Winter Hiking in Wisconsin? You Bet!
Think hiking is only a warm-weather activity? Then think again. Winter hikes are often magical experiences, especially when the snow is flying or crisp temperatures create glittering ice formations. To help you get started, here are seven prime hikes to consider come winter, all of which offer stunning scenery.
Before you head out, check the trail conditions. While you may only need to don sturdy shoes or boots for your trek, traction cleats or snowshoes may be required if the trails are covered in deep snow or ice.
Pattison State Park - Superior
Pattison State Park in Superior is home to Big Manitou Falls and Twin Little Manitou Falls. Big Manitou Falls, at 165 feet, is the state’s highest waterfall, and the fourth-highest east of the Rocky Mountains. The 31-foot Twin Little Manitou Falls, while smaller, is charming thanks to its split falls. Depending on weather conditions, your group may even get a chance to see the frozen version of these spectacular falls, which transforms them into uniquely beautiful ice sculptures.
Hike or snowshoe together along the trails leading to the waterfalls, then check out the Beaver Trail, which encircles Interfalls Lake and features a bridge with scenic views over the Black River. The North Country National Scenic Trail winds through the park, too, piggybacking on several of these paths. All of the park's trails are relatively easy, making Pattison a great choice for young and old alike.
Red Cliff Ice Caves
These days, the ice is rarely safe enough to explore the popular mainland ice caves pockmarking the cliffs along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. But thankfully, you have another option: signing up for a tour of the nearby Red Cliff Ice Caves. These smaller ice caves sit just outside of the Apostle Islands on the rocky ledges lining Red Cliff Bay, which reliably freezes every winter.
Tours of the ice caves are offered by members of the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, as the caves are on their tribal lands. Add these ice caves to your winter hiking bucket list to be amazed by the beauty of a Wisconsin winter.
Ice Age Trail, Lodi Marsh Segment - Lodi
Wisconsin is home to the 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and one prime segment for wintertime exploration is Lodi Marsh. The 5-mile segment sits on both sides of Lodi-Springfield Road. Its eastern half is the more challenging of the two, climbing uphill through restored prairie and hardwood forest to offer stunning, expansive views of the countryside.
The gentler western half – a good choice for kids or anyone with mobility issues – meanders near burbling Spring Creek. Explore on your own, or check in with the Lodi Valley Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Association, which holds monthly full moon hikes in the winter and a First Day trek on New Year's Day.
Mirror Lake State Park - Baraboo
Mirror Lake State Park in Baraboo displays impressive Cambrian sandstone formations like those lining the Wisconsin River in nearby Wisconsin Dells. And you can explore many of them up close via a winter hike with loved ones. A stroll along the interconnected Sandstone, Echo Rock and Cliffwood Coulee Trails beautifully showcases many of these layered rocks, which are tucked into a forest of fragrant red and white pine.
At the Pulpit Rock trailhead, follow the unofficial path to the right, which winds through the narrow Fern Dell Gorge. The quarter-mile gorge is small but spectacular, and in winter the water that seeps from its rocky walls freezes into beautiful ice creations.
Cave Point County Park - Sturgeon Bay
Cave Point is a tiny county park in Door County that sits atop an intricately carved rocky ledge overlooking Lake Michigan. Popular in summer with scuba divers and kayakers who love to explore its underwater sea caves, the park also attracts visitors in winter who come to get a glimpse of its incredible ice formations.
These sparkling ice sculptures form on windy days when waves crash into the park's dolomite limestone ledges, creating water sprays that can reach up to 30 feet in the air. Water also shoots skyward from blowholes in the rock. All of this ice makes for a slippery trek, so use caution when exploring. As you stroll along the park's 900 feet of shoreline, check out the intricate ice formations
which change in shape and size with every new wave. A half-mile of forested trail connects Cave Point with the adjacent Whitefish Dunes State Park, another great option for winter hiking with your crew.
Kickapoo Valley Reserve - La Farge
The 8,600-acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve in La Farge is open year-round to hikers. A portion of the reserve’s 60 miles of trail unspools along the Kickapoo River, where you can enjoy the colorful sandstone and shale cliffs lining its banks. But make sure to also look for the impressive ice sculptures that routinely form around the property, courtesy of its hillside springs.
Two cave-like rock shelters near Weister Creek are fan favorites, as they regularly sport winter ice formations and falls. And don't miss the Valley of the Ice, so named because its series of rock shelters often are fronted by curtains of ice, which kids – and adults – love to walk behind. Explore on your own or sign up for one of the reserve's guided ice hikes.
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve - Menasha
Just outside the city of Appleton, you can find an urban nature reserve with habitats including forested wetland, cattail marsh, open water, created prairie, open field and upland forest that transform into a winter wonderland in the snow. Explore miles of trails with the whole family and warm up in the expansive Nature Center. There, you’ll find engaging exhibits that give more insight to the natural wonder you experienced, including aquariums with local fish, frogs, turtles and snakes!
Continue checking winter adventures off your bucket list with these 7 Places You Can't Miss This Winter in Wisconsin!