Outdoor Family Activities Abound in the Fox Cities

Fox Cities The Plaza at Gateway Park

By Maura Keller & Melanie Radzicki McManus

It’s easy to embrace winter in the Fox Cities, which is home to gems such as The Plaza at Gateway Park, Neenah’s impressive, one-year-old attraction. Open year-round as a social gathering spot, The Plaza is transformed come winter into a glittering ice skating rink reminiscent of the one at Rockefeller Center.

After your skate (rentals are available), grab some hot cocoa or a pot of cheese fondue at the facility’s Manor Haus. You can also purchase ingredients to create your own s’mores at one of the firepits scattered around the park.

If cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are more your style, Appleton’s Bubolz Nature Preserve features more than 8.5 miles of trails — five for cross-country skiing, and the rest for snowshoeing. Equipment rentals are available, too. Another 2.7 miles of groomed trails can be found at Reid Golf Course.

In Neenah, you can ski along several miles of rolling, groomed terrain at Bridgewood Resort Hotel & Conference Center, while Menasha’s Smith Park and Conservancy Area also sport several miles of groomed ski trails and snowshoeing paths. Also in Menasha: the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, where several miles of snowshoeing trails and a 4,000-foot elevated boardwalk winds through its forested wetlands, cattail marsh and prairie.

Anglers can try their luck ice fishing on Lake Winnebago, known for walleye, perch, white bass and the prehistoric-looking sturgeon. Locals say another prime spot is the southwest side of Little Lake Butte des Morts, accessed via Herb and Dolly Smith Park.

The fourth Saturday in January is Eagle Days at 1000 Islands Environmental Center, a family-friendly event with educational programming and hands-on kids’ activities. But visit anytime in winter to catch a glimpse of the majestic eagles, which frequent the area thanks to the Fox River’s prime fishing opportunities. The center also offers more than seven miles of snowshoe trails.

Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade

Every year, over 80,000 spectators enjoy the Midwest’s largest nighttime Christmas parade in downtown Appleton. The 80-unit parade features colorful floats, animals, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and more than 20 marching bands. The parade, slated for Nov. 22, begins at 7 p.m. and is preceded by the Santa Scamper Run/Walk. Its theme is “Peace on Earth.”


Festively-decorated holiday windows are a highlight of A Very Neenah Christmas, coming Dec. 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. Stroll through Neenah’s city center to check out the windows while searching for 10 gingerbread people hidden around town. Jot down their locales, then submit to Future Neenah for the chance to win a giant gingerbread cookie. Kids should bring along their letters to Santa, which they can drop into a special red mailbox in front of the Future Neenah office (135 W. Wisconsin Ave.).

Plan your visit at foxcities.org.

Read the rest of our small town holiday features here.

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