MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Winter festivals 2018


  • (Jan. 1)Cool Kite Festival

    Milwaukee, WI

    In addition to kite-flying, there will be ice sculptures and free hot chocolate, coffee and snacks in the lakefront Veterans Park.

  • (Jan. 1)New Year's Day Parade

    Egg Harbor, WI

    Welcome the new year with a 1 p.m. parade.

  • (Jan. 5 – 7)Bald Eagle Days

    Rock Island, IL

    At the Quad Cities Expo Center, there's an environmental fair, with flying demonstrations by eagles, hawks and owls and many other events.

  • (Jan. 5 – 6)Breezy Point Ice Fest

    Breezy Point, MN

    This Brainerd Lakes resort village celebrates with horse-drawn wagon rides, an ice slide, snow golf, ice fishing and dog-sled rides.

  • (Jan. 6)SISU Ski Fest

    Ironwood, MI

    This Finnish fest includes a 5K Fun Ski, 15km and 31km ski races, a snowshoe tour and a fat-bike demo on scenic bluffs and along the Montreal River.

  • (Jan. 6 – 7)Gunflint Mail Run sled-dog race

    Gunflint Trail, MN

    Mushers travel two legs of 50 miles, starting and ending at the Trail Center Lodge on the Central Gunflint Trail.

  • (Jan. 6)Bald Eagle Watch

    Clinton, IA

    Two Mississippi River towns host this event, with live-eagle and nature programs at Iowa's Clinton Community College and free bus service to Lock & Dam 13 in Fulton, Ill.

  • (Jan. 6)Foot of the Lake Synchronized Skating Classic

    Fond du Lac, WI

    Watch 85 synchronized-skating teams from across the nation compete at the Blue Line Family Ice Center.

  • (Jan. 11 – 14)Back to Hack Winter Festival

    Hackensack, MN

    The festival in this Brainerd Lakes town on the Paul Bunyan State Trail features snow sculpting, an ice-fishing contest, penguin plunge, dog-sled rides, kids' games and Saturday fireworks.

  • (Jan. 12 – 13)Bald Eagle Watching Days

    Prairie du Sac, WI

    This town along the Wisconsin River, next to a hydroelectric plant, offers guided bus tours, live birds of prey programs and kids' activities.

  • (Jan. 13)Sleigh & Cutter Rally

    Ashland, WI

    Antique sleighs and drivers in 19th-century costumes gather at Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and offer rides.

  • (Jan. 13)Jack Frost Fest

    Spooner, WI

    There's turkey bowling, minnow races, an antique snowmobile show and a fat-bike ride in this western Wisconsin town.

  • (Jan. 13)Winter Festival

    La Farge, WI

    Visit the Kickapoo Valley Reserve for horse-drawn wagon rides, guided snowshoe and ice-cave hikes, winter games and a sled-dog race and weight pull.


  • (Jan. 18 – 21)Icebox Days

    International Falls, MN

    In this far-north town, there will be smoosh races, frozen turkey bowling, a toilet-seat toss, boot hockey and fireworks. On Saturday, there's the annual Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.

  • (Jan. 19 – 21)Hunter Ice Festival

    Niles, MI

    This festival in the southwest tip of the state, named for a turn-of-the-century ice-harvesting business, features more than 150 ice sculptures and a competition.

  • (Jan. 19 – 20)Winterfest

    Mackinaw City, MI

    There's a snow-sculpting competition, sleigh rides, a poker run and outhouse races.

  • (Jan. 19 – 20)Crashed Ice World Championship

    St. Paul, MN

    Red Bull Crashed Ice is returning with the extreme sport of ice cross downhill, or high-speed skating on a downhill course from the Cathedral of St. Paul.

  • (Jan. 19 – 20)Silver Mine Ski Jumping Championships

    Eau Claire, WI

    Watch top skiers from North America and Europe compete at Silver Mine Hill.

  • (Jan. 20 – 21)Art Shanty Projects

    Minneapolis, MN

    This year, frozen Lake Harriet hosts two dozen artist-designed ice houses and lots of fun art antics. Check for scheduled events and ice conditions.



  • (Jan. 20)Bald Eagle Watch

    Dubuque, IA

    Live-eagle programs and free trolley rides from the Grand River Center downtown to the National Mississippi River Museum and Lock & Dam 11.

  • (Jan. 20)Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest

    Madison, WI

    A celebration of Wisconsin's greatest products at Alliant Energy Center, with plenty to sample. Tickets sell out, so buy early.

  • (Jan. 20 – 21)Bald Eagle Appreciation Days

    Keokuk, IA

    There's live-eagle presentations, Native American activities, demonstrations and viewing on the river.

  • (Jan. 20 – 21)Eagle-watching festivals

    Around the region

    Town on rivers where eagles gather in winter offer live bird presentations, guided tours and cultural activities.

  • (Jan. 20)Winter Trails Day

    Minneapolis, MN

    Play outdoors on the beach at Fort Snelling State Park, near the airport. Try such sports as snowshoeing, skiing, skijoring, ice-fishing, quinzee-building, ice-sculpting and more.

    It's free and hosted by the Mississippi Park Connection and Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and a vehicle sticker is required.

  • (Jan. 24)A Toast to Winter: Ice Bars

    Milwaukee, WI

    Enoy a cocktail for charity in the Historic Third Ward at three hand-carved ice bars, one with a Bloody Mary luge, one with an ice wall and one with a beer-serving cow. 

  • (Jan. 25 – Feb 10)Winter Carnival

    St. Paul, MN

    See ice sculptures in Rice Park and snow sculptures at the Fairgrounds, go down the snow slide, compete in a jigsaw-puzzle contest, take a free fire-truck ride and watch barstool ski races and lawn-mower races.

    Family Day is Feb. 3 at the Landmark Center, and there are three parades: the Moon Glow Pedestrian Jan. 25, Grande Day Jan. 27 and Vulcan Victory Torchlight Feb. 10, followed by fireworks.

  • (Jan. 25 – 28)Winter Games

    Lake Okoboji, IA

    This resort area in northwest Iowa will offer human sled races, flag football on ice, indoor golf, snowball drop, stein-holding, horse-drawn carriage rides, a Freeze Yer Fanny Bike Ride, keg toss and fireworks.

  • (Jan. 25 – 28)Winterfest

    Grand Haven, MI

    In this Lake Michigan town, there's a human sled race, cardboard sled race, luau and snow-angel contest.

  • (Jan. 26 – 28)Celebration of the Lakes

    Center City, MN

    This Chisago Lakes festival on North Center Lake includes snowmobile races, an ice-fishing tournament, sled-dog rides and a free ice-fishing clinic for kids.

  • (Jan. 26 – 28)Hot Air Affair

    Hudson, WI

    There will be a Friday night torchlight parade and fireworks plus a craft fair, smoosh boarding, morning balloon launches and evening moon glows.

  • (Jan. 26 – Feb 8)Restaurant Week

    Chicago, IL

    Time to pack on the calories: More than 370 restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe menus for $22 at brunch or lunch and $33-$44 at dinner.

  • (Jan. 26 – 28)Schnee Days

    Elkhart Lake, WI

    The Snow Days festival in this town in east-central Wisconsin includes a hunt for colored ice cubes, dog sledding and a chili cook-off.

  • (Jan. 26 – 28)Janboree

    Waukesha, WI

    The fest in this Milwaukee suburb includes Friday-night fireworks, ice sculpting, trolley rides, a penguin-egg hunt and tobogganing on the lighted run in Lowell Park. 

  • (Jan. 26 – 27)Frostival

    Fargo-Moorhead, MN

    This festival includes snow yoga, snow golf, snow kickball and snow softball, plus s'mores and bike and cardboard-sled races.

  • (Jan. 26 – Feb 4)Super Bowl Live fan festival

    Minneapolis, MN

    The free festival on Nicollet Mall, between 6th and 12th streets, features concerts, ice sculptures, a life-size snow globe for photos and drum and dance presentations every day at 5 p.m.

    There's also an 800-foot zip line across the Mississippi River. Online tickets sold out in less than 36 hours, but some walk-up tickets will be available.

  • (Jan. 27)Winterfest

    Amana, IA

    Go on a wine walk or scavenger hunt or compete in ham-throwing, log-sawing, the Amana Freezer Run/Walk, snowshoeing or for the best beard. There will be ice sculptures, storytelling and schnitzel-sampling, too.

  • (Jan. 27)Art Sled Rally

    Minneapolis, MN

    Watch sledders or ride down a decorated hill at Powderhorn Park in your own wacky sled, which you can make at home or at free workshops at Powderhorn Park Community Center. There's also live music and hot chocolate.

  • (Jan. 27 – 28)Eagle Watch Weekend

    Utica, IL

    There will be eagle viewing and family activities at Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center, Starved Rock Lodge and, across the river, the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. Trolleys connect the three venues.

  • (Jan. 27 – Feb 4)City of Lakes Loppet

    Minneapolis, MN

    For recreational skiers, the highlight of this big cross-country ski festival is the Feb. 3 Luminary Loppet on Lake of the Isles, with glowing ice pillars and "ruins.'' Afterward, there's a tent party with music.

    There are also classical and free-style races, ski games for children, a snow-sculpture contest and orienteering, ice-cycle, speedskating, snowshoeing and skijoring races, plus a beer garden and vendor village.



  • (Jan. 27)Heikinpaiva

    Hancock, MI

    The winter festival in this Finnish town on the Keweenaw Peninsula features wife-carrying, kicksled races, a polar bear dive and an 11  a.m. parade.

  • (Jan. 27 – 28)Norge Ski Jumping Tournament

    Fox River Grove, IL

    See some of the nation's best jumpers compete in this northwest Chicago suburb, which has trained much of the 2018 U.S. Olympic team.

  • (Jan. 27)Lake Harriet Kite Festival

    Minneapolis, MN

    In addition to kite-flying, this event on popular Lake Harriet includes horse-drawn wagon rides, kids' ice fishing, arts, music and roasted marshmallows.

  • (Jan. 27)Winter Fest

    Wausau, WI

    On the 400 Block downtown, there will be a snow slide, ice carving, ice skating, dog weight-pulling, horse-drawn wagon rides, fat-tire bike demos and a mac-and-cheese contest.

    The figure-skating and nordic-skiing competitions of the Badger Winter Games also are being held in Wausau.

  • (Jan. 28)John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

    Two Harbors, MN

    Watch the start of the marathon to the Gunflint Trail and the mid-distance race to Tofte.


  • (Jan. 28)WinterFest

    Rochester, MN

    This southern Minnesota city offers a a cardboard sled race Jan. 28; sleigh rides, art activities, frozen turkey bowling and minigolf Feb. 3; and, on the last weekend, a polar plunge, softball, candlelight ski, snow games and downtown ice bars.

  • (Jan. 31 – Feb 4)U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship and Winterfest

    Lake Geneva, WI

    Watch artists shape snow into whimsical shapes, and vote on the best ones. There's also music, a human sled-dog race, children's entertainment and helicopter rides.

  • (Jan. 31 – Feb 3)Winter Dance Party

    Clear Lake, IA

    The Surf Ballroom marks the 59th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, with concerts, luncheons, dance lessons and crash-site tours.


  • (Feb. 1 – 4)Groundhog Days

    Woodstock, IL

    The 1993 movie "Groundhog Day'' was filmed in this town an hour northwest of Chicago, and it celebrates with storytelling, family games and tours of movie sites, including the 1889 Opera House, where actor Bill Murray jumped from the belfry. At 7:07 a.m. Friday, Woodstock Willie will look for his shadow.

  • (Feb. 1 – 11)Winter Festival

    Ely, MN

    There's a best-beard contest, snow sculpting, an arts market, fat-tire bike demos and a ride, Ely Folk School classes and a free snowshoe hike to the Hegman Petroglyphs.

  • (Feb. 1 – 3)WinterFest

    Crosslake, MN

    In this Brainerd Lakes area, there are horse-drawn sleigh rides, bonfires, ice car races, helicopter rides, Friday fireworks and Italian Outdoor Olympics.

  • (Feb. 2 – 3)Snowflake Ski-Jumping Tournament

    Westby, WI

    At the top of a hill that's the equivalent of a 41-story skyscraper, watch jumpers fly by at 55 mph. It's fun to watch because the jump is built onto the side of a coulee, and spectators can climb it and watch from the top. There are hot drinks and food at the bottom.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race

    Bayfield, WI

    Watch four races over two days and get in some skiing and snowshoeing on the side.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Winter Festival

    Fish Creek, WI

    This Door County village lets loose with events that include a toilet-seat throw, pie tin toss, bean-bag cannon shoot, smoosh racing and an ugly-sweater contest. There are also free trolley rides, ice carving, a fiddle contest, a snowshoe dance and fireworks.

  • (Feb. 2 – 3)Knickerbocker Ice Festival

    Lake Mills, WI

    This town east of Madison holds a fish toss, snowball-eating contest, dad-sled race, chili cook-off and Iceberg Open golf tournament. There's ice carving and ice wine, too.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Ice Breaker

    South Haven, MI

    There's an ice-carving competition in this Lake Michigan town, plus wagon rides, synchronized skating and a chili cook-off.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Magical Ice Fest

    St. Joseph, MI

    Watch the pros carve sculptures in this Lake Michigan town. There's also entertainment, a scavenger hunt and magic and crafts for kids.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Iola Winter Carnival

    Iola, WI

    This village near Waupaca offers ice carving, a lutefisk dinner, ski and snowshoe races and ski jumping.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Scandihoovian Winter Festival

    Mount Horeb, WI

    The festival in this town just west of Madison features such events as turkey bowling, a snowman-building contest, kick sledding, a spelling bee and a vintage snowmobile show and ride.

  • (Feb. 2 – 4)Duluth Ice & Mixed Fest

    Duluth, MN

    This annual festival in West Duluth's Quarry Park features such events as a free ice-climbing clinic for youths 12 and older, beginner and intermediate clinics for adult climbers, a fat-bike intro and presentations on mountain climbing. There's also a disc-golf course.

  • (Feb. 3 – 4)Madison Winter Festival

    Madison, WI

    The annual festival in Elver Park features cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing plus music, family games and ice and snow sculptures.

  • (Feb. 3)Frostbite Olympics

    Algona, IA

    The festival in this north-central Iowa town features snowmobile rides, ice races, snow kickball and a treasure mountain for kids.

  • (Feb. 7 – 11)Frozen River Film Festival

    Winona, MN

    This festival shows a large selection of documentaries specializing in adventure, extreme sports and environmental issues.

  • (Feb. 8 – 11)Winter Carnival

    Houghton, MI

    This snow fest at Michigan Tech University includes a human dog-sled race, snow volleyball and a tug of war and ends with a torchlight parade and fireworks at Mont Ripley ski hill.

  • (Feb. 8 – 19)Polar Fest

    Detroit Lakes, MN

    Over two weekends, this festival features an ice palace, a snow angels competition, tubing night, an appearance by polar explorer Ann Bancroft and such events as a snowman build, fishing derby, wildlife tracking, fat-tire bike races and fireworks.


  • (Feb. 9 – 10)Banbury Art Crawl

    Eau Claire, WI

    Visit more than 100 artists at studios in the Building 13 art complex. Many will give demonstrations. There will be also music, food and art projects for children.

  • (Feb. 10 – 11)Pine Mountain Ski Jumping Tournament

    Iron Mountain, MI

    This Upper Peninsula town on the Wisconsin border is where the international jumpers go; it's a stop on the Continental Cup circuit.

  • (Feb. 10 – 19)Auto Show

    Chicago, IL

    This car show at McCormick Place is the largest in the nation and third-largest in the world.

  • (Feb. 14 – 18)Michigan Ice Fest

    Munising, MI

    Watch ice-climbing demos and slide shows and take clinics for beginners at spectacular Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.

  • (Feb. 16 – 17)Book Across the Bay

    Ashland/Washburn, WI

    The weekend starts with a Friday-night polka party in Ashland. On Saturday night, ski or snowshoe across Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay on a 10-kilometer route lined by ice luminaries. If you're not too fast, fireworks will fill the sky as you're approaching Washburn; a bonfire, chili feed and blues music follow.

  • (Feb. 16 – 18)Sax Zim Bog Festival of Birds

    Meadowlands, MN

    Listen to programs and go on field trips to see such boreal species as evening grosbeak, northern hawk owl, gray jay and particularly snowy owls. Register early for this festival northwest of Duluth.

  • (Feb. 17 – 18)Winter Festival

    Cedarburg, WI

    In its 44th year, this festival just north of Milwaukee features bed races, ice-carving, a dog weight pull competition, an egg hunt for kids and a parade at 1 p.m. Saturday.

  • (Feb. 17)Color the Wind Kite Festival

    Clear Lake, IA

    This town in north-central Iowa draws kiters from eight states for its festival, the largest in the Midwest, and stunt fliers will perform routines choreographed to music.

  • (Feb. 17)Fire & Ice

    Sturgeon Bay, WI

    Ice and snow sculptors create pieces around town. There's a novice category for beginners.

  • (Feb. 17)Barstool Races

    Drummond, WI

    In this small town north of Cable, watch people careen down a hill on decorated bar stools, then stay for the chili feed.

  • (Feb. 17)Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival

    Des Moines, IA

    It's all about bacon at this festival at the Iowa Event Center, with sampling and demos followed by a concert by Smash Mouth. 

  • (Feb. 17)Empire Winter Fest

    Empire, MI

    This town on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers a soup cook-off and polar plunge as well as such events as ice art, sled races and ice bowling.

  • (Feb. 17)Northwoods Blizzard Blast

    Conover, WI

    On the snowy northeast edge of Wisconsin, go on horse-drawn sleigh rides and see such events as recliner racing, ice bowling, dog-sled dashing, snowshoe baseball and snow sculpting.

  • (Feb. 17)Outhouse Race

    Sault Ste. Marie, MI

    Watch the wacky races in this Lake Superior town, "the final plop on the eastern Upper Peninsula outhouse circuit.'' They're at 2 p.m.


  • (Feb. 22 – 25)International Eelpout Festival

    Walker, MN

    It's fun just to wander (or drive) around Leech Lake during this event, which includes mechanical bull riding, bikini ice fishing and a beer pong tournament. Be sure to have some 'pout nuggets, which are as tasty as the fish is ugly.

  • (Feb. 22 – 25)American Birkebeiner

    Hayward, WI

    Watch the "Greatest Show on Snow,'' with races of all distances for all ages and abilities plus a ski expo, snowshoe hike, skijoring and vintage ski.

    On Saturday, watch the world's best skiers on the 51-kilometer marathon (55 kilometers for classic skiers).

    On Sunday, there's a ski-gear and fat-bike demo and an event for girls 8-18.


  • (Feb. 23 – 24)Bald Eagle Appreciation Days

    Prairie du Chien, WI

    Birding experts give programs, and volunteers man spotting scopes at the Wisconsin Travel Information Center, just off the bridge into town. There will also be children's activities and an Effigy Mounds Winter Film Festival.

  • (Feb. 24)Grumpy Old Men Festival

    Wabasha, MN

    There's always good eagle-viewing in this Mississippi River town, and during the festival, there will be an ice-fishing contest, polar plunge and minnow races.

  • (Feb. 24)Bockfest at Capital Brewery

    Middleton, WI

    This Madison-area brewery celebrates with the Running of the Blondes 1K race, a fish throw, music, costumes and, of course, beer. Tickets sell out, so buy early.

  • (Feb. 24 – 25)WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race

    Ely, MN

    There's a dog weight pull competition and mushers lasagna feed Saturday and the race to Tower and back on Sunday.

  • (Feb. 24)International Festival

    Madison, WI

    Dancers, musicians, storytellers and puppeteers representing traditions from around the world converge on the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street for this free festival. There's also food and a global bazaar.

  • (Feb. 24)Coopersville Outhouse 500

    Coopersville, MI

    In this town just east of Grand Haven, there's a parade of decorated outhouses, races and a decorated toilet seat contest, auction and chili cookoff.

  • (Feb. 24)Trenary Outhouse Classic

    Trenary, MI

    In this little town, not far from Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, there will be potty-pushing contests for kids and adults, a best fur-hat contest and lots of craft beer.

  • (Feb. 25)Chinese Lunar New Year's Parade

    Chicago, IL

    Celebrate the Year of the Dog in Chinatown with a parade, marching bands, lion dancing and fireworks.


  • (Mar. 2 – 4)International Festival of Owls

    Houston, MN

    This southeast Minnesota town offers owl prowls, hooting contests, pellet dissection, live-owl programs and children's activities.

  • (Mar. 2 – 4)Winter Festival

    Bayfield, WI

    The Lake Superior festival features fat-bike tours, a poker run, a candelight walk polar plunge and obstacle course.

  • (Mar. 3 – 4)Artigras

    Green Bay, WI

    This fine arts festival in Shopko Hall includes artist demonstrations, children's activities, dance, jazz and classical music.

  • (Mar. 3)Bock Fest

    New Ulm, MN

    There's a parade of mythical Germanic characters, a hunt for billy-goat heads on the Schell Brewery grounds and beyond and a big party afterward with beer, live music and a bonfire.

  • (Mar. 3 – 4)Soar With Eagles

    Wabasha, MN

    The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi.

  • (Mar. 3)World's Longest Weenie Roast

    Cable, WI

    Lakewoods Resorts hosts this benefit on Lake Namekagon, which includes snowmobile speed runs, ice bowling, a weenie-eating contest and a frozen weenie polar plunge.

  • (Mar. 3)Chinese New Year Lantern Festival

    Chicago, IL

    A lion dance-led lantern procession winds from Millennium Park to  Maggie Daley Park, where there will be performances.

  • (Mar. 9 – 11)Balloon Rally

    Cable, WI

    Hot-air balloonists give rides for charity, weather permitting, and there's an evening balloon glow. Hosted by Lakewoods Resort.

  • (Mar. 10 – 11)Winter Powwow

    West Allis, WI

    This traditional powwow with drumming, singing and food is the winter version of Indian Summer Festival. At Wisconsin State Fair Park. Grand entries are 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

  • (Mar. 11)Dog Days of Winter

    Gunflint Trail, MN

    In the Central Gunflint, the Trail Center is hosting a sled-dog derby, skijoring races, snowman-building contest and snow sculptures.


  • (Apr. 19 – 22)Oneota Film Festival

    Decorah, IA

    This free festival showcases documentary films and includes dance performances and an Ethnic Arts Festival on the campus of Luther College.


  • (Nov. 15)Holiday Lights Festival

    Milwaukee, WI

    The season-long lights festival begins with music, tree-lighting and hot chocolate in Red Arrow Park, then moves across the river to Pere Marquette Park for a family fashion show, variety show, fireworks and free tours on the Jingle Bus.


  • (Dec. 31)Carp Fest

    Prairie du Chien, WI

    In this Mississippi River town, celebrate with fireworks, music, a light show, a bonfire and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish.