Think hiking is just a hot weather activity? So think again. Winter hikes are often magical experiences, especially when snow is flying or dipping temperatures create glistening ice formations. While kids and adults alike can enjoy frozen forays into the woods, visit Wisconsin state parks if you’re planning a family outing. Many of them offer short winter candlelight hikes, often with a bonfire, hot chocolate, and s’mores as a reward for braving the cold.
To help you get started, here are eight top winter hikes to consider, all of which offer stunning scenery. But before you go, check the trail conditions. Although you only need sturdy shoes or boots for your hike, traction crampons or snowshoes may be necessary if the trails are covered in deep snow or ice.
Pattison State Park
Pattison State Park is a 1,400 acre parcel in Superior famous as the home of Big Manitou Falls and Double Small Manitou Falls. Big Manitou Falls, at 165 feet, is the tallest waterfall in the state and the fourth tallest east of the Rockies. The 31-foot Twin Little Manitou Falls, though smaller, are lovely with their split falls. Walk or snowshoe along the trails to the waterfalls, then check out the Beaver Trail, which circles Interfalls Lake and features a bridge over the Black River. The North Country National Scenic Trail also meanders through the park, taking several of these trails. All trails in the park are relatively easy, making Pattison a great choice for young and old.
Red Cliff Ice Caves
The ice these days is rarely safe enough to explore the mainland’s popular ice caves that mark the cliffs along the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore. But luckily you have another option: sign up for a tour of the nearby Red Cliff Ice Caves. These small ice caves are found just outside the Apostle Islands on the rock ledges that line Red Cliff Bay, which reliably freezes over every winter. Thus, caves and hanging ice are always accessible. Tours of the ice caves are offered by members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, as the caves are on their tribal lands.
Ice Age Trail, Lodi Swamp Segment
Wisconsin is home to the 1,200 Mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and a main segment for winter exploration is Lodi Marsh. The 5 mile segment is on both sides of Lodi-Springfield Road. Its eastern half is the more challenging of the two, climbing through restored grassland and hardwood stands to offer sweeping, sweeping views of the countryside. The gentler western half – a good choice for kids or anyone with mobility issues – meanders near Spring Creek. Explore on your own or register with the Lodi Valley Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Associationwhich runs monthly full moon hikes in the winter and a first day hike on New Years Day.
Mirror Lake State Park
Mirror Lake State Park in baraboo features impressive Cambrian sandstone formations like those lining the nearby Wisconsin River Dell of Wisconsin. And you can explore many of them up close on a winter hike. A walk along the interconnecting sandstone, Echo Rock and Cliffwood Coulee trails beautifully showcases many of these layered rocks, which are nestled in a forest of fragrant red and white pines. At the Pulpit Rock trailhead, follow the unofficial path to the right, which winds through the narrow Dell Fern Gorge. The quarter-mile gorge is small but spectacular, and in winter the water seeping from its rock faces freezes into magnificent ice creations.
Cave Point County Park
tip of the cave is a small county park in Gate County which sits atop an intricately carved rock ledge overlooking Lake Michigan. Popular in the summer with divers and kayakers who like to explore its underwater caves, the park also attracts crowds in the winter who come to admire its incredible ice formations. These sparkling ice sculptures form on windy days when waves crash against the park’s dolomitic limestone ledges, creating jets of water up to 30 feet in the air. Water also gushes skyward from vents in the rock. All that ice makes for a slippery hike, so leave the kids at home and explore with your sweetheart or friends. As you walk along the park’s 900 feet of shoreline, learn about the intricate ice formations, which change shape and size with each new wave. A half-mile forest trail connects Cave Point to the adjacent town Whitefish Dunes State Park.
Kickapoo Valley Reserve
The 8,600 acres Kickapoo Valley Reserve in La Farge is open all year round to hikers. Part of the reserve’s 60-mile trail runs along the Kickapoo River, where you can admire the colorful sandstone and shale cliffs lining its shores. But be sure to also look out for the impressive ice sculptures that regularly form around the property, thanks to its hillside springs. Two cave-like rock shelters near Weister Creek are fan favorites, as they regularly feature ice formations and winter drops. And don’t miss Ice Valley, so named because its series of rock shelters are often preceded by curtains of ice, behind which children – and adults – love to walk. Explore on your own or sign up for one of the reserve’s guided ice hikes.