The coolest days of winter
Ditch the indoors for one of these great festivals.
There's no use hiding from winter — it lasts too long, and eventually, that living room gets old.
Many of the tourist spots we love to visit in summer work hard to lure us back when it's cold, offering festivals with lots of fun in the snow, plus bonfires and chili feeds to warm us up afterward.
If you've always wanted to see the Winter Olympics, see the next best thing at ski-jumping competitions in Westby, Wis., or Iron Mountain, Mich.
For an exciting spectator event, watch the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth (though it's canceled this year).
For your own fun in the snow, go to Winter Festival in Madison or the Winter Festival at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, in the coulees to the west.
Here are winter festivals and events worth planning a weekend around.
January, Winter Festival in La Farge, Wis. This ultra-picturesque pocket of southwest Wisconsin is a great place to play in the snow.
There's a parade in La Farge Friday, and at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, there will be bobsled rides, sled-dog races and weight pulls, guided hikes to ice caves and snow carving, plus a candlelight ski at Wildcat Mountain State Park.
For more about the area, see Outdoors in the Kickapoo Valley.
January, Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, Wis. There are lots of eagles in this Wisconsin River town, where a dam stuns fish and makes them easy pickings. Go on a field trip by bus, then cross the river for a taste of Eagle White at Wollersheim Winery.
For more about the area, see Road trip: Wisconsin River.
January, University of Okoboji Winter Games in Lake Okoboji, Iowa. This festival in the northwest corner of Iowa is about as serious as the university is real. There's a Freeze Your Fanny bike ride, Marshmallow Man blaster shootout, ice bowling, broomball and fireworks Saturday.
January-February, Art Shanty Project in Minneapolis. For four weekends, frozen Lake Harriet hosts two dozen artist-designed ice houses and lots of fun art antics for kids and adults alike. Check for scheduled events and ice conditions.
For double or triple the fun, go on the last Saturday in January, when the city also holds a Kite Festival on Lake Harriet. And not far away in Powderhorn Park, watch the goofy Art Sled Rally of homemade downhill conveyances.
January-February, St. Paul Winter Carnival. See spectacular 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.
The Grande Day Parade is the first Saturday and the Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade is the second Saturday, followed by fireworks.
January, John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon from Duluth. CANCELED IN 2024. The start of this race up Minnesota's North Shore on the last Sunday of the month is one of the region's best spectator events. Spectators can meet the mushers at 10 a.m., before the noon start of the race.
For more, see Chasing the Beargrease.
February, U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship and Winterfest in Lake Geneva, Wis. In addition to the snow sculpting, there's an ice castle, ice bars, magic shows, human sled-dog races, a hovercraft competitions and helicopter rides.
February, City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis. This urban cross-country ski festival has become a celebration of winter in the northland.
For recreational skiers, the highlight of this big cross-country ski festival is the Saturday-night Luminary Loppet on Lake of the Isles, with glowing ice pillars and lighted "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.
February, Snowflake Ski-Jumping Tournament in Westby, Wis. At the top of a hill that's the equivalent of a 41-story skyscraper, watch jumpers fly by at 55 mph. It no longer attracts many international skiers, but it's still 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 will be music and fireworks Friday night and music after the jumping Saturday. For more, see A jumpin' joint.
February, Madison Winter Carnival. This festival spills out of the Memorial Union and onto Lake Mendota, where there's cross-country skiing, skating, snowboarding, ice fishing and snowshoeing plus mini-golf, music, family fun and the appearance of Lady Liberty.
February, Book Across the Bay from Ashland, Wis. On the Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend, ski or snowshoe across Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay on a 10-kilometer route lined by ice luminaries and bonfires.
The route now is a loop leading back to Ashland, where a bonfire, chili feed and live music follow.
Feb. 17-19, 2024, FIS Cross-Country World Cup/Loppet Cup in Minneapolis. Don't miss this chance to see the world's best nordic skiers, including Minnesota's own Jessie Diggins and Alaska's Rosie Brennan, compete on the World Cup circuit right here at Wirth Park.
Monday will be a community ski day. Admission is free.
February, Winter Festival in Cedarburg, Wis. This town just north of Milwaukee knows how to throw a party. There's costumed bed racing, ice-carving, dog weight-pull competition and a 1 p.m. Saturday parade.
If you get cold, you can always duck into the winery or one of the fun little shops. For more, see Jolly Cedarburg.
February, Pine Mountain Ski Jumping Tournament in Iron Mountain, Mich. This town just across the Wisconsin border is where the international jumpers go; it's a stop on the Continental Cup circuit.
March, Bock Fest in New Ulm, Minn. There's a parade of mythical Germanic characters, a devilishly difficult hunt for stag heads on the Schell Brewery grounds and beyond (with prizes) and a big party afterward with beer, live music and a bonfire.
It's become so popular that the brewery limits entrance, so get there early. For more, see A German Mardi Gras.