Looking for a way to enjoy the simple pleasures of the holiday season without crowded parking lots and long lines?

The perfect destination awaits in Indian River, a community so small that it is officially not a town but an unincorporated municipality. Enjoy a charming Christmas celebration in the little locale – Christmas in Indian River – scheduled for the weekend following Thanksgiving.

On November 24, enjoy a festively lit parade featuring an emcee and music, followed by the ceremonial lighting of a Christmas tree at the Village Green. The evening also includes visits with Santa, a craft/story hour with Mrs. Claus, children’s games, a live nativity, and a truly memorable performance by a Steel Drum band that will conclude the festivities.

Hassle-free shopping awaits both at the local specialty shops, which feature holiday promotions, and at the annual Christmas Craft Show on November 23.

More than 150 vendors will display their handmade treasures, filling the halls of the Inland Lakes School. Unique items include painted apples, etched garden spades, and countless additional creative items.

Indian River is little, but, in addition to the Christmas-themed weekend, it has beautiful, expansive vistas and much to offer the outdoor enthusiast.

Part of the renowned Inland Waterway — Michigan’s longest chain of rivers and lakes — there’s much to do in this area.

The four lakes connected by three rivers make a great destination for ice fishing for walleye, and the Pigeon River Country State Forest in nearby Vanderbilt is home to the largest elk herd in the Midwest.

Although elk may be seen at any time of year, in the winter, they gravitate to logging operations and clear-cut areas where they can find an abundance of young woody sprouts.

Pigeon River Country was selected as the first place to reintroduce the pine marten (a small animal in the mink and otter family) in the Lower Peninsula. Other wildlife species that thrive here include black bear, bobcat, coyote, otters, grouse, woodcock, and bald eagles.

This vacation area also provides hundreds of miles of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobile trails.

Cross-country skiers can enjoy the Wildwood Hills Pathway in the Mackinaw State Forest, just six miles southwest of Indian River. It features just over nine miles of groomed ski trails along rolling to hilly terrain.

Located at the top of Lake Michigan’s lake effect Snow Belt, Indian River boasts many miles of well-groomed trails for snowmobilers. Trail 7, the main connector from Gaylord to Mackinaw City, runs right through town and provides convenient access to the entire Northern Michigan trail system. (Snowmobile rentals are available.)

Big Bear Adventures offers guided cross-country skiing and snowshoe rental as well as spectacular, unusual winter rafting trips. Dress properly, and the adventure promises to be magical!

Lovers of other niche interests will delight in Chillermania, the all-new world headquarters for Johnathan Rand. He has authored the American Chillers series, and the unique store offers books, an American Chiller museum, and memorabilia.

Cross in the Woods Shrine and the Nun Doll Museum are great to visit no matter the season, but somehow the majesty of this spot is at its best in winter. The centerpiece of this shrine is a cross carved from a single redwood tree. It is 55 feet high, 22 feet wide, and bears a bronze figure of Jesus that weighs 7 tons. The Nun museum hosts the largest collection of dolls dressed in the traditional attire of more than 217 religious communities in the US.

Visitors can venture a few miles outside of the municipality to nearby Petoskey, Cheboygan, Mackinaw City, and Gaylord to indulge in restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues such as casinos and movie theaters.

A convenient trip south on I-75 leads to the Treetops Resort and its holiday festivities and to nearby Gaylord, which hosts a Santa Parade on December 1.

Treetops Resort  3962 Wilkinson Road, Gaylord, MI 49735 l (877) 386-9535

Cross in the Woods Shrine & Nun Doll Museum  7078 M-68, Indian River, MI 49749 l (231) 238-8973

Chillermania  1651 S. Straits Hwy., Indian River, MI 49749 l  (231) 238-0338