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 2018 guide to candlelight events in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan (and a few in 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. 2 and 31 (a blue moon) and March 2 in 2018.

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 permit 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. 

Skiers relax by the bonfire.

© Michigan DNR

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

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.

Dec. 15-16, Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake, Ill., ski or hike.

Dec. 16, Aldo Leopold Nature Center/Woodland Park in Madison, Wis., snowshoe or hike.

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

Dec. 29-30, Michigan state parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski and snowshoe (or hike unless trails are icy).

Dec. 30, Minnesota state parksZippel Bay on Lake of the Woods near Warroad, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Dec. 31, Charles Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls, Minn., snowshoe or hike.

Dec. 31, Minnesota state parks: Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities, walk and ice skate. Canceled because of extreme cold.

Dec. 31, Wisconsin state parks: Amnicon Falls near Duluth/Superior, snowshoe or hike.

Dec. 31, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minn., snowshoeing and skating for New Year's Eve in the Wild, $10. Register in advance.

Jan. 6, Wisconsin state parksMirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, ski, snowshoe or hike. Blue Mound State Park near Mount Horeb, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 6, Michigan state parks: Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Straits near St. Ignace, snowshoe or hike. Ludington in Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. 

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

Ice candles illuminate a state-park trail in Minnesota.

Jan. 12, Thompson County Park in West St. Paul, Minn., hike.

Jan. 13, Minnesota state parks: Blue Mounds near Luverne, hike.

Jan. 13, Wisconsin state parksWildcat Mountain near Ontario, ski or hike. Lake Kegonsa near Stoughton, ski.

Jan. 13, Michigan state parksPorcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Jan. 19-20, Coral Woods in Marengo, Ill., ski or hike.

Jan. 20, Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail from Preston in southeast Minnesota, ski and hike, with chili around a bonfire.

Jan. 20, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro, Minn., snowshoe or hike. $10 with snowshoes. Reserve.

Jan. 20, Horicon Marsh from the International Education Center near Horicon, Wis., snowshoe and hike. Free, and snowshoes are first-come, first-served.

Jan. 20, Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha, Wis., $8-$9, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 20, Baylor Regional Park near Norwood Young America, Minn., ski, $5, and dog-sled rides, $5.

Jan. 20, Minnesota state parksLake Bemidji State Park near Bemidji, ski. Lake Bronson in the state's northwest corner, ski or snowshoe. St. Croix near Hinckley, ski, snowshoe or hike. Split Rock Creek near Pipestone, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 20, Michigan state parksLudington in Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Van Riper west of Marquette, lantern-lit snowshoe.

Jan. 20, Wisconsin state parks: Governor Dodge near Dodgeville, ski, snowshoe or hike. Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit near La Grange, ski, snowshoe or hike. Copper Culture near Oconto, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 26, Red Cedar State Trail from Menomonie, Wis., ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 26, Gateway State Trail near Stillwater, Minn., hike.

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.

Jan. 26, Spring Lake Park Reserve near Hastings, Minn., walk, $5.

Jan. 26, Ney Nature Center in Henderson, Minn., ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 27, Crane Meadows Wildlife Refuge near Little Falls, Minn., ski.

Jan. 27, Storrs Lake Wildlife Area east of Milton, Wis. ski or hike.

Jan. 27, Cherokee Marsh in Madison, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 27, Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center near Duluth, ski or snowshoe. Cost is $10.

Jan. 27, Mora 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. 27, Wisconsin state parks: Whitefish Dunes near Sturgeon Bay, ski, snowshoe or hike. Hartman Creek near Waupaca, ski, snowshoe or hike. Point Beach near Two Rivers, ski, snowshoe or hike.  Rib Mountain in Wausau, snowshoe. Lake Wissota near Chippewa falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Kettle Moraine-Lapham Peak near Delafield, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Skiers on the Luminary Loppet.

© Steve Kotvis

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

Jan. 27, Minnesota state parks: Buffalo River near Moorhead, ski, snowshoe or hike. Minneopa near Mankato, ski, snowshoe and hike. Frontenac near Lake City, ski, snowshoe or hike. Hayes Lake near Roseau, snowshoe or hike. Itasca, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Lake Carlos near Alexandria, ski, snowshoe or hike. Mille Lacs Kathio near Lake Mille Lacs, ski, snowhoe or hike. Rice Lake near Owatonna, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 27, 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. 

Feb. 2, Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wis., snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 2, Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn., ski.

Feb. 3, Root River State Trail from Whalan, Minn., toward Lanesboro. There's a soup supper afterward at the Whalan Village Hall.

Feb. 3, Woodland Dunes Nature Center in Two Rivers, Wis., $8, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 3, 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. Loppet events also include many races that are fun to watch.

Feb. 3Hidden Valley Trails in Ely, Minn., ski, part of Winter Festival.

Feb. 3, Three Bridges Park in Milwaukee, walk on the Hank Aaron State Trail. There's also a party afterward.

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

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

Feb. 3, Wisconsin state parks: Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit near Campbellsport, ski, snowshoe or hike. Big Foot Beach near Lake Geneva, snowshoe or hike. Peninsula in Fish Creek, ski or hike. Flambeau River near Winter, ski, snowshoe or hike. Blue Mound State Park near Mount Horeb, ski, snowshoe or hike. Black River Forest near Black River Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Feb. 3, Minnesota state parksAfton near St. Paul, snowshoe or hike. Nerstrand Big Woods near Northfield, snowshoe or hike. William O'Brien in Marine on St. Croix, hike. Zippel Bay on Lake of the Woods near Warroad, ski, snowshoe or hike. Lake Maria near Monticello, snowshoe or hike. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Beaver Bay, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 3, Michigan state parksMackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Ludington in Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. 

Feb. 9, MacKenzie Center near Poynette, Wis., snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 9-10Harrison Benwell Conservation Area near Wonder Lake, Ill., ski.

Feb. 10, Afterhours Trails in Brule River State Forest near Brule, Wis., ski.

Feb. 10, Awassa Trails near St. Germain, Wis., ski and 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. 10, Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center near Coon Valley, Wis., snowshoe. Skiers are welcome, too.

Feb. 10, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minn., ski, snowshoe and hike on miles of trails, $10. Register in advance.

Feb. 10, Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn., ski or snowshoe; $20 including champagne, sweets and gear.

Feb. 10Baylor Regional Park near Norwood Young America, Minn., ski, $5, and dog-sled rides, $5.

Feb. 10, Minnesota state parksHayes Lake near Roseau, ski. Glendalough near Battle Lake, ski. Wild River near Taylors Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Sakatah Lake near Faribault, snowshoe or hike. Lake Bemidji State Park near Bemidji, ski. 

Feb. 10, Wisconsin state parksDevil's Lake near Baraboo, snowshoe or hike. Pike Lake Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest near Hartford, ski, snowshoe or hike. Newport near Ellison Bay, ski, snowshoe and hike. Interstate in St. Croix Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Copper Falls near Mellen, ski, snowshoe or hike. Richard Bong near Kenosha, snowshoe or hike, $6 including dessert and music; reserve in advance.

The candlelight ski at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

© Paul Sundberg

Skiers and snowshoers gather around a bonfire during the popular candlelight event in Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Feb. 10, Michigan state parks: Tahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

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

Feb. 17, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro, Minn., snowshoe or hike. $10 with snowshoes. Reserve in advance.

Feb. 17, 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. 17, Sugarbush Trails near Tofte, Minn., ski.

Feb. 17, Minnesota state parks: Gooseberry Falls near Two Harbors, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Book Across the Bay skiers.

© Ashland Chamber

Skiers head out from Ashland on Book Across the Bay.

Feb. 17, Wisconsin state parksGovernor Thompson near Crivitz, ski or hike. Willow River near Hudson, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Feb. 17, Michigan state parksTahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Van Riper near Marquette, lantern-lit snowshoe.

Feb. 24, Loop Around the Lake in Minocqua, Wis., ski, snowshoe and hike. This 5K fund-raiser goes around Lake Minocqua.

Feb. 24, National Fish Hatchery in Iron River, Wis., ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 24, Minnesota state parksLake Carlos near Alexandria, ski, snowshoe or hike. Maplewood near Pelican Rapids, ski, snowshoe or hike. Itasca, lantern-lit snowshoe. Lake Bronson in the state's northwest corner, ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 24, Michigan state parksTahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski, snowshoe or hike. 

March 2, Brownstone Trail in Bayfield, Wis., walk, part of Bayfield's Winter Festival.

March 3, Wisconsin state parksRib Mountain in Wausau, snowshoe or hike.

March 3, Michigan state parksMackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe. 

March 16, Michigan state parks: Van Riper near Marquette, lantern-lit snowshoe or hike.

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 February 20, 2018