12 Experiences to Add to Your Wisconsin Winter Bucket List

12 Experiences to Add to Your Wisconsin Winter Bucket List

Photo courtesy of Canva

By Erin Yarnall

December 21, 2023

For some, winter itself is a perfect reason to stay indoors and avoid the cold weather all season long. For others, winter is a reason to bundle up, head outdoors, and take part in all that the season has to offer.

Due to the cold weather, there’s an abundance of activities that are inaccessible during the rest of the year, including outdoor ice skating, sledding, snowboarding, and venturing across frozen lakes on foot, by bicycle, or by car. No matter what you’re interested in doing, there’s some outdoorsy fun to be had in the state for just about everyone.

From seasonally-themed festivals to the perfect snow-tubing locations, here are some of the best things to do this season throughout Wisconsin.

Skate on Bayfield’s Ice Road

It gets so cold in northern Wisconsin in the winter that even the Great Lakes freeze in some spots. Typically, one of those spots is near the city of Bayside, where the frozen lake becomes the Ice Road. When it’s fully frozen, the Ice Road connects Bayfield to Madeline Island in Lake Superior, nearly four miles from the city.

The road can be strong enough to support the weight of cars and is lined with evergreen trees to help drivers’ visibility. If you’re not up for driving on the road, try ice skating instead. Or take part in the Run on Water, a family-fun run that follows a 4.3-mile course across the Ice Road. Participants can skate, run, snowshoe, or bike the route.

Explore the Lake Superior Ice Festival

12 Experiences to Add to Your Wisconsin Winter Bucket List

Photo courtesy of Lake Superior Ice Festival via Facebook

Barker’s Island lies at one of the most northern points in Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, and each winter hosts an event that centers a resource these islands know well: ice.

The Lake Superior Ice Festival will be held on Jan. 26-27, 2024, featuring ice sculptors, a lengthy snow slide for tubing, saunas, and a mini-golf course with plenty of snowy obstacles, along with many other family-friendly activities. The annual event is free to attend.

Visit Lake Geneva’s Winter Realms

For years, visitors have been making their way to southeastern Lake Geneva in the winter to see the city’s ice castles—huge, imposing structures composed entirely of ice. This year, the annual winter event has rebranded itself as Winter Realms. Attendees can enjoy exploring the icy creations and spend time on one of the event’s sleigh rides, or take a ride down the tubing hill.

The event is delicate by nature—the 2022 season was shortened to just three days after warm weather melted the ice castles. Tickets can be purchased in advance online and are sold in 30-minute entry time slots, though attendees can stay for as long as they want once inside.

Snow tube at Cascade Mountain

There are few moments more exciting in wintertime than finding a perfect snow-covered hill to go sliding down. Conveniently, in Wisconsin, there’s Cascade Mountain—a ski area with a peak elevation of 1,280 feet. Cascade Mountain offers a 900-foot-long chute for snow tubers to soar down. A two-hour tubing session costs $40 for adults and kids over the age of seven, or $23 for kids six years of age and under.

Not up for tubing? Try out skiing or snowboarding. Cascade Mountain offers one-hour lessons for beginners before they hit the slopes.

Visit Cedarburg’s Winterfest

12 Experiences to Add to Your Wisconsin Winter Bucket List

Photo courtesy of Festivals of Cedarburg via Facebook

If there’s one thing that the city of Cedarburg does well, it’s put on a festival. The city is home to several seasonally themed festivals each year, including Winterfest. The festival, which takes place in mid-February, has numerous indoor and outdoor events for participants to enjoy, like an ice-sculpting contest and a penguin egg hunt for kids.

The festival receives more than 10,000 visitors each year, and the 2024 event’s theme is Back to the ’80s. To go along with the theme, Winterfest is hosting a costume contest and an ’80s pop-up shop.

Go skiing at Granite Peak

The Midwest isn’t known for its mountains. In fact, compared to the rest of the country, it’s pretty flat—but that doesn’t mean there are no hills with impressive elevation. Granite Peak, a ski area in Rib Mountain State Park, boasts a 700-foot drop, alongside 58 different skiing and snowboarding runs. The ski area, which lies just outside of Wausau, has more than 200 acres of terrain, with seven lifts that bring skiers and snowboarders up to the top of its many runs.

Lift ticket prices differ depending on which days you’re visiting but vary between $85-109 for adults per day and $70-80 for children. The fun doesn’t have to be limited to just one day, either. Granite Peak offers lodging packages with nearby hotels, which can be booked on the ski area’s website.

Snowshoe in Kettle Moraine State Forest

12 Experiences to Add to Your Wisconsin Winter Bucket List

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit via Facebook

Covering more than 22,000 acres of glacier-carved hills, prairies, and lakes, Kettle Moraine State Forest in southeastern Wisconsin is a winter wonderland for anyone who loves the outdoors. It’s an ideal place to go snowshoeing, with miles of trails open each winter, including the Butler Lake Trail, a three-mile loop that follows the Ice Age Trail in certain spots.

Snowshoeing isn’t the only thing that there is to do in the expansive forest. Visitors can go cross-country skiing on more than 30 miles of trails, snowmobile along 60 miles of trails, or go ice fishing on one of the forest’s lakes.

Admire the sculptors at Lake Geneva’s Winterfest

Lake Geneva is a great place to visit in the summertime—you can go ziplining, ride in a hot air balloon, or spend a day at the beach. But it’s not too bad in the winter, either—especially if you’re attending the city’s annual Winterfest celebration.

The annual festival, which is free to enter, takes place over five days from Jan. 31-Feb. 4, 2024. It will feature bonfires on the beach and an ice-sculpture walk with dozens of carved ice figures on display. It’s also home to the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship, so attendees can watch as some of the best snow sculptors in the country build elaborate creations and designs over four days.

Bike Across Bago

If just walking across a frozen lake isn’t intimidating enough, try riding a bike across one. Each year, if Lake Winnebago is frozen enough, bikers take on Bike Across Bago in February. The annual event is organized by the Fox Cities Cycling Association, which maps the safest possible route for cyclists to take along the 20-mile round-trip ride.

Participating in Bike Across Bago is free, but organizers ask that participants submit a $10 donation to Paynes Point Hook & Spear Fishing Club, a local fishing club based out of Neenah that plows the ice road across the lake for participating cyclists.

Go mushing at Top of the Hill Huskies

Mushing with a pack of huskies isn’t just something that happens in Alaska and the northern Canadian tundra, dog sledding can be done anywhere that gets cold enough, including Wisconsin. Top of the Hill Huskies is a kennel based in northeastern Phelps, co-owned by mother-and-daughter duo Diane and Amelia Gagliano.

The husky-mushing season is relatively short—rides run from Dec. 22-March 10, 2024, and can be reserved online. Rides are available for a single person ($300) or groups of up to eight people ($900). The kennel also offers an add-on experience for beginners that teaches them how to mush their own team of huskies.

Do a Polar Bear Plunge

Whether it’s just an invigorating way to ring in the new year or an effort to raise funds for charity, there are plenty of reasons why people across Wisconsin take a jump into frozen bodies of water throughout the winter. In Milwaukee, participants have been diving into the waters of Bradford Beach since 1916, and they’re going to do it again on Jan. 1, 2024. The annual event takes place at noon and is free for anyone who wants to participate

Go snowboarding at Pinehurst Park

12 Experiences to Add to Your Wisconsin Winter Bucket List

Photo courtesy of Pinehurst Park – OutdoorMore, Inc. via Facebook

There are a few ski and snowboarding resorts throughout Wisconsin, but there’s also plenty of places to ride cost-free throughout the state, including Eau Claire’s Pinehurst Park. The massive park has more than 60 acres of trails, but also offers jumps and rails for thrill-seeking snowboarders.

Pinehurst Park is also an ideal locale to go snowshoeing, sledding, and fat-tire biking. Or head out to the park’s two ice rinks—one of which is for casual skating and the other dedicated to hockey.




Local News

Related Stories
Share This