State Park Winter Recreation Ideas
By Mark Crawford
Winter isn’t just about bundling up and shoveling snow—it’s also about strapping on skis, lacing up skates or sledding down a glistening white hill, followed by a cup of hot chocolate or apple cider in a warming shelter (preferably by a crackling fire).
There are plenty of Wisconsin state parks that offer these family-friendly activities all in one place. Organize your own family triathlon! For example, take the family cross-country skiing in the morning, followed by ice-skating, snowshoeing and/or sledding later in the afternoon. Not only will you make a fantastic memory for years to come, you’ll get a good workout, and chances are the kids will be sound asleep in the back seat on the way home after a day in the snow-covered woods. Below are some state parks well known for multiple winter activities.
To see park offerings in your area, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/findapark.html.
Peninsula State Park is one of the most popular parks in Wisconsin. Ski trails are color-coded from easy to difficult—ideal for finding a trail the whole family can enjoy. Some of the most scenic and remote parts of the park are accessed via six miles of hiking and snowshoe trails. Be sure to bring your sleds—the hill at the number 17 fairway at the park’s golf course is steep and fast (and hard to leave).
This is some of the prettiest country in southern Wisconsin. Cross-country ski trails pass through open fields and majestic stands of oak forest. Like Peninsula State Park, there is a trail for every level of skier. Break your own trail through the park on snowshoes or follow designated snowshoe trails (three quarters of a mile and three miles in length). A sledding hill is located near the swimming pool parking lot.
Visitors can ski trails along the rocky bluffs and wooded shoreline, often spotting deer and bald eagles. Favorite snowshoe trails include Sandstone Trail (two miles) and the Wild Rice Trail (0.6 miles). Bring your sleds and skates—ice on the lake is often free of snow and ready for skating. Nearby Devils Lake State Park also provides excellent snowshoe trails and a popular sledding hill near the nature center, on the north side of the lake.
Located along the Kickapoo River near the town of Ontario, Wildcat Mountain State Park has seven miles of cross-country ski trails, suitable for all skill levels, which access five scenic overlooks. The two and a half mile loop, Old Settler's hiking trail, serves as the snowshoe trail in winter. Don’t miss Ice Cave Trail—this short trail leads to a rock ledge with a small spring that freezes into a giant ice formation.
Ski by Candlelight
Of course, winter adventures don’t have to end at sundown. Several state parks sponsor candlelit hiking and skiing, typically with roaring bonfires and soothing refreshments like hot chocolate. To find candlelit skiing opportunities, visit the Wisconsin DNR website for updates or contact parks directly.