Located in the Frost Belt and the Upper Midwest, Wisconsin is transformed into a wonderland of snow and ice in the winter. The cold weather brings along incredible adventures throughout small towns in the Badger State, including snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. In fact, Wisconsin is often considered the Midwest's premiere skiing and snowboarding destination. Several small towns in Wisconsin boast these and other winter activities, such as dog sledding, ice fishing, and winter festivals that include polar plunges. Since the state borders two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior, Wisconsin also provides unique winter water adventures and frozen ice displays. From viewing ice caves in Bayfield to snowshoeing on an old railway line in Cedarburg, here are several small towns in Wisconsin that come alive in winter.
The Northwoods community of Minocqua becomes a wonderland of frozen lakes and snow-covered pines in the winter. Located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Minocqua is a hub for skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ice fishing during cold-weather months. Lake Minocqua is a paradise for anglers when the lake freezes over, while outdoor adventurers enjoy ice skating and snowmobiling on the lake. Snowmobilers can also explore more than 1600 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the area.
For even more winter activities, Minocqua Winter Park offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and fat tire biking. Open daily in the winter, the park also features a sledding and tubing hill. A few nights a year, the winter park opens up for Candlelight Snowshoe and Ski. Visitors to the enchanting event can ski and snowshoe on trails lit by hundreds of lights while warming up at cozy bonfires along the illuminated trails.
With a population of only 592, the small town of Bayfield offers big winter adventures to visitors. Those willing to brave the snow and cold enjoy the outdoor adventures on Mount Ashwabay. Located in Bayfield County Forest, the mountain is a great spot for skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, and skiing with dogs, known as skijoring. For a stunning winter experience, cold-weather enthusiasts can hike along the trails at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to view the beautiful ice caves. Since the 2-mile round trip hike is along the ice of Lake Superior, be sure to dress accordingly and use poles, if necessary. Towards the end of winter, visitors can also participate in the unique Bayfield Winter Festival. The weekend event includes the annual polar plunge into Lake Superior and a candlelight ski, snowshoe, and hike at Howl Adventure Center.
Eagle River is located near the Michigan border in Northern Wisconsin. Known as the "Snowmobile Capital of the World," Eagle River is a haven for snowmobilers with its intricate network of nearly 100 miles of snowmobile trails. The town hosts the World Championship Snowmobile Derby, attracting more than 40,000 racing enthusiasts. The town is also known as the "Hockey Capital of Wisconsin." In February, Eagle River hosts around 2,000 players at the annual Pond Hockey National Championships at Dollar Lake.
Since the town is situated in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Eagle River offers skiing and snowshoeing trails in the forest. The 15-mile Nicolet North Trail is a favorite for cross-country skiers. Eagle River is also a premier ice fishing destination due to the town's chain of 28 lakes. For anglers willing to brave the cold, perch, walleye, and crappies are in the local lakes.
Just an hour from both Chicago and Milwaukee, Lake Geneva is a central Midwest hub for winter activities. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy ice skating and ice fishing on the lake the town is named after and nearby Como Lake. Winter sports lovers can ski on 20 downhill ski runs on the Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. The mountain top also boasts an ice skating rink, sledding hill, and 5 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. More snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking adventures await at Big Foot Beach State Park, which is transformed from a summer paradise to a winter wonderland with the arrival of snow.
The town's winter adventures culminate during the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship at Lake Geneva's annual Winterfest. Visitors can watch sculptors create elaborate snow sculptures during the three-day competition, as well as enjoy the Ice Sculpture Walk and bonfires on the beach.
Home to one of the oldest geological formations on earth, Wausau offers a unique look at history and nature during winter. The 1.7-billion-year-old mountain in the town's Rib Mountain State Park has been used for skiing since the 1930s. Visitors enjoy skiing and snowboarding on the north face of the mountain at Granite Peak Ski Area, which boasts the state's tallest vertical drop at over 700 feet. Outdoor adventures continue at Sylvan Hill Park, where visitors enjoy sledding and snow tubing down six slopes. Willow Springs Gardens also provides enchanting winter activities, such as sleigh rides and a lighted snowshoe walk throughout January and February. For those looking for winter fun in downtown Wausau, the town hosts the annual Winter Fest in January. Cold-weather enthusiasts can ice skate, view sled dog demonstrations, and even build an ice castle downtown near the banks of the Wisconsin River.
Situated in the heart of Wisconsin's Northwoods, the charming town of Rhinelander is a haven for winter adventures. Surrounded by the Wisconsin River, Boom Lake, and Lake George, Rhinelander is a paradise for ice fishing when the lakes are frozen. Anglers can even try to hook the elusive state fish, the muskellunge, more commonly known as the musky. Winter visitors also enjoy snowshoeing and skiing in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The Washburn Lake Trail provides 15 miles of intermediate to advanced skiing trails, as well as separate snowshoeing and fat biking trails. For novice skiers, the Northwoods Ski Trail offers eight miles of groomed trails. In the winter, nature lovers can hike, ski, and snowshoe on the nature trails at Almon Park on Buck Lake while taking in the scenic views of the frozen wonderland.
As the name suggests, the quaint town of Iron River is named after the river that runs through the town. Located in Northern Wisconsin, Iron River transforms into a winter paradise when the snow falls, and the water freezes. Anglers enjoy ice fishing at the 23 lakes in town, including Iron Lake. For more winter activities, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available on the 3.5-mile Simpson Trail at the Iron River National Fish Hatchery.
For the ultimate winter experience in Iron River, visit the town in February when the Northern Pines Sled Dog Race occurs. The race begins and ends at the Northern Pines Golf Course and Event Center in Iron River. Located near the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the race offers exhilarating views of hundreds of dogs mushing through the snow-covered forest.
Located near the shores of Lake Michigan, Cedarburg, a suburb of Milwaukee, is transformed into a winter wonderland in cold weather months. The town's historic charm is brought to life in February during the Winter Festival. Visitors can view the lively ice sculpting and dog pull contests and waddle in the penguin egg hunt.
For exciting outdoor activities, winter enthusiasts can ice skate on the frozen Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Milwaukee River. When snow falls, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also available on the Zeunert Park Path in the town. The walking path turns into a perfect cold-weather trail with views of the frozen pond in the winter. Visitors can also snowshoe and cross-country ski along the 30-mile Ozaukee Interurban Trail. The scenic trail passes through Cedarburg from Milwaukee to Sheboygan on the old Interurban Electric Railway.
Wisconsin's Enchanting Winter Wonderlands
These Wisconsin towns not only endure winter but embrace it with many cold-weather activities, small-town festivals, and incredible outdoor adventures. With so many small towns that turn into skiing hubs during the winter, it is no surprise that Wisconsin is one of the best places to ski in the Midwest. Whether skiing the state's tallest vertical drop in Wausau or ice fishing in the Iron River, these small towns in Wisconsin offer enchanting winter experiences.