekly lunch specials and plan to stop in on Thursday night for trivia from 6-8 pm.

Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor is another wonderful local spot to visit in the winter, and perfect for a late-night bite. Their winter hours are 7 am-midnight, and they have a great selection of bar food and winter drinks!


Check out the following stores, all of whom stay open year-round!


Be sure to stop in at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate on M-22 when visiting Empire. They make all sorts of tasty chocolates, and they are the best spot around to warm up with a hot chocolate or hot cup of coffee, especially in the winter. Enjoy their sunny seating area and browse their selection of local jams, honey, and more! They even offer chocolate tastings; learn more here and call to schedule!


Empire Outdoors is open Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) from 9 am-4 pm. They are the perfect spot to stop and stock up on your outdoor gear and they also feature some great Empire and Sleeping Bear Dunes souvenirs! They have the winter gear necessary for those in the area ice fishing and carry brands like Marmot and Storm Tech.


 Jojo & Bucky Handmade on M-22 hosts two of Empire’s most talented artists. The location is part shop, part studio, and a visit welcomes you in to view the creation process. Jeweler Becky Willis creates one-of-a-kind jewelry, and artist Jim Hilton captures the carefree spirit of the region in his work. Their shop is open in the winter whenever the “open” flag is flying.


A trip to the neighboring town of Glen Arbor offers a few more places to visit! Check out the M22 Store and Coastal, both on M-22 as you head north out of Glen Arbor. Both stores are open daily from 10 am-5 pm in the winter. Stop in through the end of February for deals on wine at M-22 and winter apparel at Coastal!


It’s easy to find outdoor adventure near Empire in the winter. From hiking to cross-country skiing to snowmobiling, there are options for all just minutes from us.

We recommend stopping in at the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center when you arrive in town to get a trail map and all the latest info on where to hike or cross-country ski! The National Park also offers weekly guided snowshoe hikes until mid-March. Contact the visitor center at 231-326-4700, ext. 5010 to make a reservation, or for more information.

The Heritage Trail offers 20 miles of trails through the national park, and the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes grooms most of it in the winter for cross-country skiing.

Are you a fan of snowmobile racing? Check out the Empire Snowmobile Drag Races Saturday, February 29 at the Empire Airport. Races start at 11 am, and it’s a day filled with exhilarating winter fun!

Follow along with us on Instagram for weekly updates on all the best winter activities happening in our area!