MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Ski or snowshoe by candlelight

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

Skiers relax by the bonfire.

© Michigan DNR

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

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.

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. 

In 2021, state parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin are not holding candlelight events.

However, many nature centers are holding smaller events. And you can always make your own luminary course with friends; see How to make ice luminaries

If you want to ski with even more light, look for an event close to the full moons: Jan. 28, Feb. 27 and March 28.

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

Candlelight skiing in Michigan.

© Michigan DNR

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

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.

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. 

If you need to know how to get started in the sport, see Cross-country skiing 101.

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

Candlelight events in 2021

Saturdays through February, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Silver City, Mich., lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike. The annual program will begin when the 25-person limit is lifted.

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

Ice candles illuminate a state-park trail in Minnesota.

Fridays through February, Mount McSauba recreation area in Charlevoix, Mich., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 1, Twilight Turtle Trek on Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 8, 15, 22 and 29Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville, Wis., lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Jan. 15, Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn., snowshoe or hike, $5. 

Jan. 15, Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton, Wis., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 15-16, Marengo Ridge Conservation Area in Marengo, Ill., ski or hike.

Jan. 17, Camp St. Croix near Hudson, Wis., ski or hike. Free; donations of lightly used outdoors gear welcome.

Jan. 22-23, Deep Portage Learning Center near Hackensack, Minn., ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Jan. 23, Minooka Park in Waukesha, Wis., part of the Janboree festival, hike. Sign up in advance for starting slots.

Jan. 29Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn., snowshoe or hike, $5. 

Jan. 29-31 and Feb. 5-7, City of Lakes Luminary Loppet in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood, ski or snowshoe on Lake of the Isles, past magical ice ruins, pillars and a twinkling island. 

Registration is full; there's a waiting list. 

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

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

Feb. 5, 12, 19 and 26Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville, Wis., lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Feb. 6, Twilight Turtle Trek on Mackinac Island, Mich., lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 6, Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, Mich., lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 6, Ney Nature Center in Henderson, Minn., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 12, Big Creek Nature Preserve in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., ski, snowshoe or hike, part of Fire & Ice Weekend.

Feb. 12-13, Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary near Sarona, Wis., hike.

Skiers on the Luminary Loppet.

© Steve Kotvis

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

Feb. 12-13, Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake, Ill., ski or hike.

Feb. 13, Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, Mich., lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 20, Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, Mich., lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 27, Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, Mich., lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

March 6, Twilight Turtle Trek on Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

More events

For moonlight snowshoeing and other snowshoe events, check Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin (check "candlelight" under "Type") state parks.

Though the park events are free, most state parks and park reserves require a vehicle permit for the evening. Events in Minnesota also require a state ski pass, $10 daily and $25 annual. 

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


Last updated on January 13, 2021