By Melanie Radzicki McManus | Photo courtesy Hudson Hot Air Affair

If your enthusiasm for winter begins to wane come February, check out one of these five unique festivals around Wisconsin that are well worth bundling up and bearing the cold.

Knickerbocker Ice Festival

Lake Mills, Feb. 2-3

Lake Mills’ signature winter event is the Knickerbocker Ice Festival, named after a company that harvested ice from Rock Lake a century ago.

The festival begins Friday evening with snowshoeing and hiking at Korth Park, which sits atop a glacial drumlin and offers prime views of the lake.

On Saturday, wander around town to watch the artists creating ice sculptures, or enjoy ice skating, ice softball or iceberg open golf.

Family games are available at Commons Park, plus there’s a fisheree, corn hole and Euchre tournaments, and a chili benefit. Make sure to have a drink at the festival’s legendary snow bar.

Fire & Ice Festival

Sturgeon Bay, Feb. 16-17

This Sturgeon Bay bash starts Friday evening with a luminary-lit hike around 200-acre Big Creek Nature Preserve, which sits right in town. Warm yourself afterward by sipping hot cocoa around a roaring bonfire.

Saturday, the Fire & Ice Festival kicks into high gear. Stroll around town to find the two dozen carvers transforming chunks of snow or ice into sculptures of their choice. Take note of your favorite, then cast a vote in the People’s Choice Award.

If you start to tire, hop on one of the free Door County Trolleys rumbling around the downtown.

Iola Winter Carnival

Iola, Feb. 2-4

The 62nd Iola Winter Carnival opens Friday night with a fat tire bike race at the Iola Winter Sports Club.

Saturday features a full day of winter fun, starting with an ice carving competition at Iola-Scandinavia High School, where complimentary hot cocoa and cookies await. Kids can take part in a free ice fishing competition or cross-country ski race, while a twilight snowshoe race is open to all.

To ensure you’ve got enough energy for all of this racing, set aside time to sample plenty of piping hot chili at the Chili Walk Cook-off. The festival concludes with a ski-jumping competition.


Lake Geneva, Jan. 31-Feb. 4

Snow-sculpting aficionados must head to Lake Geneva for its 29th annual Winterfest, whose signature event is the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship.

More than a dozen award-winning sculpting teams will be competing to create the most impressive sculpture, so make sure to check out every one. The celebration also includes an ice sculpture walk, live entertainment, bonfires on the beach and plenty of good eats.

Hot Air Affair

Hudson, Feb. 2-4

Rockin’ with the Coldies is the theme for this year’s Hot Air Affair in Hudson, which features a colorful hot air balloon rally. More than 30 balloonists will be in town, showcasing their eye-catching orbs via impressive mass launches.

Other events include geocaching, an evening torchlight parade, a marketplace and craft fair with dozens of vendors, a free kids’ ice fishing contest, and a fat tire bike race. If you’re adventurous, take part in the St. Croix River Dunk, akin to a polar plunge.

Melanie Radzicki McManus is an award-winning outdoor adventure writer, and author of “Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail.”


Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in travel. She has received numerous awards for her travel writing, most notably Lowell Thomas gold and grand awards, considered the most prestigious in the field. Her book "Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail" was published in 2017 by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

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