MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Ski or snowshoe by candlelight

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

The Luminary Loppet in Minneapolis.

© Debra Gagner

A forest of glowing pyramids lights the way at Minneapolis' Luminary Loppet.

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 for cancellations, especially if it's been very cold or a storm is expected. 

More and more 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. In 2022, they line up with holiday weekends: Jan. 17, Feb. 16 and March 18.

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.

Here are the candlelight nights in 2022.

MINNESOTA

Dec. 31Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, snowshoe or hike, $5. 

Skiers relax by the bonfire.

© Michigan DNR

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

Jan. 7, Luce Line State Trail from Plymouth, walk.

Jan. 8, Minnesota state parksItasca, lantern-lit snowshoe.

Jan. 14Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, snowshoe or hike, $5. 

Jan. 14, Thompson County Park in West St. Paul, ski or hike, $8.

Jan. 15, Minnesota state parksForestville-Mystery Cave near Preston, hike. Lac Qui Parle near Montevideo, hike. Minneopa near Mankato, walk.

Jan. 28Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Jan. 28Gateway State Trail near Stillwater, hike.

Jan. 28Spring Lake Park Reserve near Hastings, ski or hike, $8.

Jan. 28Baylor Regional Park near Norwood Young America, ski or dog sled.

Jan. 29Mora Lantern Loppet at the Vasaloppet Ski Area, 15 miles north of Mora,  and 10 miles east of Isle, a town on the southeast corner of Lake Mille Lacs, ski.

Feb. 5, 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. Reserve early for the time slot you want.

Feb. 5, Minnesota state parksItasca, lantern-lit snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 11, Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, snowshoe or hike, $5. 

Feb. 11, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, ski, snowshoe or hike, $8.

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

Ice candles illuminate a state-park trail in Minnesota.

Feb. 12Minnesota state parksMille Lacs Kathio near Onamia, ski or snowshoe. 

Feb. 12, Ney Nature Center in Henderson, ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 19Sugarbush Trail from Oberg Mountain trailhead near Tofte, ski and snowshoe.

Feb. 26Baylor Regional Park near Norwood Young America, ski or dog sled.

WISCONSIN

Dec. 31Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Jan. 1, Wisconsin state parksMirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, ski, snowshoe or hike.

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.

Jan. 7, 14, 21 and 28Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville, lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Jan. 8, Wisconsin state parksWildcat Mountain near Ontario, ski, snowshoe or hike and star-gazing.

Jan. 9Rhinelander Community Trails in Rhinelander, ski.

Jan. 13, Monk Botanical Gardens in Wausau, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Jan. 14-15Woodland Dunes Nature Center in Two Rivers, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 14 and 28 and Feb. 25, Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 15, Minocqua Winter Park, ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 15, Aldo Leopold Nature Center/Woodland Park in Madison, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 15Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha, $12 including snowshoes, hot cocoa and mug.

Jan. 21Navarino Wildlife Area near Appleton, snowshoe or ski, $5 or food donation.

Jan. 21, Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve near Green Bay, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Jan. 22, Minooka Park in Waukesha, part of the Janboree festival, hike. Sign up in advance for starting slots.

Jan. 22Warner Park in Madison, snowshoe.

Jan. 28Red Cedar State Trail from Menomonie, ski or hike.

Jan. 28, Gateway State Trail in Mahtomedi, Minn., walk.

Jan. 29MECCA Trails near Mercer, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 29, Wisconsin state parksDevil's Lake near Baraboo, snowshoe or hike. Whitefish Dunes near Sturgeon Bay, ski, snowshoe or hike. Kettle Moraine-Lapham Peak near Delafield, ski or hike.

Feb. 4, 11, 18 and 25Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville, lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike, $5.

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. 4MacKenzie Center near Poynette, snowshoe or hike. 

Feb. 4Navarino Wildlife Area near Appleton, snowshoe or ski, $5 or food donation.

Feb. 4Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 5, Wisconsin state parksMirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells, ski, snowshoe or hike. Black River Forest near Black River Falls, ski, snowshoe or hike. Flambeau River near Winter, ski, snowshoe or hike.  Copper Falls near Mellen, ski, snowshoe or hike. Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit near Campbellsport, ski or hike. New Glarus Woods near New Glarus, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 10Lake Mendota in Madison, snowshoe or hike, part of the Memorial Union's Winter Carnival.

Feb. 10-11Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve near Green Bay, snowshoe or hike, $5.

Feb. 11-12, Woodland Dunes Nature Center in Two Rivers, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 11-12Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary near Sarona, hike. 

Feb. 12Northland College in Ashland, ski.

Candlelight hike at St. Croix State Park.

© Lauren Gagner

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

Feb. 12, Wisconsin state parksDevil's Lake near Baraboo, snowshoe or hike. Wyalusing near Prairie du Chien, snowshoe or hike. Governor Thompson near Crivitz, ski or hike. Interstate, ski, snowshoe or hike. Richard Bong near Burlington, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 14, Monk Botanical Gardens in Wausau, Valentine's walk, $10 with dessert.

Feb. 18Crossroads at Big Creek Nature Preserve in Sturgeon Bay, ski, snowshoe or hike, part of Fire & Ice Weekend

Feb. 18Navarino Wildlife Area near Appleton, snowshoe or ski, $5 or food donation.

Feb. 19Awassa Trails near St. German, ski, snowshoe or fat bike.

Feb. 19, Minocqua Winter Park, ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 19, Book Across the Bay benefit race/tour across Chequamegon Bay between Ashland and Washburn, 10-kilometer ski, snowshoe or walk.

Feb. 26, Three Bridges Park in Milwaukee, snowshoe or walk on the Hank Aaron State Trail

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

© Minnesota DNR

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

Feb. 26, Wisconsin state parksHartman Creek near Waupaca, ski, snowshoe or hike.

March 12, Wisconsin state parksDevil's Lake near Baraboo, hike. 

UP AND WEST MICHIGAN

Dec. 22 and 29Mount McSauba recreation area in Charlevoix, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Dec. 26, Maasto Hiito trails in Hancock, ski, snowshoe or snow bike.

Dec. 31, Michigan state parksMitchell near Cadillac, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 7, 14, 21 and 28Mount McSauba recreation area in Charlevoix, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Book Across the Bay skiers.

© Ashland Chamber

Skiers head out from Ashland on Book Across the Bay.

Jan. 7, 14, 21 and 28, Michigan state parksMitchell near Cadillac, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 8, Michigan state parksLudington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 8, Twilight Turtle Trek on Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 21, Michigan state parksVan Riper west of Marquette, snowshoe or hike.

Jan. 22, Michigan state parksLudington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Jan. 29, Michigan state parksFayette Historic on the Garden Peninsula, lantern-lit, ski and snowshoe. Hartwick Pines near Grayling, lantern-lit snowshoe or hike. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Silver City, Mich., lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Feb. 4, 11, 18 and 25, Mount McSauba recreation area in Charlevoix, ski, snowshoe or hike.

Skiers on the Luminary Loppet.

© Steve Kotvis

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

Feb. 4, Michigan state parksVan Riper west of Marquette, snowshoe or hike. Mitchell near Cadillac, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 5, Twilight Turtle Trek on Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 5, Michigan state parksTahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness near Silver City, lantern-lit, ski and snowshoe (or hike unless trails are icy). Ludington, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

Feb. 11, 18 and 25, Mitchell State Park near Cadillac, snowshoe or hike.

Feb. 12, Michigan state parksTahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Silver City, lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike. 

Feb. 19, Michigan state parksTahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit snowshoe. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Silver City, lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike. 

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.

Feb. 26, Michigan state parksTahquamenon Falls near Newberry, lantern-lit snowshoe. Hartwick Pines near Grayling, lantern-lit, snowshoe or hike. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Silver City, lantern-lit ski, snowshoe or hike. 

March 5, Twilight Turtle Trek on Mackinac Island, lantern-lit ski or snowshoe.

ILLINOIS

Jan. 14-15Harrison Benwell Conservation Area near Wonder Lake, ski or hike.

Feb. 11-12, Marengo Ridge Conservation Area in Marengo, ski or hike.

MORE EVENTS

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

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 17, 2022