MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Ski or snowshoe by candlelight

On a cold winter's night, follow the twinkling lights.

Candlelight skiing in Michigan.

© Michigan DNR

State parks offer dozens of candlelight ski, snowshoe and hike nights.

If you do only one thing outdoors in winter, do it by candlelight.

Nothing is more magical than a forest full of flickering lights. I got hooked when I skied in Minnesota's Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

A fat blue moon hung in the sky, sparkling hoarfrost made twigs as nubby as reindeer antlers and more than 400 glowing bags gave the forest a fairy-tale aura.

That was especially memorable, but so was every other time: on the Red Cedar State Trail from Menomonie, past the cascading ice of the Blue Wall; on Chequamegon Bay, with fireworks bursting ahead; along the shore of Lake Bemidji, with city lights twinkling on the horizon.

But all of the events are lovely, and all end with hot drinks and bonhomie around the bonfire. They're all put on with the help of volunteers — a gift to anyone who wants to venture out on a cold winter’s night.

Here's our 2017 guide to candlelight events in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan (and a few in Iowa and Illinois).

Many parks line only their groomed ski trails with lights, but some also light trails for snowshoeing and hiking.

Most will hold a candlelight walk if there's not enough snow, but always check before going if it's very cold or a storm is expected. 

If you want to ski with even more light, look for an event close to the full moons, Jan. 10,  Feb. 12 and March 10 in 2017.

Some ski trails are lighted with electricity daily or on weekends. For more, see For skiers, lighted trails.

Though the park events are free, most state parks and park reserves require a vehicle sticker for the evening. Events in Minnesota also require a state ski pass, $6 daily and $20 annual.

In Wisconsin, some events require a state trails pass, $5 daily or $25 annual; the pass also is good for bicycling trails. 

Some parks rent skis and/or snowshoes. For a really special evening, rent a camper cabin or yurt and ski right up to your door when you're finished (reserve far in advance). Most events are held 6-9 p.m., but check for details.

Candles light the Root River State Trail.

© Marv Eggert

In southeast Minnesota, luminaries line the Root River State Trail for the annual candlelight ski from Whalan.

Beginners can try candlelight events on bicycle trails, which are flat. The event on the Red Cedar State Trail from Menomonie, Wis., is a particularly good one. 

For more, see our Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing sections.

Dec. 16-17, Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake, Ill., ski or hike.

Dec. 21, Pringle Nature Center in Bristol Woods County Park near Kenosha, Wis., hike, $5, part of Winter Solstice Celebration.

Dec. 28Michigan state parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski and snowshoe (or hike unless trails are icy).

Dec. 31, Minnesota state parks: Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities, walk and ice skate.

Dec. 31, Michigan state parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski and snowshoe (or hike unless trails are icy).

Dec. 31, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minn., snowshoeing and skating for New Year's Eve in the Wild, $8. Register in advance.

Jan. 6, Luce Line State Trail in Plymouth, Minn., hike.

Jan. 6, Minnesota state parks: Lake Bemidji State Park near Bemidji, snowshoe.

Jan. 7, Minnesota state parks: Itasca, lantern-lit ski, skate ski or snowshoe. Lake Carlos near Alexandria, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 7, Wisconsin state parksMirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, ski, snowshoe or hike. Wildcat Mountain near Ontario, ski or hike. Blue Mound State Park near Mount Horeb, ski, snowshoe or hike (canceled due to cold).

Jan. 7, Michigan state parks: Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. Straits near St. Ignace, snowshoe.

Jan. 7, Breezy Point, Minn., ski, part of Ice Fest, $5. Fireworks follow.

Jan. 13, Bubolz Nature Preserve near Appleton, Wis., ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 14, Minnesota state parks: Zippel Bay on Lake of the Woods near Warroad, ski. Minneopa near Mankato, ski, snowshoe and hike, part of Winter Fest. Frontenac near Lake City, ski, snowshoe or hike. Hayes Lake near Roseau, ski.

Jan. 14, Wisconsin state parks: Rib Mountain in Wausau, snowshoe.

Jan. 14, Michigan state parksPorcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Skiers relax by the bonfire.

© Michigan DNR

After a candlelight ski in Michigan, skiers relax by the bonfire.

Jan. 14, Storrs Lake Wildlife Area east of Milton, Wis. ski or hike.

Jan. 14, Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail from Preston in southeast Minnesota, ski and hike, with chili around a bonfire.

Jan. 20-21, Coral Woods in Marengo, Ill., ski or hike.

Jan. 21, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro, Minn., snowshoe or hike. $10 with snowshoes. Reserve.

Jan. 21, Aldo Leopold Nature Center/Woodland Park in Madison, Wis., snowshoe.

Jan. 21, Horicon Marsh from the International Education Center near Horicon, Wis., snowshoe and hike. Free, and snowshoes are first-come, first-served.

Jan. 21, Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha, Wis., snowshoe.

Jan. 21, Michigan state parksLudington in Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. Van Riper west of Marquette, lantern-lit snowshoe.

Jan. 21, Minnesota state parks: Lake Bronson in the state's northwest corner, ski and snowshoe.

Jan. 21, Wisconsin state parks: Governor Dodge near Dodgeville, ski, snowshoe or hike. Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit near La Grange, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 27, Bubolz Nature Preserve near Appleton, Wis., ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 27, Red Cedar State Trail from Menomonie, Wis., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 28, Cherokee Marsh in Madison, snowshoe.

Jan. 28, Casper Bluff near Galena, Ill., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 28, Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center near Duluth, ski or snowshoe. Cost is $10.

Jan. 28, Stower Seven Lakes State Trail in Amery, Wis., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 28Mora Lantern Loppet at the Vasaloppet Ski Area, 15 miles north of Mora, Minn., and 10 miles east of Isle, a town on the southeast corner of Lake Mille Lacs, ski.

Jan. 28, Wisconsin state parks: Whitefish Dunes near Sturgeon Bay, ski, snowshoe or hike. Hartman Creek near Waupaca, ski, snowshoe or hike. Black River Forest near Black River Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Point Beach near Two Rivers, ski or hike.

Jan. 28, Minnesota state parks: Buffalo River near Moorhead, ski, snowshoe or hike. St. Croix near Hinckley, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 28, Michigan state parks: Fayette Historic on the Garden Peninsula, ski, snowshoe or hike. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

Ice candles illuminate a state-park trail in Minnesota.

Feb. 3, Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn., ski, part of WinterFest. It's $10, including skis.

Feb. 4, Michigan state parks: Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Ludington in Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Feb. 4, Minnesota state parks: Afton near St. Paul, snowshoe or hike.   Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Beaver Bay, snowshoe or hike. Itasca, lantern-lit ski, skate ski or snowshoe. Lake Carlos near Alexandria, ski, snowshoe or hike. Hayes Lake near Roseau, ski. Mille Lacs Kathio near Lake Mille Lacs, ski or hike. Nerstrand Big Woods near Northfield, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 4, Wisconsin state parks: Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit near Campbellsport, ski or hike. Big Foot Beach near Lake Geneva, hike. Peninsula in Fish Creek, ski or hike. Lake Wissota near Chippewa falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Flambeau River near Winter, ski, snowshoe or hike. Blue Mound State Park near Mount Horeb, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 4, Afterhours Trails in Brule River State Forest near Brule, Wis., ski.

Feb. 4, Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wis., snowshoe.

Feb. 4, Woodland Dunes Nature Center in Two Rivers, Wis., snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 4, City of Lakes Luminary Loppet in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood, ski or snowshoe on Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, past magical ice ruins, pillars and a twinkling island.

Register early to save on fees. The weekend event also includes many races that are fun to watch.

Feb. 4, Root River State Trail from Whalan, Minn., toward Lanesboro. There's a soup supper afterward at the Whalan Village Hall.

Candlelight ski on the Red Cedar Trail.

© Wisconsin DNR

On the Red Cedar State Trail, an ice wall is lighted for the late-January candlelight ski.

Feb. 5, Wisconsin state parks: Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 10, Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center near Coon Valley, Wis., snowshoe. Skiers are welcome, too.

Feb. 10, Bubolz Nature Preserve near Appleton, Wis., ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 10-11, Rush Creek Conservation Area in Harvard, Ill., ski or hike.

Feb. 11, Minnesota state parks: William O'Brien in Marine on St. Croix, hike. Wild River near Taylors Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Glendalough near Battle Lake, ski. Gateway State Trail from the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, hike. Lac Qui Parle near Montevideo, ski or hike. Lake Bronson in the state's northwest corner, ski. Zippel Bay on Lake of the Woods near Warroad, ski.  Jay Cooke near Duluth, ski and snowshoe. Rice Lake near Owatonna, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 11, Wisconsin state parks: Willow River near Hudson, ski, snowshoe or hike. Interstate in St. Croix Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Devil's Lake near Baraboo, snowshoe or hike. New Glarus Woods in New Glarus, snowshoe or hike. Pike Lake Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest near Hartford, ski, snowshoe or hike. Newport near Ellison Bay, ski, snowshoe and hike.  Lake Kegonsa near Stoughton, ski.

Feb. 11, Michigan state parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 11Afterhours Ski Trail in Brule River State Forest east of Superior, ski and snowshoe.

Feb. 11, Olin-Turville Park in Madison, ski or hike.

Feb. 11, Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wis., snowshoe or hike.

Skiers on the Luminary Loppet.

© Steve Kotvis

Skiers glide from lake to lake in Minneapolis' Luminary Loppet.

Feb. 11, Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn., Valentine's ski or snowshoe. It's $20, including skis, champagne and sweets. Reserve in advance.

Feb. 11, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minn., ski snowshoe and hike, $10. Register in advance.

Feb. 11, Lowry Nature Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Victoria, Valentine's Day walk; $35 including dinner and live music by the Roe Family Singers. Reserve by Feb. 3.

Feb. 11, Richardson Nature Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, Valentine's snowshoe; $16 including chocolate and live music. Reserve by Feb. 7.

Feb. 14, Baker Park Reserve in the Minneapolis suburb of Maple Plain, Valentine's snowshoeing, $25 including catered dinner and ski equipment. Reserve by Feb. 10.

Feb. 14, Hidden Valley Trails in Ely, Minn., ski with wine, part of Winter Festival.

Feb. 18Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro, Minn., snowshoe or hike. $10 with snowshoes. Reserve in advance.

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

A skier glides past candles in northern Minnesota's Lake Bemidji State Park.

Feb. 18, Book Across the Bay benefit race/tour across Chequamegon Bay between Ashland and Washburn, Wis., 10-kilometer ski, snowshoe or walk.

Registration up to Feb. 10 is $20, $15 for children or students and $40 for a family, including shuttle from Washburn and chili feed, bonfire and music afterward. Walk-up rate is $25/$20/$50.

For more about the race and area, see Winter in Washburn.

Feb. 18, National Fish Hatchery in Iron River, Wis., ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 18, Sugarbush Trails near Tofte, Minn., ski.

Feb. 18, Minnesota state parks: Gooseberry Falls near Two Harbors, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 18, Wisconsin state parks: Rib Mountain in Wausau, snowshoe. Governor Thompson near Crivitz, ski or hike.

Feb. 18, Michigan state parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Van Riper near Marquette, lantern-lit snowshoe.

Candlelight hike at St. Croix State Park.

© Lauren Gagner

Hikers follow a trail above the river at Minnesota's St. Croix State Park.

Feb. 25, Loop Around the Lake in Minocqua, Wis., ski, snowshoe and hike. This 5K fund-raiser goes around Lake Minocqua.

Feb. 25, Minnesota state parks: Lake Bemidji, ski tour. Maplewood near Pelican Rapids, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 25, Michigan state parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

March 3, Brownstone Trail in Bayfield, Wis., walk, part of Bayfield's Winter Festival.

March 4, Michigan state parks: Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

March 18, Michigan state parks: Van Riper near Marquette, lantern-lit snowshoe.

More events

For moonlight snowshoeing and other snowshoe events, check Minnesota  and Wisconsin state parks.

For skiing on trails lit with electricity, see For skiers, lighted trails.


Last updated on January 14, 2017