Top Things to do in Wisconsin in the Winter

by Global Viewpoint
Things to do in Wisconsin in the Winter Featured Image

Looking for some frosty fun this winter season? Visit our neighbors to the north and get a taste of a good ole Wisconsin winter! Natives like to joke that in their state, “there are only two seasons- winter and construction.” When the snow starts to fly, the orange cones disappear. It’s no wonder these people have learned ways to cope with the heavy snow and cold temperatures. Bypass the orange cones and pull on your boots; we are headed north to discover the top things to do in Wisconsin in the winter.

Coolest things to do in Wisconsin during the winter pinterest photo
Know before you go: Due to Covid-19, there may be certain travel and activity restrictions. Be sure to check local safety guidelines and follow all required protocols so Wisconsin may remain open!

Guest Post by Jill Toth from out-spiration.com

Outdoor Activities in Wisconsin during the Winter

Freezing temperatures and several feet of snow make for a great Wisconsin winter. With over 60 state parks, nature preserves, and abundant open spaces, this Midwestern state is the epitome of outdoor adventure. Here are the top outdoor activities and things to do in Wisconsin in the winter.

Ice fishing

With 15,000 lakes throughout the state, it’s no wonder Wisconsinites take to the frozen surface to go ice fishing during the winter. When the ice thickens to four inches, most anglers venture out on foot with sleds full of gear. Ice huts and shanties create tiny, frozen villages on the lake’s solid surface. This midwestern state is known for its walleye, perch, pike, and many other native species. Pack up the beer, bundle up, and drop a line this winter in Wisconsin. 

Ice fishing is a popular thing to do in Wisconsin during the winter months.
Ice fishing is a popular thing to do in Wisconsin during the winter months.

Snowmobiling – A top winter activity in Wisconsin

When a Sayner, WI resident with a foot disability was unable to trek on snowshoes, he took it upon himself to invent a “motor toboggan”. The year was 1924 and the very first snowmobile had just been invented.

Since then, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has allocated 25,000 miles of trails for snowmobile riders in Wisconsin in the winter. Terrain varies from flat farmland to rolling hills in the northern woods.

There’s nothing quite like riding through glistening glades and pine trees to the favorite local dive for a midday break. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Wisconsin in the winter.

Visiting Wisconsin in the winter? Try snowmobiling!
Visiting Wisconsin in the winter? Try snowmobiling! | Credit: Jill Toth

Snowshoeing

Walking in a winter wonderland takes on a new meaning in Wisconsin.

National forests, state parks, and nature preserves offer ample mileage for winter hikers. Snowshoeing is an activity as old as time. Thought to have originated as a means of travel over 6,000 years ago, snowshoes have evolved to create a unique recreational experience during winter in Wisconsin.

Renting a pair of snowshoes from your local outdoor shop is the best way to test the waters before investing in your own pair. When going out into the snow be sure to dress for the weather.

For more information on what to wear and how to choose the best snowshoes for yourself, check out this article on snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing is one of the top things to do in Wisconsin in the winter months
Snowshoeing is one of the top things to do in Wisconsin in the winter months. | Credit: Jill Toth

Ice skating is among the best winter things to do in Wisconsin

As noted above, Wisconsin is home to thousands of lakes. When these liquid bodies solidify in the winter, ice rinks pop up in their place. But not all ice rinks in Wisconsin are natural. This state is known for its Olympic sized skating rink and man-made city rinks. The feeling of gliding across ice on freshly sharpened skates is unlike anything you have ever experienced.

Regardless of the several layers of clothing you are wearing or wobbly legs, ice skating really is different in Wisconsin in the winter.

Lake Fowler in Wisconsin is a popular place for ice skating.
Lake Fowler in Wisconsin is a popular place for ice skating.

Nordic (Cross-Country) Skiing

When most of us think of skiing, we think of chair lifts, 80’s ski suits, and après parties. But there’s another type of skiing that is just as popular- nordic skiing. This type of skiing requires skiers to use their own momentum and strength to traverse across snow-covered fields and up/down rolling hills, hence the term cross-country skiing. This Midwestern state offers hundreds of groomed trails to nordic skiers in the winter.

From state forests to nature preserves, check out these Top 10 Places to test your skills this winter in Wisconsin.

Nordic skiing is one of the best fun things to do in Wisconsin in the winter.
Nordic skiing is one of the best fun things to do in Wisconsin in the winter. | Credit: Jill Toth

Downhill Skiing – One of the best things to do in Wisconsin in the winter

If flat or rolling terrain doesn’t quite do it for you, consider downhill skiing in Wisconsin during the winter!

Skiing is a must in the snowy months.
Skiing is a must in the winter months.

With more than 30 ski and snowboard areas in the state you’re sure to find something that suits everyone in the family. For those visiting the southern portion of the state be sure to check out Wilmot and Alpine Valley.

Central Wisconsin also boasts great terrain for skiers and snowboarders in the Midwest. This area is home to Cascade, Devil’s Head, and Granite Peak– Wisconsin’s biggest resort with the greatest vertical drop.

But we can’t forget about the ample terrain up north in the Upper Peninsula (UP). Michigan’s UP borders Wisconsin to the north and offers great downhill skiing in the winter. Folks making the trip should be sure to ride at Ski Brule, Mt. Bohemia, and Lutsen, on the banks of Lake Superior.

Most of these outdoor activities are athletic in nature. If you are looking for something less physically demanding, try one of the 7 Can’t Miss Winter Activities in Wisconsin.

Though these white mountains in Wisconsin aren’t very high, they are still a lot of fun! It’s definitely one of the top things to do in Wisconsin in the winter, particularly for ski lovers.

Skiing at Cascade Mountain is one of the top things to do in Wisconsin in the winter.
Skiing at Cascade Mountain is one of the top things to do in Wisconsin in the winter. | Credit: Jill Toth

Winter Festivals in Wisconsin

If outdoor recreation does not pique your interest, consider attending some of Wisconsin’s Winter Festivals. Fireworks, bonfires, food, music, the list goes on and on. Here are five of the best festivals in Wisconsin in the winter.

The Snowflake Ski Jump Tournament- Westby, WI

Located in Westby, WI, a quiet city in the Timber Coulee known for its Norwegian roots, the Snowflake Ski Jump Tournament elicits excitement every February.

Snowflake Ski Cup Tournament is a must-see winter festival in Wisconsin
Snowflake Ski Cup Tournament is a must-see winter festival in Wisconsin. | Credit: Jill Toth

International and U.S. jumpers travel to this city to compete in the extreme sport of ski jumping. The Snowflake Ski Club boasts a 118 meter Olympic-sized hill used specifically for this tournament. Participants travel at speeds up to 50 miles per hour and fly hundreds of feet through the air in hopes of making it the furthest, ultimately winning the title.

Buy your button, bundle up, and get a spot by one of the bonfires for optimum viewing.

Snowflake Ski Jump in WI
Snowflake Ski Jump. | Credit: Jill Toth

U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship & Winterfest- Lake Geneva, WI

As the only national snow sculpting championship in America, Lake Geneva’s 72-hour competition hosts sculpting teams from around the country. Fifteen teams work non-stop all weekend in lieu of cold temperatures and spectators. The U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship & Winterfest offers more than just snow sculptures. It also includes an ice sculpture tour through downtown, bonfires on the beach, and much more. Be sure to catch this event and discover how art and family-fun can create memorable experiences in Wisconsin during the winter.

The U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship on Lake Geneva, WI
The U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship is scheduled to occur between Feb. 3-6, 2021.

The American Birkebeiner- Hayward, WI

In the 1970’s, an alpine ski resort owner saw potential in the surrounding hills and wooded trails near his property in Cable, WI. His native Norwegian roots prompted him to take advantage of the natural course and create the American version of the Birkebeinerrennet to attract more visitors to his resort.

Main Street in Hayward, WI
Main Street in Hayward, Wisconsin. | Credit: Jill Toth

Since then, the American Birkebeiner has become one of the most loved events in Wisconsin during winter. Over 10,000 racers compete in seven different waves throughout the five-day event. Ski events include, but are not limited to, junior ski races, skijoring, a giant ski race, the Kortelopet (29K) and the main event: the 50K (31 mi) Freestyle and the 55K (34 mi) Classic Birkebeiner race. Participants and spectators can expect a load for the senses at this event.

From food and beverage vendors to live music, and everything in between, the American Birkebeiner should not be missed.

The Finish Line of the American Birkebeiner.
The American Birkebeiner is the largest cross-country ski race in the USA. | Credit: Jill Toth

Hudson Hot Air Affair – Hudson, WI

The St. Croix Valley in central Wisconsin hosts thousands of people for the Midwest’s premier balloon festival every winter. When the balloon launches commence, the sky fills up with globes of bright colors. Although no balloon rides are actually offered at this event, several of the sponsored balloons do offer rides off site, weather permitting. Other spectator events are also a part of this balloon spectacular.

A torchlight parade, kite flying, ice carving, a craft fair, and food vendors are sure to please the whole family in Hudson, WI.

Hudson Hot Affair is one of the top winter attractions in Wisconsin.
Hudson Hot Affair is one of the top winter attractions in Wisconsin. It’s scheduled to occur between February 5-7, 2021.

Book Across the Bay- Ashland/Washburn, WI

Book Across the Bay is one of Wisconsin’s most unique experiences during the winter. This nighttime event takes place on the frozen surface of the world’s largest freshwater lake- Lake Superior. Skiers and snowshoers from around the state and region travel to the city of Ashland in northern Wisconsin. Participants ultimately end up on the other side of the bay in Washburn, WI.

This 10-kilometer course is lit up by the night sky and over 1,000 candles lining the route. There are four different waves available for participants, varying from competitive racers to those wishing to not be timed. Visit Ashland this winter and experience the 25th annual Book Across the Bay race for yourself!

Book Across the Bay in Wisconsin.
Book Across the Bay in Wisconsin is slated for February 20, 2021.

These are only some of the many winter festivals held in Wisconsin in the winter. For more information on other events like these, check out 15 of the Greatest Winter Festivals in Wisconsin.

Coolest things to see and do in Wisconsin in the winter

America’s Dairyland provides ample outdoor adventures and family-friendly festivals throughout the winter season. Although Wisconsin’s winter weather may make you want to go into hibernation, do yourself a favor and try something new. Now is the time to get outside and test your limits. Seek adventure in Wisconsin during this winter season. You’ll instantly see why it’s one of America’s best hidden gems.

Read next: Top Vacation Rentals in the Midwest

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Toth is a freelance content creator specializing in travel and outdoor recreation. A Wisconsin native turned Colorado adventure guru, she is very passionate about the outdoors and connecting people with nature which is what she tends to focus on in her writing. Follow Jill’s adventures on her blog at out-spiration.com.

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