8 Must-Try Winter Activities

By Kevin Revolinski | Photo courtesy Travel Wisconsin

The season opposite “road construction” has arrived here in Wisconsin, but there’s no reason to change your outdoorsy habits. Plus, being outside offers ways to socially distance while enjoying a favorite activity and the beauty of the state.


Swap out your hiking boots and hit the trails (ungroomed only!). Or make your own path through the powder in wide open spaces such as Warner Park. Be aware that conservation parks — such as Cherokee Marsh, Edna Taylor or Owen Conservation Park — require you to stay on a designated trail. If there’s four inches of snow on the ground, you’re good to go!


A great cardiovascular workout and a marvelous way to slip through field and forest, cross-country skiing is possible in a variety of places. Elver Park produces its own snow and rents skis. Along with two other city parks — Odana Hills and Yahara Hills — Elver Park requires a daily/annual ski permit and all trails are groomed regularly for both classic skiing and skate-style. Golf courses, such as University Ridge, also offer groomed trails. Head out to Indian Lake County Park northwest of Madison for great classic trails through the woods.


Tenney Park has a dedicated hockey rink, plus much of its encircling lagoon is kept clear of snow for skaters. Elver Park also has a popular rink. (Check for current COVID restrictions at either warming house.) The Edgewater Hotel features an ice rink with a Capitol view and vistas of Lake Mendota. There’s a daily/seasonal fee, plus rentals available.


Despite a lack of mountains, Madison has three ski hills nearby! Devil’s Head Resort and Cascade Mountain are both 45 minutes to the north, and Tyrol Basin is to the west, near Mount Horeb.


Elver Park is home to a monster of a sledding hill that is lit at night. More modest hills for kiddos are at Olbrich Park or Hiestand Park. A 900-foot chute and, mercifully, a lift awaits at Cascade Mountain (above) for those seeking a tubing rush.


With knobbed tires four inches wide or more, burly fat bikes make snow- and ice- riding fun rather than frightening. The city’s bike trails, and even our frozen lakes, can become your playground. Eighteen miles of trails await near Cambridge at CamRock County Park — which also offers skiing and sledding.


Snowshoes, skis, skates and fat bikes are all specialized equipment. Check out these outfitters for rentals before you commit.

Rutabaga sells and rents snowshoes (and accompanying trekking poles). rutabagashop.com

REI sells, services and rents ski equipment and snowshoes. rei.com

Fontana Sports also sells snowshoes, skis and snowboards. fontanasports.com

Daily and weekly rates are available for fat bikes from Machinery Row Bicycles. machineryrowbicycles.com

Outdoor UW at Memorial Union rents snowshoes and trekking poles. union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/outdoor-uw

The Edgewater’s ice rink rents ice skates. Otherwise you can buy skates at Play It Again Sports, Suter’s Gold Medal Sports or Crossovers Pro Shop. theedgewater.com, playitagainsports.com, crossoversproshop.com


Mother Nature is fickle. If snow flurries aren’t flying, we can merely bundle up and call it an extension of hiking season. As long as trails are not groomed for skiing, they remain open for hiking all winter. While you’re out there, keep your eyes peeled for feathered friends.

One of the popular new hobbies of 2020 was birding. They don’t all fly south, of course. When the ice forms, bald eagles congregate around open water, notably below the dam on the Wisconsin River in Prairie du Sac. Along with Sauk City, the town hosts Bald Eagle Watching Days Jan. 15-16, 2022.

Snowy owls may appear in Madison — and along with resident great horned, barred and screech owls — are easier to spot when the trees are bare. Rare waterfowl — such as harlequin ducks — mingle with the geese and mallards along the Yahara River. In general, the Arboretum, Pheasant Branch Conservancy and Picnic Point are good birding spots.

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