Outdoor Family Travel
Last Updated: 5/1/2014
By Brian E. Clark
For Jay Novick, visiting northeast Wisconsin during the winter has been a multi-generational adventure.
“I’m a snowmobiler and I love it up north during the cold months,” says Novick, a retired Chicago-area businessman who bought his first snow machine in 1970.
By 1974, Novick and his wife were bringing along their kids on their winter vacations to Holiday Acres, a resort near Rhinelander. The Novicks are far from alone.
Thousands of other Midwesterners head for the northeast part of the Badger State – from Rhinelander and Eagle River over to Marinette – in the snowy months. Once there, they not only ride snowmobiles, but ice fish, skate, go cross-country skiing, snow shoeing or simply relax and enjoy the scenery.
“We went snowmobiling even before the trails were marked around Holiday Acres,” he says. “They provided a guide and my son would ride with me and my daughters would ride in one of those ‘skibooses’ behind us, wrapped up in blankets.”
Now 75, Novick is still riding a sled, sometimes with his many grandchildren.
“We all love to snowmobile,” he says. “It’s an exciting activity for the whole family.”
Christian Falster, a suburban Chicago insurance agent, is starting down the same path as Novick.
“We go up all year-round, but our favorite time is winter,” he says, noting that it is much less crowded than during the summer. “Before kids, we went north with our dogs, who were our ‘furry children.”
Now, the Falsters snowmobile with their preschoolers, ages 4 and 18 months.
“We go on little putt-putt rides on Lake Thompson and they think they are out on a trail deep in the woods,” says Falter, who married his wife, Kim, at the Holiday Acres resort in 2007.
A former competitive hockey player, Falster also skates on Lake Thompson with his wife and 4-year-old daughter.
Chad Zeiler, who runs a landscape business in Sussex, is somewhere in between the Novicks and the Falsters with his family. He has three kids between the ages of 7 and 12. An avid snowmobiler, he and his family typically log 200 to 300-plus miles when they visit the Chanticleer Inn on Dollar Lake near Eagle River.
“We started the kids at around age 2 and would drive to have lunch somewhere, staying out for maybe 45 minutes,” recalls Zeiler, who says his family also likes to take winter hikes to see nature at a slower pace.
“We’ve already planned a trip up there for this winter with a group of family and friends,” he says. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
Laura Reed, executive director of the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce, says her town bills itself as the ice fishing capital of the world.
“Not far from the city limits, we have 230 lakes,” she says. “So once the lakes freeze over, we have great fishing. Our waters are welcoming year round. And we also host North American Ice Fishing Circuit tournaments here, too.”
Reed says anglers can tough it sitting in simple chairs on the ice or set up elaborate, heated shelters that have nearly all the comforts of home.
“Every year, the second week of February, we have a Lions Club fishery for all members of the family,” she says of the event, which also includes snowshoe softball, a broomball tournament and snowshoe races. “The kids' eyes really light up as long as they have something on the end of their poles.”
Conrad Heeg, who runs the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, says the terrain around his town boasts more than 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails that run through the forests and over frozen lakes.
“We’ve been the snowmobiling capital of the world since 1964, so winter is a huge season for us with major races and other events, like our Klondike Days,” he says, noting that SNOWGOER Magazine has repeatedly ranked the Eagle River Area as the best destination for a family snowmobiling vacation.
Numerous lakeside resorts and restaurants stay open in the winter, he says, which makes it easy for snowmobilers to find a place to dine or gas up their machines.
And while many snowmobilers bring their own machines, visitors can typically rent them for $150 a day or $200 on weekends, he says, with an additional charge for clothing and helmets.
To the east on the shores of Green Bay, Marinette Chamber of Commerce director Jamie Darge says ATV riders and snowmobilers can take to county trails all winter long. And when the ice freezes solid on the bay, snowmobilers can ride all the way to Door County.
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