Come winter, the Northwoods is simply magical. And when the snow is flying or the lakes are frozen over, there’s always a “flurry” of activities to do. Welcome the snow and head outside to enjoy some of the best outdoor experiences that Wisconsin’s Northwoods has to offer.
Downhill Skiing in the Northwoods
In the Midwest? You’d better believe it. Granite Peak near Wausau offers 68 runs, divided in thirds as beginner, moderate and difficult. Outside Bayfield is Mt. Ashwabay with a vertical drop of 317 feet, and runs ranging from easy to difficult, the longest being the 1,500-foot Super G. An hour’s drive north of Chippewa Falls takes you to Christie Mountain, suitable for beginners with 11 easy runs, but also offering more challenging double black diamond cliff jumps.
When the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore says the ice is ready, head to Meyers Beach with a warm pair of boots. The lakeshore ice caves are one mile from the end of the beach.
If the rangers say no, drive the Ice Road from Bayfield to Madeline Island and see the ice formations the lake makes along the shore of Big Bay State Park.
Host of the 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. The Afterhours Ski Trail System at Brule River State Forest just west of Iron River offers 18 miles of combined classic and skate groomed trails, plus another 11 miles of ungroomed territory. The Nine Mile Trail System near Wausau serves beginners and seasoned experts with over 18 miles of double track with an eight-foot- wide skating lane. The spacious warming chalet also offers rentals.
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 to complete a Snowmobile Safety Certification course through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources before getting on a snowmobile, and carry their Snowmobile Safety Certificate with them.
The 400 Block on 3rd Avenue in Wausau hosts a nice skating rink with plenty of places to warm up with food and drink right across the street. Also part of the aforementioned Minocqua Winter Park is the Chip Wulff Memorial Pond, which is well maintained and offers skate rentals. Situated at the Corner of Forest Street and Wyoming Avenue in Phillips is an ice skating rink, plus, the adjacent Phillips Outdoor Hockey Rink.
If there’s snow, strap on the showshoes; if not, you’re good to go with hiking boots. The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest has four nature trails with plowed parking lots, plus the Lumberjack and Powell Trail Systems provide longer distances. If you go off trail, the showshoeing is limitless. The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through northern Wisconsin, and a seven-mile stretch of that trail (located in the Brule State Forest) is great for snowshoeing.
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. In downtown Wausau, you’ve got a hat trick in Mint Cafe, Malarkey’s Pub and Daly’s.
In Bayfield, dine or stay the night at the Old Rittenhouse Inn and try some of their hot buttered rum or Wassail punch made with bourbon, cider, cranberry and a blend of spices. For more hot apple cider with bourbon, hot toddy in the bottle, and other creations stop in for a tasting at Northern Waters Distillery in Minocqua.
After skiing in Brule, warm up with White Winter Winery in Iron River with some warm, non-alcoholic glogg (mulled wine) that can be made “adult” with some of their mead.
‘Tis the season for hot chocolate, and Great Northern Coffee Traders in Minocqua 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.
Photos by TravelWisconsin.com
This article originally appeared on experiencewisconsinmag.com in January 2020. 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.