Must-See Events on Wisconsin's Frozen Lakes

By Jerry Huffman
Special to

It’s hard to explain the appeal of Wisconsin winters. The cold can take your breath away. But so can the Ice Caves near Bayfield and the sight of bald eagles diving for fish in Sauk Prairie.

You’ll laugh yourself breathless, at the bike toss in Fish Creek, or marvel at people who dress up to plunge into icy lakes to help others.

And nothing beats a great bowl of chili once your fingers go numb.

Fish Creek Winter Festival - Fish Creek

For thirty years, Fish Creek has proven there really is a fine line between fun and silly. This year’s party will feature, among other great choices, the annual bike toss, minnow racing and kickball on the harbor.

Insiders know: Head for Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse for the award-winning beef brisket chili. 

Eagle Watching - Prairie du Chien and Ferryville

One of the more breathtaking winter options in Wisconsin is eagle watching. Bald and golden eagles fish the open waterways making Wisconsin one of the largest winter nesting areas for the graceful birds.

If you can’t make the celebrations in Prairie du Chien or Ferryville, head for the Mississippi River. Another great viewing area is in Sauk Prairie near the dam.

Insiders know: Eagles are early risers and head back to their nests by early afternoon.

Book Across The Bay - Ashland

Legend has it the good folks of Chequamegon Bay put their heads together and came up with the idea of a candle lit ski and snowshoe run across the bay. Book Across The Bay was born.

This year, they’re expecting several thousand people to make the trek from Ashland to Washburn. Kids to seniors are welcome. You’ll save a few bucks by registering online. Depending upon snow pack, walking or running may be allowed.

Insiders know: Make sure you “go” before the race. There are no facilities on the ice. Trees either.

Polar Bear Plunge - Madison and several locations statewide

Special Olympics Wisconsin is hosting fourteen Polar Bear Plunges this winter across Wisconsin. Singles and teams are welcome to take the plunge as the community turns out to help the estimated 10,000 Special Olympic Wisconsin athletes. As they like to say, “You Plunge, They Play.”

The Bucket List Trip: The Apostle Islands Ice Caves - Cornucopia

It’s hard to pick a single winter destination which defines Wisconsin, but the Ice Caves near Bayfield may come close. The red cliffs along Mawikwe Bay combine with the natural ice formations of Lake Superior to create dazzling ice caves that have become a worldwide travel destination.

Know that it can be a challenging hike to get to the caves. Hiking boots are best. Cleats are helpful. It’s just more than a mile from the Meyers Beach Road parking lot to the caves.

Insiders know: Dress in layers. You’re still walking on Lake Superior and the weather can turn on a dime.

Note: The Apostle Islands Ice Caves are only accessible when Lake Superior freezes over. As winter conditions change, visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's Facebook for the most current information.


Writer Jerry Huffman is a confirmed warm-weather guy, but has been known to venture on to Rock Lake in Lake Mills to check out the annual “Icehenge” sculpture.