By Mary Bergin
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
What makes a Wisconsin winter wonderful? It’s the many ways families can build fond memories as easily as snowmen. Hundreds of trails crisscross the state’s national forests to frozen lakes. Cross-country ski by candlelight in state parks, use inner tubes to turn slick hills into thrill rides and silently snowshoe into the most beautiful, snow-kissed scenery around.
Downhill gliding and swooshing is winter as usual, but this also is the season to dream big, splurge and amp up the kids with extraordinary experiences in stupendous settings.
Just west of Eagle River, Snowmobile Capital of the World, sits Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, a remote paradise for bears, deer and lovers of nature. Explore the vast wilderness during a three-hour to all-day guided tour while riding – or driving – a snowmobile. These motorized sleds are for rent, or bring your own. Never driven a snowmobile? No problem: Just complete a short, online safety course. Guides accommodate true beginners to those with experience who seek deeper knowledge about the area’s 600 miles of groomed trails.
Fishing on Wisconsin’s deepest body of water sure doesn’t end when a deep freeze sets in for winter. That’s when augers come out to drill through the thick ice, and fishermen trade tall tales while waiting for trout or bass to take their bait. Even in subzero temps, the pastime is quite toasty if a heated shanty is part of the formula – and that’s how Norton’s operates. A shanty with wood floors and bench seating accommodates up to eight people. Rates include bait, tackle, hole drillings and transportation. You bring the fishing license.
Wisconsin’s Driftless Area is hilly-gorgeous all on its own, and snowfall is like icing on the picture-perfect landscape at this former dairy farm near the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. Bring well-heeled pooches to the pet-friendly resort, which is home to a Siberian husky, pair of llamas and wily mousers. Everybody has room to run on these 200 acres of snow-covered meadows: The Skijoring 101 package includes an introductory lesson, skis and harness for one person and dog to romp in sync. Year-round bonfires and star-gazing end the day, and the two-story Paul Bunyan cabin sleeps up to six.
Bundle up for a horse-drawn sleigh ride on 800 acres at a century-old farm in the peaceful Northwoods. Retreat to the Farmhouse for hot meals made from generations-old recipes. Burn off energy on miles of cross-country ski trails, the ice-skating pond and sledding hill. Then relax in your family’s private cottage or a suite within the thick timbers of handcrafted White Pine Inn, big enough to sleep 20. Learn about Finnish heritage by accident or on purpose, through the food, owners’ stories or time in the wood-fired sauna.
Learn to drive a team of Siberian husky dogs near the top of Wisconsin, or just go along for the ride of a lifetime. The adventure can be as short as a 2.5-hour afternoon romp through Echo Valley hills or as long as a two-night outing with meals and camping in wood-heated, canvas-walled tents. All equipment is provided, and enthusiasm matters more than experience for these small-group outings. Help round up and hitch up these beautiful dogs, in addition to enjoying the rush from mushing.
Don't let the family adventures stop there. Keep exploring more to do with the kids this winter.