Embrace the snow and cold for great winter fun.
Fat snowflakes drift down from the sky, blanketing the ground. As the mercury plunges, lakes and streams transform themselves into glittering expanses of ice. Cheeks redden when you step outside, while your speech becomes clothed in delicate wisps of steam.
Winter is a magical season here in the Northwoods, where the average snowfall is 65 inches. As the flakes fall the pace slows, the world grows silent and those hip to the frosty season’s allure bundle up and head outside to play. There’s so much to do, so much fun to have before spring starts thawing the earth.
Cross-country skiers flock here to glide along more than 100 kilometers of groomed trails. The biggest concentration (100+ kilometers, or nearly 50 miles) is at 6,500-acre Minocqua Winter Park, considered one of the Midwest’s top cross country ski locales. Seventy of its 80 groomed kilometers are set for both classic and skate-skiing, with 10 reserved strictly for striding. Trails range from easy to difficult (anyone up for the nutcracker trail?), and lead you past lakes, the squirrel river and scenic vistas. The park also offers snowshoeing, tubing, ice skating and skijoring (more on the latter in a bit).
As you might guess, you can ski and snowshoe in many other places here in the Northwoods, too. The North Lakeland discovery center, a nature based education and community center, grooms 20 kilometers (12+ miles) of trail every winter for classic skiing. The trails guide you along the Manitowish river and loop around statehouse lake, popping you in and out of the woods and even over a bog. Guided ski trips and snowshoe outings are offered, along with interpretive hikes. For a more remote experience, scope out the area’s 10 additional trails (both groomed and ungroomed), many of which are in the northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.
The snowmobile was invented in northern Wisconsin (in nearby Sayner, to be exact), so it’s no surprise that hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails lace the Minocqua area — and local snowmobile clubs and volunteers have created a larger trail system stretching more than 1,600 miles! Bring up your sled and explore the area’s pristine forest lands and glacial lakes. Or, if you’re new to the sport, sign on for a guided tour with adventure north snowmobile Tours.
Adventure North rents snowmobiles (although you can bring your own), and offers tours for newbies that include instruction on trail etiquette, map skills and riding skills. you’ll also
Learn to navigate throughout the area during the process. Advanced snowmobilers can also sign on for a tour; your trip will feature a wide variety of trails and more aggressive riding. You may also be able to zip over open lakes, depending on snow conditions.
Think zip lining is a summer activity? Then think again. At Northwoods Zip Line, you can fly down lines year-round, including when the snow flies and turns the 100-foot red and white pines you’re soaring over into a true winter wonderland. Besides being able to speed down eight lines and traverse six adventure bridges, your guides will dispense lots of interesting info about the area’s ecology, geology, biology and history. Remember to bundle in lots of layers, as you’ll be zipping pretty fast and creating your own little wind chill.
Die-hard anglers can go ice fishing in any number of spots in the area, which is home to thousands of freshwater lakes. (remember to carry your license with you.) Lake Minocqua in particular is considered a prime spot. Experts say Stacks Bay is the place to go, especially for bluegill, crappie and northern pike. In early winter, walleye can be found in areas of the lake where there’s still some green weed growth.
Skaters can whirl and twirl their way over ice in various locales, such as Brandy Park, Torpy Park in downtown Minocqua (which also has restrooms and a warming house) and the Lakeland Hawks Ice Arena, which offers both indoor and outdoor rinks.
Remember the skijoring mentioned above? That’s a sport where you strap on Nordic skis and harness yourself to a dog (or two or three). The dog pulls and you steer, plus help a little with your poles and skis. Minocqua Winter Park has a six-kilometer loop open daily for skijoring except during peak times, which are generally busy Saturdays and the Christmas/new year’s week. You just need to bring along spot and the proper equipment: a skijoring harness for you, a sled-dog harness for your dog and rope to connect the two.
Don’t forget to set aside time to indulge in some old-fashioned winter fun, too. Head outside and construct a snow fort, then challenge your family or friends to a snowball fight. Build a snowman, or have a snow-sculpture contest. Flop on your back and flap your arms and legs to create a snow angel. if you find some open water, organize your own “polar plunge.” the possibilities are endless.
Of course, part of the fun of winter is snuggling around a warm fire, which is another great option — especially if it comes after a day spent in the fresh air. And any season’s a good time to tuck into a local supper club for a fish fry or prime rib special. Norwood Pines, one of the area’s oldest supper clubs, serves both of those dishes, and more, in its picturesque setting near Patricia lake. The Plantation supper club, first opened in 1938, is known for its lobster tails, barbecue ribs and steaks.
It’s also perfectly acceptable to pull a thick blanket around you and read a book while the snow drifts down. Or nap. Or quietly count your blessings. Sometimes a beautiful, peaceful setting is restorative all on its own.
That’s The Spirit!
The Lakeland communities offer a variety of wine, beer and spirit tastings, which may be just the ticket after spending time in the frosty outdoors.
Northern Waters Distillery. The tasting room is open year-round at this small, craft distillery, which produces cold-water vodka, bourbon and several varieties of flavored moonshine, such as apple pie and honey lemon. You can even sign up to spend the day at Northern Waters to learn how the entire distilling process works.
Three Lakes Winery. Known for its fruit wines — cranberry, blueberry, apricot, rhubarb and more — the winery offers free daily tastings. Its gift shop is housed in an old train depot.
Minocqua Brewing Company. The brewery crafts six in-house brews, plus seasonal varieties. Try them all via seven five-ounce samples, served on a wooden paddle. The company also houses a restaurant and holds live-music events.
Rocky Reef Brewing Company. Small-batch brewery offering a rotating selection of their nine signature beers brewed on site. Brews range from an IPA to Pale ale to a Saison and American Porter, among others.