With fresh powder and cozy cabins, Minocqua is the perfect winter weekend getaway. People often escape to the Minocqua area for more peace and serenity. Minocqua is arguably at its peak tranquility in the winter. Green spires of spruce or white birch against a deep blue sky. Icicles shining silver under a pale winter sun. A vast expanse of a snowy lake, dotted with colorful ice fishing shanties. These are just a few of the iconic portraits of winter painted daily in the Northwoods from first snow through the spring thaw.
Thanks to more than a million acres of public forest, there’s ample opportunity to escape to a place where tranquility prevails and beauty is in the details — a bunch of red berries on a low-growing shrub, gnarled branches on a centuries-old tree, or the perfect symmetry of a stand of tamarack when a trail runs through the middle of it.
Snowmobiling is a staple of Northwoods winter recreation. Our area snowmobile clubs and volunteers maintain more than 1,700 miles of professionally groomed trails. Some of our most scenic trails are in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, the Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area, and the Bearskin State Trail. All readily accessible from many of our lodging properties. Put your helmet on, spend the day cruising through frosted tall pines, & clear your head.
Winter is a naturally quiet time of year. Somehow the sounds of the forest — the cry of a blue jay, the neighborly call note of the chickadee, and the nasal beep-beep of red- and white-breasted nuthatches — seem to accentuate rather than disrupt the silence.
There are miles and miles of trails throughout the snow-laden Northwoods for silent sports like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fat-tire biking. The abundance of quiet winter recreation spots in the Minocqua area, include Schlecht Lake, a DNR-owned property with six miles of ski trails.
Another popular destination for silent sports is Minocqua Winter Park, a not-for-profit town park operated by the Lakeland Ski Touring Foundation and the Minocqua Winter Park Trail Fund. More than 50 miles of park trails promise adventure, serenity, and natural beauty. Skis and snowshoes are available for rent within the park. Kids will love the 400-foot snow tube run, open on weekends and for private parties. The park is also the scene of some of the most picturesque ice skating in the state.
There’s much to see in the winter woods if you’re moderately observant. Tracking is a skill best learned with the help of a good field guide. One animal that’s easy to track without a field guide is the otter. Otters are social creatures, and if you’re fortunate enough to catch them at it, it’s great fun to watch them sliding down hillsides just for the fun of it. You’ll have a higher probability of seeing them if you keep an eye out for signs of their movement. Because they have very short legs, they move with a hop-hop-slide pattern, and the telltale slide, usually two or three feet in length interrupted by tracks, is easy to spot.
“There’s wildlife to be seen every month of the year, it’s just a matter of observing” adds Senior DNR wildlife biologist Jeremy Holtz. “There’s no substitute for being curious and getting your feet out on the trail,” he says. “That’s the only way you’re going to learn what’s out there to see. It’s how I keep learning.” The DNR offers tracking classes to encourage people to volunteer in its wildlife population surveys. Visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/training.html for details.
Bare trees and vast expanses of wild space make birding an appealing winter recreation when birds are less able to hide from our field glasses. During a hard winter, snowy owls make their way south from the Arctic, and can sometimes be glimpsed in open fields or marshy areas in the Lakeland area. Once lakes begin freezing over, migrating waterfowl tend to congregate wherever there’s open water. The water often stays open where the Minocqua chain flows east of Woodruff, offering great seasonal viewing. (Take County Highway J east, just past Highway 47, turn right on Hatchery Road, then left on Woodruff Road. From the intersection of Hatchery and Woodruff roads, you can usually see open water.) Open water is also a good place to see bald eagles, which may be seen in greater numbers than in summer.
Every once in a while, a blustery winter day seems better left to the birds. That’s the right kind of day to build a blazing fire, pop some corn and warm up some cocoa (adding some spirits from Northern Waters Distillery optional). Break out the old cards and board games or pick some new ones at Imaginuity. Any Northwoods cabin worth its salt is sure to have a bookshelf stocked with old paperbacks, and even some newer titles, like those in the Loon Lake series written by local author Victoria Houston. Be sure to keep a quilt or afghan handy for when the afternoon turns languid and drowsing off for a nap feels like the height of luxury.
Indeed, winter is the prime season for rest and renewal. Time seems to stand still when the snow flies, and that gives us all the time in the world to bring to life our own favorite daydreams of beauty, contentment and joyful recreation.
-Revised from an original article by Molly Rose Teuke