Wisconsin in winter has a “flurry” of activity. Welcome the snow and head out to enjoy some of the best outdoor experiences the state has to offer.
Host of the American Birkebeiner, the continent’s largest ski race, The Birkie Trail in the Hayward area features over 60 miles of trails. Minocqua Winter Park is equally worthy: about 50 miles of groomed trails through 6,500 acres of winter wonderland. In southeastern Wisconsin, the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest offers 17 miles of easy to difficult Nordic trails, including a 2.5-mile loop lit for night skiing. Mirror Lake, near Wisconsin Dells, has groomed trails through the woods and around the lake.
In the Midwest? You’d better believe it. Granite Peak in Wausau offers 68 runs, divided in thirds as beginner, moderate and difficult. The 18 slopes and trails at Mt. La Crosse range from beginner to “Damnation.” The hill also has the second longest vertical drop in the state at 516 feet.
Just off Interstate 90/94, Cascade Mountain makes its own snow for its 47 trails and has an 900-foot tubing run as well. Tyrol Basin near Mount Horeb makes snow for 17 runs from beginner to expert, and offers lessons, night skiing and snowboarding.
Right next to Lambeau Field in Green Bay is Ariens Hill, where snowmakers take green weather out of the equation. The 46-foot- high tubing hill has two lanes and heated stairs to climb back to the top. Iverson Park Winter Sports Area in Stevens Point has rentals for its two 300-foot toboggan slides, plus areas for sleds and saucers, and other activities. Elver Park in Madison is the city’s best sledding run.
Far north in the so-called “snow belt” lies Vilas County and over 700 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, with great places to stop and eat or warm up along the way. Download a county-produced app with a map of the entire trail system to track yourself through it. You can crisscross the county from Eagle River to Manitowish Waters, and rentals are available in several towns, including Eagle River, St. Germain, and Land O’ Lakes. Good to know: Anyone age 12 or older needs a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources snowmobile safety certificate before getting on a snowmobile. So, pick one up before you go!
If there’s snow, strap on the snowshoes; if not, you’re good to go with hiking boots. Door County’s Peninsula State Park has six trails from 0.5 to 2.2 miles, all of them rated easy.
Woodland Dunes Nature Center & Preserve in Two Rivers is a good option and hosts occasional candlelight hikes. High Cliff State Park, 20 miles south of Appleton overlooking Lake Winnebago, has several trails, one maintained for snowshoes. Rocky Arbor State Park closes its park office in winter, but hiker entry to this wooded, former river gorge is still allowed.
Madison has several rinks: the Edgewater Hotel, Elver Park and the lakeside lagoon at Tenney Park, known by many as the “ice-skating park.” The 400 Block in downtown Wausau hosts a nice skating rink with plenty of places to warm up with food and drink right across the street. For a Rockefeller Center-style experience, go to Slice of Ice in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee.
Warm yourself up from the inside with a few Wisconsin hot drinks. Made with whiskey, honey, lemon juice and hot water, the Hot Toddy sounds like remedy for a cold. Hinterland Brewery next to Ariens Hill in Green Bay offers variations on it. The Coopers Tavern in Madison is a snowball’s throw from the Edgewater Hotel’s skating rink. In downtown Wausau, you’ve got a hat-trick in Mint Cafe, Malarkey’s Pub and Daly’s.
A hot, frothy eggnog cousin with rum and brandy, the Tom and Jerry may be hard to come by outside of Wisconsin. Mark’s East Side in Appleton still makes them, as does German-themed Von Trier in Milwaukee.
‘Tis the season for hot chocolate. Check out White Gull Inn in Fish Creek near Peninsula State Park (and pair it with the cherry stuffed French toast). Great Northern Coffee Traders in Minocqua also serves a good mug. Hayward has so many options they host a Hot Chocolate Crawl during their A “Lure” of Lights holiday celebration (Nov. 29-Dec. 21). And snowmobilers—hit Wolf Pack Cafe in St Germain.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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