I love early morning beach walks in the winter. There is no sensation quite like inhaling that chilly air as the sun rises and begins to illuminate Lake Michigan.

My wife and I had a great excuse to pay a daybreak visit to Pioneer County Park, just north of Muskegon. Last month, Visit Muskegon launched its Snow Much Fun Outdoor Discovery Tour. Visitors are asked to snap a photo or selfie at any or all of 17 designated sites and share them on Facebook with the hashtag #SnowMuchFunInMuskegon. Through February, winners will be selected randomly every week to receive gift cards, certificates and prize baskets from local dining establishments and other attractions.

For Lori and me, the experience was less about trying to score swag and more about enjoying a learning experience cleverly disguised as a good time.

Snowy sand and sunshine

The Snow Much Fun map includes locations that extend from Norton Shores to the south to White River Township to the north. We started a bit south of the northern terminus for this journey, but I encourage anyone who has yet to explore the White Lake area to do so ASAP. Meinert Park in White River Township is a must for any lakeshore lover. The views of Little Flower Creek and Lake Michigan are splendid in any season. 

We started at Pioneer Park, a two-minute drive north of Muskegon State Park. This Snow Much Fun site sits on 145 acres with over 2,000 feet of beach frontage. A couple of staircases (icy at times — use caution) lead you to a post with a short rope attached. From here, you can grab hold and lower yourself down to stunning lakeshore views. Unique ice formations courtesy of one of our favorite artists, the big lake, were everywhere.

After our Pioneer Park visit, we walked along the north side of the channel at Muskegon State Park toward Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse, where all was quiet except the ducks that chatted and swam the morning away.

Of beasts, burgers and boarders  

North Russian Expeditionary Force monument at Veterans Memorial Park

From here we headed back toward Muskegon to Veterans Memorial Park, where we had one job: to find the polar bear monument honoring the veterans of the North Russian Expeditionary Force, aka the Polar Bear Expedition. During the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, about 5,000 U.S. Army personnel, two-thirds of which were from Michigan, landed in northern Russia to fight the Red Army. Following the Allied Armistice with Germany, the troops returned home in 1919.

Sometimes the clearest directions are no match for human error. We circled the 50-acre park via the causeway four times trying to spot this polar bear. Finally, we had a great idea: we looked at a park map. Lo and behold, we found our furry friend. I cannot tell you how elated and silly we felt at the same time.

Our hunt worked up a bear-size appetite, so for lunch we visited Hamburger Mikey. This Midtown burger joint has amassed quite the following, so we had to see what all the hype was about. It did not disappoint. We split a double chorizo burger (January’s burger of the month — check their Facebook page for February’s) and a half-pound order of fries, which they throw in their own bag — no frills, just legit freshness. The burger was a thing of beauty — two chorizo and beef patties with house-made street corn salsa, Cotija cheese, chipotle mayo and whiskey onion jam courtesy of Wonderland Distilling in Muskegon Heights.

Single chorizo burger, courtesy of Hamburger Mikey

After our meal, we made two more stops to wrap up our Snow Much Fun adventure. First, we visited with Moxie the Mastodon, who resides outside the Lakeshore Museum Center. Kids (and adults, for that matter) are encouraged to interact with this life-size replica and its whimsical blue tusks and to learn more about the impressive creature’s ice-age history. The American Mastodon is Michigan’s official state fossil.

Moxie the Mastodon at Lakeshore Museum Center

Finally, we checked out “The Turning Point,” a 10-foot-tall sculpture at Western Avenue and Fourth Street honoring Muskegon’s snowboarding roots. Local inventor Sherman Poppen licensed his monoski-with-rope creation to Brunswick Corporation in 1966. Muskegon held Snurfer racing competitions through the late 1970s. Eventually, Poppen’s model evolved into the modern-day snowboard thanks to the late Jake Burton Carpenter, avid Snurfer and founder of the famous Burton snow sports company.